A day or two after I published my last blog post, I suddenly realized that I’d completely forgotten to mention one of the new themes I’d been the most excited to bring you – Panoramas of Europe! So this time, I’m making sure to talk about it first.
This theme is huge in several ways – it contains 21 massive double-width images designed to span dual monitors on the new Windows, and it includes photos from across the expanse of Continental Europe – and from the UK and Iceland, too. This dramatic shot shows Kirkjufell Mountain on Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Kirkjufell Mountain takes on a new and otherworldly look when it is illuminated by the shifting veils of the aurora borealis. I hope you’ll enjoy the glow of the eerie but beautiful atmospheric phenomenon in this set of wintry scenes from Iceland and Norway.
For views of Europe from a completely different perspective, try the Bing Maps: Europe theme. You’ll feel like you’re flying in a small plane over red-tiled roofs in Spain, patchworks of farmland in Germany, curving rivers in England, mountain formations in France, and colored tulip fields in the Netherlands. This shot is of boats and islands near Sardinia, Italy.
You can pilot your plane over the United States, too, from gardens in Oregon to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Pennsylvania, and from glaciers in Alaska to the Everglades National Park in Florida. This shot shows the Shoshone Falls at Twin Falls, Idaho.
One of the most well-loved features of Bing is the amazing selection of photography (and sometimes videos) featured every day on the Bing home page. It’s hard to believe that Bing has been providing incredible images – and interesting info about each one – for more than five years! Bing’s fifth anniversary was on May 28, 2014, and they released this theme to celebrate. This theme is different from all the rest of our themes, in that it uses Bing’s installer which lets users on Windows Vista and Windows XP enjoy the images, too. The installer will also set Bing as your default search engine and home page.
For more ruggedly expansive views, check out the new Rock Formations panoramic theme. It includes dramatic locations such as the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Bryce Canyon in Utah, the Pinnacles at Nambung National Park in Australia, and the fairy chimney rock formations in Cappadocia, Turkey, shown here. This theme is designed to extend background images across dual monitors in the new Windows.
The rest of our new themes feature the works of contributors to the Open Call. First up is a tour through the serene beaches and harbor towns of Germany’s Fischland-Darß-Zingst peninsula, by photographer Markus Janse, who previously introduced us to the shoreline scenery of Spiekeroog.
For a darker and more abstract aesthetic, take a look at the innovative photography in the new Light Painting theme from a talented artist who goes by the name of LayonerBeast.
The Community Showcase series of themes we launched earlier this year has been very popular – particularly the ongoing Aqua series. If you enjoyed Aqua and Aqua 2 I’m happy to announce that Community Showcase: Aqua 3 is here, full of beautiful images of water in all its forms – glittering dewdrops, rushing waterfalls, crystalline snowflakes, and pools that reflect the colors of the sky. It features the images of 21 different photographers, including Rowe Cierras, Grace Eggleston, Yatin Gambhir, and Alexa Brown. This golden sunset over Chott el Djerid in Tunisia was captured by Saša Petrović.
As with the Everyday Art and Everyday Art 2 themes, Community Showcase: Everyday Art 3 is a collection of images capturing moments of beauty or humor in everyday life. This theme showcases images by 21 different photographers, including Kemal Can Zeytünlü, Laura Hanna, Allan Richardson, and Monika Rosa. This moody photo of dead leaves fallen across the keyboard of an old piano was taken by Esikova Daria.
Flora and Flora 2 brought together the best garden, floral, and plant life photos from our community of talented contributors, and Community Showcase: Flora 3 continues in the same tradition with images from 21 different photographers including Alhassan Omar, Ekaterina Kokushkina, Horváth Timcsi, and Sarah McDevitt. This vivid marigold was captured by Ricardo Ferreira Ramos.
