Microsoft's Windows Azure Mobile Services Targets Back End Systems

Microsoft is making a concerted effort to convince developers to use its Windows Azure service to build mobile apps that tie together with various back-end services. A number of sessions at last week's Visual Studio Live! Chicago conference described how developers can use Microsoft's new Windows Azure Mobile Services to remove the headache of writing code designed to link to server-side processes.

Windows Azure Mobile Services fits into a category known as mobile backend and a service (mBaaS). A report released last month by Gartner said 40 percent of mobile app development projects will tie to cloud-based back-end services in the next three years. Like platform as a service (PaaS) mBaaS provides application middleware to various back-end services but the latter is aimed specifically at letting developers add services to mobile apps such as push notifications, storage and integration with back-end systems and social networks.

"There are a number of over the air testing tools, deployment, provisioning tools that support different mobile platforms, but when it comes time you need storage, creating push notification or you need to federate across different identity providers, you end up writing a ton of code to integrate with different systems behind the scenes," said Jesus Rodriguez, who gave a talk on Windows Azure Mobile Services at Visual Studio Live! Thursday. Rodriguez is CEO of KidoZen, which offers a cloud-based platform designed to provide enterprise apps targeted at mobile devices.

Rodriguez worked closely with Microsoft on Windows Azure Mobile Services and said it's joining a market heated by a bunch of startups such StackMob, Kinvey and Parse, which was acquired last month by Facebook. As a result of Facebook's acquisition of Parse, Microsoft will be competing with the social network, Rodriguez said, adding also just launched a new mBaaS platform.

Craig Kitterman, a senior technical product manager for Windows Azure at Microsoft, talked up Windows Azure Mobile Services in his Wednesday keynote. "Windows Azure Mobile Services is a quick and easy way for a developer build rich mobile client applications to add great cloud based back end capabilities," Kitterman said following the session. "Those applications typically need to authenticate users, they need to store different types of data and they need push notifications and updates that come down from the cloud when things happen. So Windows Azure Mobile Services gives developers a simple API they can use on either Windows Phone, Android or IOS to implement all of those capabilities with their app without having to be a database expert or a back end developer."

Many of these cloud mobile back-end services allow developers to deploy server side code using Javascript. "Cloud mobile back-end services stand to become a key component of the application development ecosystem," said Gartner analyst and research director Gordon Van Huizen, in a statement. "As a result, a given organization may begin using them without first developing the requisite understanding of the issues and risks associated with employing cloud services for application infrastructure. What's needed, then, is something of a crash course in the fundamental concerns of deploying application functionality in the cloud."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/20/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

Updated Windows Azure VMs Give Developers Flexibility

A revamped version of Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud service released a month ago today now gives developers the long-awaited capability of deploying their own servers and virtual machines. Eric Boyd, founder and CEO of the Chicago-based consulting and integration firm ResponsiveX, explained how developers can spin up VMs in the revamped Windows Azure Wednesday at the Visual Studio Live! conference in Chicago.

Until last month's release of the new Windows Azure infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Microsoft's three-year old cloud offering was only a platform as a service (PaaS). At last spring's Visual Studio Live! conference in Brooklyn, N.Y., Boyd, a Windows Azure MVP, suggested that VMs were a key ingredient that would flesh out the Windows Azure service. More

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/16/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

Devs Urged to Follow Best Practices with Windows 8 Live Tiles

There are a number of techniques and challenges developers face when building Windows 8 live tiles. Ben Dewey, senior software consultant at Tallan, Inc. explored how to effectively build live tiles during a presentation Tuesday at the Visual Studio Live! conference in Chicago. Titled "Make Your App Alive with Tiles and Notifications."

In the session, Dewey showed how developers can communicate with users via Windows 8 tiles and notifications and covered the implementation of live tiles, secondary tiles, toasts, badges and notifications. More

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/16/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

.NET Devs Warming Up To MongoDB and Cassandra NoSQL Databases

There are scores of so-called NoSQL databases that allow organizations to create scalable ways of parsing and querying non-relational data. Two that are attracting a growing number of .NET developers are the open source MongoDB and Cassandra databases.

