Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

C# and WebAssembly

I’m honored to be able to post in Matt GrovesAnnual C# Advent again this year, and today… December 22nd, 2018, is my second year contributing to it.

Last year I talked about ways to unload the main UI thread in WPF/.NET apps.

This year, I want to call attention to the Uno Platform tools I’ve been evangelizing for the past six months or so. 

Silverlight is dead – Long Live Uno Platform!

To understand this perspective, we’ll need to walk through some key terms….

What is Silverlight?silverlight

For those who don’t know, about ten years ago, Silverlight was the way to write C# and XAML to run in the web browser. It required a plug-in to run, much like Adobe Flash Player. Unfortunately, Microsoft announced the…. untimely demise of Silverlight in 2012. Silverlight, to some extent, seemed a more catchy term than other related technology names, so Microsoft used Silverlight as the name for mobile platforms that are also now depricated. As a result, it became almost synonymous with XAML.

What is XAML?

XAML, “eXtensible Application Markup Language” is the markup language behind a few great UI / UX layers in various Microsoft .NET-oid languages.  For those who’ve used it, it’s an addictively cool language family.  Using Visual Studio, Blend, and Adobe DX, you can create first-class UI.  With features like Storyboard animation, basic animation becomes child’s play. Composition makes fast, dynamic animations easy. Once you’ve gotten the basic idea of it, one finds themselves wanting to use it anywhere they can…  or at least that’s been my experience through WPF, Silverlight, Silverlight for Windows Phone, Silverlight for Windows Phone 8 / 8.1, Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and probably others.

The “code behind” XAML is typically C#, and historically .NET based.

What is Universal Windows Platform (UWP)?

UWP is the native platform of Windows 10.  It’s similar to classic .NET in a few ways.  First, UWP feels a lot like Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and .NET, being XAML and C# based, respectively.  It differs from classic .NET because it has a lot of fixes, both in terms of security and performance, that .NET can’t afford to apply for various reasons.  More simply put, .NET had some serious technical debt built up, so the easiest way to forgive that debt was to build a new platform based on the old languages.  Your XAML and C# skills are the same, but the namespaces and supporting framework libraries are different.

Don’t fret, though…  UWP runs natively on over 800 million devices (as of today, December 22nd, 2018), and that number continues to grow.  UWP is the native platform for all Windows 10 devices.  This means desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, HoloLenses, Xbox consoles, IoT embedded devices, and more. 

What is WebAssembly?webassembly

WebAssembly is a relatively new bytecode language specification… a virtual machine specification, similar to the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), that is fully supported by most modern major web browsers.  It allows near native performance in the same sandbox that javascript apps run in.  When you run javascript in a web page, the jit compiler in the browser converts the code into tokenized bytecode in order to execute it quicker.  WebAssembly improves on this significantly by pre-compiling the code.  Because the code is pre-complied, it doesn’t have to be sourced from javascript.  It can be compiled from just about any programming language.  Wasm, as it’s called, went from a specification just a few short years ago to being well supported in all major modern web browsers.

What is Uno Platform?uno platform

Uno Platform, for our purposes, is not really a new platform, but an extension to UWP. 

You write your UWP application for your Windows 10 devices the same way you always have.  Uno provides a mechanism to re-compile that UWP app to Web Assembly (and… by the way… using Xamarin tools, also to iOS… and also to Android!)

In a sense, Uno Platform is to UWP as Xamarin is (roughly) to classic .NET.

See the connection? 

Let’s do some math…

UWP = C# & XAML for Windows 10.  (800,000,000 devices)

Uno Platform += UWP for iOS (Millions more devices), Android (over a Billion devices), and WebAssembly (every modern major PC in the world)

Now factor in this…

.NET Core 3 += UWP for services

What does all that add up to? 

One skill set… 

UWP (C# & XAML) = FULL STACK, on all major platforms

From data access layer to REST API to UI canvas.

Wait a minute…  What about Xamarin?

Xamarin is the older way to do C# for cross platform / mobile.  

Coincidentally, just this past Thursday, Carl Barton, a Microsoft MVP for Xamarin presented the Xamarin Forms Challenge at the Windows Platform App Devs users group. The goal of the meetup was to demonstrate creating a simple app in C# and running it on as many platforms as we could in the hour.  He easily pushed ran the app on over a dozen platforms in the hour.

Uno Platform actually depends on Xamarin libraries to support iOS and Android. 

The main differences between Xamarin and Uno Platform are these:

  • Xamarin encourages you to use a Xamarin-specific dialect of XAML, including Xamarin Forms to express your cross platform UI.
  • If you already know & understand Microsoft’s UWP dialect of XAML, Uno Platform uses that dialect.
  • Xamarin enables you to produce binaries for dozens of different target platforms, reaching a billion or more devices.  These include .NET, UWP, iOS, Android, Tizen, Unity, ASP.NET, and many others.
  • Uno Platform only enables you to reach three additional binary output targets…  iOS, Android, and WebAssembly…. but WebAssembly can or likely will soon cover most of what Xamarin Forms covers.

I’ll leave it up to you which to choose, but for me, given the choice between Xamarin with several years of technical debt built up in a distinct dialect of XAML, and Uno Platform, using the fresher, native UWP dialect of XAML…  

Finally… 

Here’s the slides I presented most recently at the New England Microsoft Developers meetup in Burlington, Mass on December 6th (thanks again to Mathieu Filion of nventive for much of the content):

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

UWP App Samples

I realized as I was presenting a guided tour of UWP App Samples that I’d come full circle on a set of presentations around my experience building Windows 10 UWP apps.   The overall process was kicked off in three decisions. 