If you usually read to the end of my blog posts (thank you!) then you probably know I say this every time… but that’s because I just want to make sure everyone knows that they can customize their Windows 8 or 8.1 lock screen – or Windows Phone – with wallpapers from the Personalization Gallery, too. I explained how in this blog post.
That wraps up the latest overview of new themes and wallpapers. I hope you’ll remember to keep checking back on the Personalization Gallery for more great new imagery to keep your Windows PC or Windows Phone looking fresh – and unforgettable.
Yeah, I know… really cliché blog post title but I couldn’t think of anything better at the moment. So our blog received a pretty big upgrade today we’re excited about. The upgrade brings a lot of back-end improvements (we’re on Azure!) that will make blogging about Windows even easier for us. But the upgrade also brings a few things you will notice too. So let me tell you about those.
First off, you may have noticed that some blogs have disappeared. As part of this upgrade, we looked at reducing redundancy and the amount of blogs we had as part of our network. We have merged the Windows Experience Blog, Windows Phone Blog, and Extreme Windows Blog into Blogging Windows. For most of you, this blog will have all the stuff you’re interested such as announcements like the Windows 8.1 Update and Windows Phone 8.1 Update. It will also be where we publish blog posts featuring tips and new apps and games for both Windows and Windows Phone. We will also publish blog posts about new devices from partners there too. We’ll continue to publish blog posts relevant to business customers on the Windows for your Business blog. We have the Building Apps for Windows blog for developers building apps for Windows (w00t for universal Windows apps!). And the Internet Explorer Team will continue to publish about amazing IE experiences like Catan Anytime on the Exploring IE blog. We think we have a good core set of Windows blogs based on audience.
We know that a lot of people come to our blog looking for blog posts just for Windows Phone. With the upgrade, we have introduced a new filtering capability that allows you to sort blog posts by either PC, Tablet, or Phone. This is available on the site’s homepage as well as on each individual blog. If you just want to see blog posts for Windows Phone, just choose the “Phone” category and hit the apply button. This will sort everything that is relevant for Windows Phone for you. It will also provide you with an RSS feed you can subscribe to in your favorite RSS reader (I highly recommend Nextgen Reader). For anyone who was subscribed to the RSS for the Windows Phone Blog, we have put in place a redirect that will continue to update with posts relevant only for Windows Phone so you don’t need to do anything.
We have also done some work to refine the visual look and feel of our blogs but it’s not too different from the previous design we had. We’ve made some changes so that we can feature blog posts with nice big images either on the site’s homepage or on each of the blogs. Search is powered by Bing. And all blogs have buttons for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn making it easy to share a blog post to the social network of your choosing. A lot of these changes are aligned to the designs being used on the recently upgraded corporate, Office, Bing, and Surface blogs.
On the site’s homepage, we’ve brought back our Twitter widget that displays tweets from @WindowsBlog. Occasionally we’ll tweet something out pretty cool that doesn’t necessarily make sense to be a blog post. It will show up here on our site’s homepage and will scroll automatically through the five most recent tweets.
And finally, the next big change you will notice but isn’t live quite yet is with comments. We’re bringing threaded comments so you can reply to someone’s comment. And we’re also requiring Microsoft Account sign-in to leave a comment. You can use the same Microsoft Account you use on your Windows devices as well as services like Outlook.com, OneDrive, and Skype to leave a comment on a blog post. Comments are turned off right now but will be turned on with Microsoft Account sign-in next week.
With these changes, we’re excited to continue blogging about Windows for Microsoft!
Are you a Halo fan? You’re going to want this. Today we’re announcing the Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 Halo Limited Edition: The Master Chief. This mouse gloriously features a highly detailed Master Chief in his two-tone green MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor and iconic gold hued visor.
With this mouse, you get Master Chief and all the awesomeness that comes standard with the popular Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 such as its ambidextrous design, snap-in nano transceiver, 2.4 GHz wireless technology, and two-color battery light indicator. You also get BlueTrack Technology that allows you to use the mouse on virtually any surface including granite, marble, carpet, and wood.
The Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 Halo Limited Edition: The Master Chief will be available for pre-order from GameStop starting today and generally available in October 2014 for the estimated retail price of $29.95 (U.S.) at the Microsoft Store and other retailers.
Sheep for wheat, anyone? Internet Explorer releases preview of new social Catan web experience for free play
Today, we’re excited to release the preview of Catan Anytime – the entirely new social version of the beloved board game The Settlers of Catan. Play is completely free and available on any device with a modern browser. We hope Catan fans will appreciate its simplicity – Catan Anytime is fast, fluid and designed for touch making it easy to play the game from mobile to your big screen with IE on XBOX and everything in-between.
Catan Anytime is a partnership with creators of Catan, Mayfair Games and Bontom Games. This preview release features the latest HTML5 web standards and real-time in-game social interaction. As part of the ongoing collaboration, we will be releasing additional Catan features: Development cards, Achievements, and 3:1 trading at GamesCon in August. We hope these features, combined with the unique capabilities of asynchronous gaming and auto trading will attract Catan fans old and new alike! This web experience joins our collection of Rethink experiences such as Assassin’s Creed Pirates and 22Tracks – helping push the limits of what’s possible on the modern, interoperable web.
The Teuber family and Arnd Beenen from the Catan team were wonderful partners and supporters of this project. In Guido Teuber and Benny Teuber’s words, “It’s exciting to reflect on how The Settlers of Catan started as a passion project for our father and we never could have imagined it would grow into the iconic board game that it is today. At the Catan team, we are always looking for new ways to inspire fans and we’re thrilled to be partnering with Internet Explorer to help us bring the next evolution of Catan to life.”
Wait, what’s Settlers of Catan?
The Settlers of Catan is a board game of barter trading – an instant pop-culture classic found in college dorms and family reunions alike. The original has sold 20 million copies and is now available in over 30 languages. Playing Catan with family and friends is tradition for some and conversations starters for others. No matter the reason, the game evokes laughter, exciting debates and endless dialogs.
Players play the part of settlers who gain resources to build roads and settlements that eventually become cities. Ore, wheat, wood, brick and sheep are your five resources. Players must strategically place their cities and trade their resources to earn the 10 victory points it takes to win. The real fascinating part about the game is that it’s so balanced – there are so many ways to win (or not).
Play Catan Anytime across any device, anywhere
Internet Explorer truly believes in the open and interoperable web, and therefore we focused on delivering a game that simply works on the web without bias of what device, OS or browser players’ choose to use. Together we created a game that is light and renders easily on devices ranging from smartphones to PCs and anything in between.
Catan Anytime is not meant to replace the board game experience. We wanted to adapt the essence of Catan to the best of today’s mass market game mechanics. The digital version is meant to plug the game seamlessly into our daily lives and grow the way people can experience it.
What’s in this preview?
We hope the web version makes Catan even more accessible to all – it’s a great “gateway” game towards its genre. Whether you’re familiar with the game or not, Catan Anytime makes it fun and easy to jump right in:
1. Getting Started: Try a single turn before you register to check out gameplay. Once you are hooked, invite your friends to join the fun via Facebook or email. You just need three players to start playing.
2. Time Savers: Turn-based asynchronous gameplay is a great feature we introduced in this new version of Catan. Auto-trade and auto-roll features also help the players keep the game moving forward.
3. No Dice: We took away the need for dice and instead the player clicks a button to produce resources. The probability that duplicates a dice roll is built into the game!
4. Notifications: Opt in for notifications while you are away from the game. You can choose to stay connected to your game via email so you don’t miss a beat!
The social Catan: Stay connected with friends, family and fellow fans while you play
With in-built chat and access to Skype and Twitter, our goal is to help keep you connected to other players and the wider online Catan community. Using the in-game chat feature you can send messages, or start a group call on Skype as you play. You can also broadcast your thoughts to Twitter directly from the chat box. Stay connected to engage with other enthusiastic players and listen out for tips and tricks shared on the social sphere.