In back to back sessions Tuesday at the Visual Studio Live! conference in Chicago, Ted Neward, principal with Neward & Associates, outlined the nuances of both NoSQL databases. In each session, Neward expressed his disdain for the NoSQL nomenclature, which effectively stands for a database that is "not-SQL." By that measure, Neward said, "NoSQL also applies equally to cars, rainbows and unicorns. None of them are a SQL database either."


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/15/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

Working with SQL Server Data Tools

Lenni Lobel, chief technology officer of Sleek Technologies and author of Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2012 (Microsoft Press), offered a walk through of the SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) built into Visual Studio 2012 and available for free download for users of Visual Studio 2010.

The session, held Wednesday morning at the Visual Studio Live! Chicago conference, showed how database developers can use SSDT to manage both on-premise and cloud-based database development projects. SSDT works with SQL Server 2012 and SQL Azure databases. More

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/15/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

Changes May Come to Free Windows Azure Usage in MSDN Subscriptions

Microsoft might change the terms that give developers 750 hours of free Windows Azure usage, according to Craig Kitterman, a senior technical product manager for Windows Azure at the company.

Kitterman dropped the hint during his keynote address today at the Visual Studio Live! conference in Chicago. Kitterman didn't say whether significant changes are in the works or if Microsoft is merely looking at slight adjustments, but he suggested they will be for the better. More

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/15/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

Q&A with Microsoft's Jay Schmelzer

Jay Schmelzer, director of program management for Visual Studio at Microsoft, gave the opening day keynote address at the Visual Studio Live! Chicago conference Tuesday morning. I caught up with Schmelzer after his presentation (watch the video here) to ask him about Visual Studio LightSwitch, the move away from Silverlight and the new Apps for Office programming model.

Michael Desmond: If you had one message that you'd like attendees to take away from keynote address today, what would it be?

Jay Schmelzer: For application developers, it would be the realization that it's a multi-device world. As much as we would want and love for everyone to be carrying Windows devices, we know it's the consumer's choice, and developers need an experience for supporting that. More

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/14/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

VS Live! Chicago Day 1 Keynote: Multi-Device Dev, LightSwitch, More

Developers need to support a diverse array of devices and understand the vital role of services in enabling rich application experiences. That was the message from Jay Schmelzer, Microsoft's director of program management for Visual Studio, during his opening keynote address at the Visual Studio Live! Chicago 2013 conference this morning, as he explored the two trends and how they directly play off each other.

"It turns out hardware devices really aren't that interesting without great software on them," Schmelzer told the audience. "It also turns out that great software is a lot easier to build when you have compelling hardware to target and capabilities in that hardware that you can target and leverage as part of your application."  More

Posted on 05/14/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

Win 8/RT, Cloud, Data To Be Key Themes at Visual Studio Live! Chicago

The Visual Studio Live! Chicago 2013 conference is set to open Monday, May 13, providing hands-on guidance and training for developers engaged with the Microsoft .NET Framework and Visual Studio development environment.

The event will kick off Monday with a trio of all-day workshops, before the formal event begins Tuesday morning with a keynote address by Jay Schmelzer, director of program management for Microsoft's Visual Studio Team. More than 60 sessions and a number of networking events are planned during the conference, which runs through Thursday May 16. More

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/10/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

Demystifying the Microsoft UI Roadmap

During a heavily attended session at Visual Studio Live! 2013 Las Vegas last week, Brian Noyes attempted to clear up some of the confusion about where developers should focus their efforts in the crowded field of Microsoft technologies. Noyes, a Microsoft regional director and MVP, and CTO and architect at Solliance, counseled that developers should primarily consider their users and those users' needs when choosing a technology path.