1)  pick a framework (we settled on Prism + Unity),   

2) pick a control library (we went with the UWP Community Toolkit (which is since released 2.0 by the way, updated for 1710, Fall Creators Update… there may be another presentation in the works here)).

Finally,
3) we consulted the UWP App Samples.   ( https://github.com/Microsoft/Windows-universal-samples )

When it comes down to it, our goal was very ambitious, and we couldn’t have accomplished what we did without these three key pieces.   I’ve presented each of them over the past several months at the Granite State Windows Platform App Devs meetup. ( https://www.meetup.com/Granite-State-NH-WPDev/ )

At the time of the presentation, the categories in the Open Sourced UWP App Samples project were these:

  • App Settings,
  • Audio/Video/Camera,
  • Communications,
  • Contacts and Calendar,
  • Controls/Layout/Text,
  • Custom User Interactions,
  • Data,
  • Deep links and app-to-app Communication,
  • Devices and Sensors,
  • Files/Folders/Libraries,
  • Gaming, Globalization and Localization,
  • Graphics and Animation,
  • Holographic,
  • Identity/Security/Encryption,
  • Launching/background tasks,
  • Maps/Location, Navigation,
  • Networking/Web Services,
  • Platform Architecture,
  • Speech/Cortana,
  • Threading,
  • Tiles/Toasts/Notifications

If your app will do anything remotely associated with any of the above functionality, you need to consult the related sample projects before beginning.  They aren’t production-ready samples, but they are good samples, nonetheless.

These slides don’t do any justice at all to the UWP Sample Apps project, it was really just something to throw on the big screen while folks gathered.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Time to Extend Your Brand to Windows 10

Marketers, if you’re looking for fresh, fertile ground to extend your brand into, jump now on Windows 10.

The Windows 10 app store is a clear path to:

  • Bump up your online store shopper counts
  • Extend ever-available services directly to your Windows customers (which is about 90% of them)
  • Connect with your brand’s demographic in a way that helps you better understand their needs
  • Build brand value by connecting with partners
  • Build brand value by connecting with social media
  • Escape web browser inconsistency that threatens to pull brand value down
  • Escape security/stability issues in popular platforms (e.g. Android) that threatens brand value.
  • Reach more device form factors with a single, less specialized (less expensive) codebase (desktop, tablet, phone, even game consoles and devices)

AND…

Windows 10 is attracting Microsoft’s (and, by extension, arguably) consumer tech’s most valuable territory,

To wrap one’s head around this, it helps to understand recent history a bit. 

Being a “convicted monopoly” put a lot of costly restrictions on Microsoft, and especially Windows, making every OS release from XP to Vista to Windows 7 less than it could have been.  Despite the fact that Windows is still king in the desktop arena by far, Microsoft has done a great job of digging out from under the perception that it has a monopoly in that space.  It dug itself out by connecting Windows to the both to the cloud and to the broader computing device market, including tablets, smartphones, consoles and devices.

Being out from under those restrictions has enabled Microsoft to really make Windows 10 come together in ways that even the incumbent Windows 7 couldn’t.   All indications are that Windows 10 is a hit and will de-throne Windows 7 as the de-facto desktop OS within a couple years. Between re-claimed freedom to innovate, lessons learned, and other market conditions, it’s a no-brainer that Windows 10 has legs.

[Here’s a number to associate with Windows 10:  1 Billion UPGRADES.  (not counting the number of devices that will be sold with Windows 10 on them.)]

What about Social Media?  According to folks like @fondalo:

With nearly 62% of consumers stating that social media has “no influence at all” on their purchasing decisions (Gallup), marketers are faced with substantial hurdles in an ever-increasingly noisy digital landscape. This challenge is further amplified by a CMO Council study showing that only 5 percent of brands feel they are extremely effective at creating experiences that resonate with target audiences.

In fact, most marketers are currently forced to put more resources toward their digital and social efforts, just to maintain their current returns. I believe this gap will continue to widen for larger brands, but smaller more nimble retailers that get creative and deploy proper resources could end up being the big winner.

Finally, it goes without saying that it no longer matters that you’ve extended your brand to iOS (iPhone/iPad) and/or Android.  The app marketplace for those devices, in your space, is saturated… even super-saturated.  You’ve extended your brand to those app stores, and so has every other brand in the world, including all your competitors.   Of course, saturation will occur in the Windows 10 app marketplace, but getting in ahead of the crowd has its advantages.

Never mind the upside potential on phones and tablets (which remains huge, and far more addressable from Windows 10).  The pendulum is swinging back to the desktop/laptop again (for now).

Being a Microsoft appointed Technical Solutions Professional, I can help.  Let me know how I can bring my (and my team, BlueMetal‘s) expertise to bear for you in your goal to make the jump.
In any case, talk to me.  If you’re a marketing technology manager, what do you see as the pros and cons of jumping into the Windows app pool?  
Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Visual Studio 2015: An Insider’s Review

I apologize I’ve been pretty wrapped up in a little bit of everything, but I wanted to share a piece my colleague, Dave Davis, Architect at BlueMetal Architects wrote for SD Times:

https://www.bluemetal.com/News/Dave-Davis-Published-in-SDTimes

Well worth the read.