Now boldly go forth and conquer Catan Anytime anywhere! And stay tuned for more features coming to catananytime.com this August!
Group Product Manager, Internet Explorer
Blog posted corrected on 7/29/2014 to reflect Catan Anytime will not include Ports and will therefore be slightly modified from that of The Settlers of Catan board game.
This post was written by Microsoft MVP Pavel Yosifovich.
This week we’re featuring guest blog posts from some of the members of our Microsoft developer MVP program. Microsoft MVPs are passionate, expert community leaders who share their real-world knowledge and experience building solutions with Microsoft platforms.
Pavel Yosifovish, CTO at CodeValue; Can Bilgin, Senior Solutions Architect at CompuSight Corp.; and Rob Miles, a university lecturer, have all recently had experience implementing universal Windows apps, so we thought it would be especially useful to showcase the things they’ve learned and how they’ve been able to leverage much of the same code to deliver experiences across multiple device types.
One of the new features introduced during the Build conference is a converged Windows Runtime on Windows Phone 8.1, opening the way to “universal Windows apps.” In this post I’d like to share my first experience with universal Windows apps, their structure and possible future.
Before universal apps came along, creating apps for Windows 8.x Store and Windows Phone 8 was mostly a two-app project. Sure, some logic code could be shared via Portable Class Libraries (PCL), but the common surface of PCLs was too small, leading to many #if/#endif statements. Also, sharing XAML was extremely difficult, and in my experience a futile exercise, so it had better be kept separate.
Other stuff, similar on the outside, such as Live Tiles and push notifications, had to be done differently, because it was a different API, built on different foundations. Windows Store was built on top of the Windows Runtime (sometimes dubbed WinRT) – a native, COM based API, while the Windows Phone API was mostly Silverlight-based – pure .NET mostly. Yes, with the 8.0 version of Windows Phone some WinRT APIs made it to the phone (sometimes referred to as “WinPRT”), common with WinRT, but that common API was relatively small.
With Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update, things are changing, or should I say – converging. The WinRT API has spread to the phone, replacing Silverlight based APIs. For example, the Windows.UI.Xaml.Controls.Button class from WinRT now exists as a Win(P)RT type in WP 8.1. The “old” button, System.Windows.Controls.Button is still there to support existing apps (and is probably a wrapper around the “new” button). New apps can still use the Silverlight model, but I suspect this will be discouraged in the future.
Another effect of this convergence is the “Universal PCLs”, which are now expanded to include a much larger surface area than non-universal PCLs. I use the term “Universal PCLs” but these are regular PCLs targeting Win8.1/WP8.1 that include more common surface to share, including XAML. “Non-universal” here really means PCLs that target more than Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1.
Universal Windows Apps
Universal Windows apps are there to allow the same app to be written for Windows 8.1 Store and Windows Phone 8.1 with little code changes. Note that it’s not the same as linking a Windows and Phone app in the Store – this can be done in the non-Universal model as well; here I’m referring to actual code sharing, whether the apps will be linked in the Store or not. Almost everything can be shared, and obviously some things will have to change, such as UI layout, or usage of special features of one platform or the other. But, as it turns out, most code, and even XAML can actually be shared; and that’s a real advantage we didn’t have before.
Let’s create a simple universal Windows app and examine its components. To get support for this, you’ll need Visual Studio 2013 (any SKU) with Update 2. This will install the proper project templates and other required support to get this working.
From Visual Studio, select File – New Project and navigate to the new Store Apps subfolder:
It’s actually possible to start with a Windows 8.1 app or a Windows Phone 8.1 App and add its “twin” app using a context menu option on the project node in solution explorer.
