Wrapping up Microsoft Remix SEA 2007

Attended mostly the design tracks today since most of the Orcas and Atlas stuff can be quite easily found on the web. Was interested to listen more on the video   aspects of Silverlight.

Had been reading Lee Brimelows’s WPFBlog since having a deep dive session into WPF last year so was keen to hear him talk and also showcase some of his prototypes.

Another area of interest was PHP and IIS7 since I’m also a huge fan of developing using PHP for web applications vs ASP.Net since its just easier to have an application that can move from a LAMP to Windows platform. Virtual map showed how they could (without writing any code) just port over their applications tradtionally hosted on LAMP to Windows Server 2008 (Longhorn) and IIS7.

Beau Ambur from Metaliq also did a session on their prototype built for MIX’07 earlier in the keynote so they expanded a little more on the lessons learnt in the afternoon session. Was quite technical in how they delved into the various technicalities of video aspect ratios and bitrates.

The last panel discussion for the day was on the Social Networking scene in Singapore. I’m pretty interested in this since helping out with SportsKaki has given an addtional incentive to look out for new opportunities for social networks. Strait’s Time’s Stomp was present as well as Singtel and MediaCorp. (Had to miss this session WHEN customer called in the middle of it!! Sigh…)

Only comment was that for an event to bring designers into the Microsoft solution platform, there didn’t seem that many sessions or topics that catered to address the huge base of designers that are mainly using Adobe tools at the moment. I think for now, Adobe Photoshop CS3 would still be the prefered choice of tool for pixel pushing while Blend would slowly edge into the web RIA space currently dominated by Flash.


Battle of the Mashup Editors (Yahoo Pipes – 1, Microsoft Popfly – 0, Google Mashup Editor – 0)

When Yahoo Pipes first got released, I didn’t really think much of it and didn’t even attempt to look at the mashups being created. Then Microsoft got into the fray with Popfly and I tried my luck and got an invite into the Silverlight creation. Next came Google with their Mashup Editor and since I use so many Google apps, I dropped my email for an invite too. Finally got it yesterday and seeing it as a good chance to try out creating a mashup from the perspective of a novice creator, I got my hands dirty and did some tweaking to make sure Where2Makan? had a proper geocoded RSS feed (I had already been tagging the posts with custom fields named “Longitude” and “Latitude” so the job was a little easier).

Unfortunately, GeoRSS was having a server migration so the WordPress plugin that was supposed to make life easier wasn’t available for download. I managed to track down an earlier build at Ravi’s Blog and so added functions to the plugin that could work with my custom fields.

Had to hack wp-rss2.php in WordPress but managed to get

<item> …
<georss:point>$lat $lon</georss:point>

to show up properly in the feed. Frustratingly, both Firefox and IE refused to format it. Banged head a few times before realizing the namespaces weren’t being recognized and so added two lines at the header and it finally worked.


Now that I had a good feed (looked at Flickr’s example just to be sure), it was time to create a map with the editors.

Test #1 – Yahoo Pipes

User interface upon logging in was great. It was my first time but pretty easy to understand that you need to drag a module onto the workspace, quickly configure it and drag its output onto another module. I used “Fetch Feed” -> “Location Extractor” -> “Pipe Output”. Noticed the debugger pane below and quickly looked through the data to make sure it had parsed the feed correctly and hit “Run Pipe”. The map overlay with my posts and titles popped up pretty quickly and presto, I had a mashup of Where2Makan? with Yahoo Maps. Total Time : <10 mins with practically not much to do other than configuring the feed URL!

Test #2 – Microsoft Popfly

Moving on to Popfly, you’ll notice that the user experience is entirely built in Silverlight for the editor. Cool effects like having the background change when you drop a relevant block into the workspace makes it look all rather snazzy. I initially tried to drop a RSS feed block onto the workspace and just hook it up to the Virtual Earth block but couldn’t see the Lat/Long values being parsed. Was about to give up when I realized I should should search for a GeoRSS block.