"Don't be focused on the technology first," Noyes said. "Technology is a means to an end. Figure out what your apps needs, who your users are, what your requirements are, and then start trying to align that with what the technologies are best for." More

Posted by Katrina Carrasco on 04/01/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

4 Biology-Based UI Design Tips

When it comes to design, what you see is not always what you get. During his Visual Studio Live! Las Vegas talk on app design, Billy Hollis noted the fascinating role that the human brain plays in interpreting and comprehending visual input, and offered insights into how developers can take advantage of biology to make their app UIs more effective. Here are four key points Hollis highlighted in his talk this week.

Gestalt Principles: Mind the Gaps
The human visual system is designed to see structure and relationship. Things like the color, shape and proximity of elements to each other impact the mental grouping that the brain commits. So pay close attention to how these elements impact the visual hierarchy of your design. What's more, the brain willingly fills in missing information in the visual field to yield expected or anticipated patterns. This enables designers to, for example, employ minimalist icons (such as the camera icon in Windows 8) that are both spare and simple, yet immediately convey their meaning to users. More

Posted by Michael Desmond on 04/01/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

Windows 8 Not a Magic Bullet for App Design

More on this topic :

Billy Hollis regaled the audience with his trademark wit and passion during his talk on app design at the Visual Studio Live! Conference in Las Vegas last week. While the audience enjoyed a good laugh, Hollis' underlying message was dead serious: Microsoft line-of-business developers need to challenge themselves to master design concepts -- and they need to do it soon.

Hollis said that sleek consumer apps in smartphones and iPads are conditioning users -- both inside and outside corporate walls -- to value thoughtful design in app interfaces. Dense and haphazard Windows Forms UIs that pack dozens of controls on a screen are simply not acceptable anymore. More

Posted by Michael Desmond on 04/01/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

Keeping Up with Windows Azure Changes

Microsoft has been improving Windows Azure so aggressively that developers can struggle to keep up. That was the message from Applied Information Systems CTO Vishwas Lele, who explored recent additions to Microsoft's cloud platform during a presentation at the Visual Studio Live! Las Vegas conference last week. "The number of services that are being added is amazing," Lele said, encouraging developers to take a targeted approach to using the Windows Azure. "When you look at the cloud, think of the pieces that might help you."

Lele in his talk highlighted several areas of interest for developers, including Windows Azure Mobile Services support for Android and HTML5 Web clients, and updated Active Directory integration that lets IT departmentsgrant employee access to Windows Azure subscriptions using Windows Azure Active Directory or Office 365 identities. More

Posted on 03/31/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

TypeScript Language Capturing .NET Developers' Attention

JavaScript has been in the air at the Visual Studio Live! 2013 Las Vegas conference this week. Whether it was Steven Guggenheimer's Tuesday keynote address on modern apps or Brian Noyes' Wednesday session on the Microsoft UI technology roadmap for developers, JavaScript has been an important part of the conversation. The problem is, many .NET developers familiar with strongly typed C# are either uncomfortable with or even hostile to JavaScript's dynamically typed scripting language.

In particular, programming in JavaScript can become a challenge on larger, more-complex code projects. The lack of strong typing invites runtime errors, while the lack of namespaces and class structure make it difficult to organize and manage code as it grows. More

Posted by Michael Desmond on 03/28/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments

SharePoint 2013 & Cross-Platform Mobile

Interoperability is emerging as a central theme of Microsoft mobile development at the Visual Studio Live! 2013 Las Vegas conference, being held this week.

In his Tuesday session, "Better Together -- SharePoint 2013 and Mobile Development," Aptillion Inc. Founder and Director Darrin Bishop discussed the SharePoint mobile dev experience on a variety of devices. "Windows Phone is a no-brainer to code against for SharePoint," Bishop said, but he added that new Remote APIs in SharePoint 2013 -- REST and client-side object model (CSOM) -- allow developers to code against iOS and Android devices, too. According to Bishop, on SharePoint 2013, "You're not limited to the [Windows] Phone OS anymore. More

Posted by Katrina Carrasco on 03/27/2013 at 1:16 PM0 comments