With the universal app selection, we get two app projects, one for Win 8.1 and the other for Win Phone 8.1. The unusual part is the third, “Shared” project:
Notice the projects look very similar. The Silverlight manifest file WMAppManifest.xml has been transformed into Package.appxmanifest, essentially the same as its Windows 8.1 counterpart.
As we can see, the “Shared” project has App.xaml and App.xaml.cs shared by default. This means these files do not appear in the normal projects, but are “pulled” by each one when built.
The Shared project is a bit weird, as it has no output on its own – it’s not a DLL, EXE, XAP or whatever. It’s nothing; it just contains shared stuff that must be pulled by each of the “real” projects. It doesn’t even have a References node.
So what happens if we want to use some class library (it better be a Universal PCL)? We add it as a reference for each of the real projects, and then its contents is available for use in the Shared project. Get it?
Let’s do some experimentation. Drag the MainPage.xaml file from the Windows Phone project to the Shared project’s node:
Notice the file does not disappear from the original project. Trying to build now yields 2 errors, because there are 2 files with the same name (identity) for each project.
Let’s delete the MainPage.xaml file (along with its code behind) from the Win 8.1 and WP 8.1 projects, leaving it in the Shared project only:
Now the two projects build just fine, and they even run perfectly fine. In this case, the MainPage.xaml file was identical in the original two projects, so no harm, no foul. Let’s add a simple Button control to the Grid that exists in that (now single) MainPage.xaml:
The designer now has an option to switch to one of two views – Win 8.1 or Win Phone 8.1 so we can check out the results at design time:
Running each app shows the button as we expect, in the Grid’s center.
By the way, notice that the XAML has converged, so that Windows Phone and Windows 8 now recognize the same syntax, such as the way to map a XAML namespace to a CLR namespace using the “using” keyword rather than the “clr-namespace” keyword, as was done with the “Silverlight way”. This is just one aspect that makes sharing XAML possible.
Same same but sometimes different
Some aspects of the app would be different between Windows Phone and Windows. For this purpose, the project templates define the WINDOWS_PHONE_APP (for WP) and WINDOWS_APP (for Windows) symbols, so that C# code can use the standard #if/#else/#endif markers to distinguish between the platforms. This is particularly useful for a PCL and any other non-XAML code.
Sharing XAML is more difficult. Let’s say I want to have two pieces of XAML laid out differently in WP and Windows like the following simple example:
One way to achieve that is to use the same page XAML, but do the tweaks using View Model property bindings, such as for alignment, grid row/column, etc. Although that’s possible, it’s a maintenance nightmare for non-trivial views.
A better approach would be to factor out the important controls as user controls in the shared project and have different page XAML for each platform. In the above example, I created a DeviceList user control in the shared project that hosts a list of devices on the current platform. The XAML of the control is simple:
The code behind provides the Devices dependency property of type IReadOnlyListDeviceInformation which is mapped from the IVectorView WinRT interface.
The two XAML pages for the platforms simply use the control in the correct place. This keeps the page XAML simple and not require any support from the view model or value converters. Here’s the example for Windows:
The binding is set up in the code behind (would be in a PCL or shared code ViewModel in practice):
In this way, user controls can be shared and handle the heavy lifting, while the Page objects would not be shared, but handle the overall layout and common parts (such as images, status or whatever).
What about the Desktop?
From my perspective the only thing missing in this story is the Desktop. Microsoft realized, perhaps a year or a bit more ago that the desktop is not going away and is important as ever, if not more. Many apps run in the desktop (vs. Store), many apps rely on mouse and keyboard for their utilization, and touch is not the answer to everything.
I see no reason why the WinRT model, including the UI and XAML does not bleed into desktop apps as well. WinRT is just COM, after all, and in fact, many types can already be used in desktop apps. For some reason, XAML based UI still can’t but I personally believe it will. .NET developers have WPF, but native desktop developers have just MFC, which is outdated and primitive by comparison to either WPF or WinRT.