Thankfully, GisLi0 had shared the block created and I thought I was off to a good start. Configured the feed, went to Virtual Earth’s block to modify the Lat/Long mapping and hit “Preview”. A great nice map of USA zoomed into view and after scrolling to Singapore, no pushpins to be found. Hit the console to check the debug errors and seems that Lat/Long pairs were not parsed. I had to start looking through documentation to see if there was any way to edit the code of the GeoRSS block but it seemed that shared user blogs are private. Attempted to download the BlockSDK but that meant having to fire up Visual Studio, understand the SDK docs, write code and lose sleep! Total time spent : >15 min with no results to show for.

Test #3 – Google Mashup Editor

Finally came to the last editor. As usual, Google’s simplified interface and cool blue theme was in full effect. Here you don’t even get drag and drop modules to configure. This is for the power users, if you understand a bit of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, this will be the app to empower you. If you don’t, its going to look like a whole mess of a foreign language. I opened the sample “Maps Mashup” and did a test run. Looked great with the sample feed. Naively, I replaced it with Where2Makan?’s feed and did another test. Same result. Nice map of USA with no pushpins. This time, there was no debugger to view the parsing results although I highly suspect it didn’t even read the feed properly since I couldn’t see it loaded in the feed browser. Time spent : < 5 min with no results.

Summary and Conclusion

I can’t say I took a great big dive into all three editors but went into them with one purpose, to create a Map Mashup of Where2Makan? and the maps provided by each company. Based on the initial experience and my goal, I would say Yahoo Pipes has a definite edge with a slick UI, intuitive modules. It is slightly lacking in the customization of modules area but the fact that I practically only had to paste a URL in for the mashup to work just gives it extra points. 

Microsoft Popfly with its Silverlight offering feels a bit bloated and although it offers some customizations at the block level, creating a block definitely takes a fair bit of understanding and an IDE! Also, not being able to output results like Pipes makes it a little short on reusability.

The latecomer Google Mashup Editor has a bit of catching up to do with its rather simplistic UI although I think it might be the most powerful of them all with what its samples look like (Calendar, Tasks, Map Wikis). Look forward to evaluating it again when it matures a little more. For now though, shall look into how to use Yahoo Pipes to create some other interesting mashups.

Final Notes

Yahoo announced samples for Maps Mashup couple days ago. And with Google’s announcement that GeoRSS and KML feeds will be supported by the Google Maps API, this is going to another interesting way to show map overlays.


Were you at MEDC @ Suntec?

Was a little late attending MEDC today but nevertheless managed to register myself at Suntec after running from Bt. Merah to Jln. Peminpin to meet customers. I’ve been developing Windows Mobile Applications for businesses for close to 3 years now and its been pretty interesting. Was rather excited to attend MEDC this year since Windows Mobile 6 is being released.

Unfortunately, work has kept me pretty busy this week so was unable to register for the Sumo-Robot competition that uses Roomba’s to duke it out on a mat! Saw the final where #5 (Popfly) won but think micromouses in my JC days was a bit more interesting to watch 😉

I think the more interesting session I managed to catch was the one where Wei Meng presented on Networking Programming with Windows Mobile. Have always toyed around with the idea of creating a mobile app coupled with GPS that would warn of the traffic cameras in operation in Singapore. Anyone interested in such an application?


Thanks Aaron for the Popfly invite!

Don’t know if it was my impassioned plea for an invite but I got an email from Aaron on the Popfly team the very next day! Had a chance to login and take a quick look around a rather unique mashup builder utilising Silverlight. What with Yahoo Pipes and also Google Mashup Editor getting on board, it sure looks like a rather interesting battle of the mashup builders is gearing up.


Application Virtualization with Microsoft SoftGrid (MSDN Connections 29th March 2007)

Attended last night’s Microsoft MSDN Connection and was rather amazed at the last session when Joeie Oon started his demo of application virtualization using SoftGrid. I’ve been using Virtual PC for most of development work as it helps especially with testing and development scenarios. But I think SoftGrid as a deployment solution for software that we develop could be pretty interesting? No more complaints about incompatibilities with different components etc since the applications are isolated. Also, licensing issues could be resolved since access seems tied to Active Directory. Very cool demo! Apparently the server is free? and each client agent at a fixed price.

Catch more from these links:

Chewy also did a quick demo of Windows Home Server which reminded me I’ll need to burn the copy of Windows Home Server sitting in the download folder and do an installation on the server box.

Chewy’s blog