Sure, there are other C++ UI non-Microsoft alternatives, such as Qt, wxWidegts and many more, but that’s not enough. Microsoft should provide its own framework, and indeed it’s already here – that’s WinRT. It just needs to be “allowed” to execute in desktop apps.
In fact, I sense that WinRT is not just about “apps”; instead, it’s the new Win32 API. Every developer that’s familiar to some extent with the Win32 API understands these words. This API is old, mostly thousands of C-style functions, is unwieldy, and difficult to learn given the alternative APIs. WinRT is for the most part well designed, object oriented, and is still native, so it has a lot going for it. It could very well be the new Windows API.
Let’s see a quick example of getting that same device list and using that in a WPF app.
WinRT metadata format is the same as .NET, so adding a reference should be possible. However, desktop projects are not configured by default to allow it. We need to edit the .csproj file to allow easy adding of the WinRT metadata information. To do that, unload the desktop project, right click the project node and select the edit option, which will open the file in the text XML editor. Add the following as another property group somewhere in the file:
Save the file and reload the project. Open the Add Reference dialog box and now notice the “Windows” node with the “Core” sub-node and the Windows WinMD file on the right:
Now that the reference is in, we can use the WinRT API. First, here’s a simple XAML for the WPF window:
Notice the async operation. If we try to compile this, it fails, telling us that the method GetAwaiter is not present on that IAsyncOperation that’s returned. That’s because the C# compiler has a pattern for methods that are awaitable (the “awaiter pattern”). The regular TaskT class from .NET supports this, of course, but this is a WinRT type, not a .NET type – so there is no notion of an awaiter.
The solution is to reference another assembly, which provides that support for easier working with WinRT from .NET. We need to add a reference to the System.Runtime.WindowsRuntime.Dll assembly located at a folder like “C:Program Files (x86)Reference AssembliesMicrosoftFramework.NETCorev4.5”. This provides not just await support but also other useful stuff such as the AsTask extension method that can turn IAsyncAction/Operation into a .NET Task (which has a rich API).
Running the app we get something like this:
Clearly, there’s still a way to go, but I believe this is a good direction. What is apparent to me is that WinRT is the present and future, but the Silverlight API is just here for compatibility and maintenance. So, if you’ve been avoiding or neglecting WinRT – don’t. New apps (even if they are not planned to be multi-platform) should be based on the WinRT API and not the Silverlight one.
The Windows Runtime is truly universal, in more than one sense. I expect a common Windows Runtime core to be present in all form factors – phone, tablet, desktop and XBOX.
At //build/ 2014 earlier this year, Microsoft took a number of broad steps to embrace open source, from WinJS and .NET to the open cloud on Azure and investments and efforts to enable your favorite open-source technologies on Windows.
CMake for Windows Store and Windows Phone apps
CMake is a cross-platform project files generator that enables re-use of shared C++ code across multiple IDEs or project systems. An early build of CMake that allows you to target Windows Store and Windows Phone apps is available on CodePlex here. We are working with Kitware and CMake community to incorporate feedback and integrate it soon in the public CMake repository.
To learn more on using CMake for Windows Store and Windows Phone apps, we’ve created a short quick-start exercise (with sample code and installer) that you can try out here. If you are interested, feel free to check out all the labs in the Code2Win Challenge.
Microsoft and Open Source at OSCON 2014
Teams at Microsoft such as Microsoft Open Technologies, Windows and the Developer Division have been working hard to bring you many additional OSS technologies. Here is a list of those we cover at OSCON 2014, which you can use today to build your Windows Store and Phone apps:
- Boost C++ Libraries
- Kinect SDK
Here are the announcements from Microsoft Open Technologies at OSCON 2014.
The VC++ team in Developer Division has just announced support for Boost C++ Libraries for Windows Store and Windows Phone.
And of course, our work with open source is just beginning, and we’d love to know how we can prioritize and improve our work.
Please take our OSS Survey to share your feedback and what OSS you want to see next on Windows.
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