RoguePlanetoid.com Picks – Groove Music, Gone

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Back in October it was announced that Groove Music will be ending, I’ll be switching to Spotify soon but as a consumer and a developer it was hard news to hear but as the end date of next month grows closer, here’s the article about it closing again.

RoguePlanetoid.com this month was due to feature Groove Music for Developers content including a multi-part workshop plus details on how to sign up and use the Groove Music API and would form part of a short talk at DDD North in Bradford, UK that I would have given to give an overview of this, all that will no longer happen due to the shock announcement yesterday that the Groove Music service will end along with Groove Music Pass, Purchased Music and the Groove Music API. I’ve been a Groove Music partner for some time and before that signed up for the developer pilot programme when it was Xbox Music and have done presentations about the service in the past and shared many Groove Music Mondays and Groove Music Picks on RoguePlanetoid.com but now that all ends today, all the effort I’ve put into the platform and was going to was in vain, although it pails in comparison to all the hard work the Groove Music team has put into the product including producing a showcase UWP application and a best in class API service and hopefully they will all find other valulable positions within Microsoft and wish them all the best, but many like myself will miss Groove Music, it may be soon gone but it won’t be forgotten.

Groove Music was first named as part of the original Windows 10 release, although before that it was Xbox Music which aligned it to Microsoft’s Xbox brand and made it front-and-centre in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 as well as on the Xbox console itself, but before then it carried a dedicated brand – Zune. Zune was Microsoft’s music service and also a range of devices, if you’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy 2 that might be the only time you’ve seen one, but there were some around – I owned the Zune 80GB and Zune HD 32GB myself. Zune Music also had it’s own service and API, although it wasn’t public, I made an application called ZuneCardr that used the Zune Cards system which was part of the Zune Social combined with this private API to bring the experience of being able to listen to your friend’s music on-the-go originally for Windows Phone 7 – this became the only Zune Social application and experience on the platform and gained over 330,000 downloads and was one of the first thousand apps available for Windows Phone when it first came out.

From Zune, to Xbox, to Groove – the music service from Microsoft has always had a niche but gave many useful features to consumers such as Radio, Curated Playlists and Music Videos, plus to developers delivered a world-class API experience allowing access to all Groove Music content and features even allowing streaming of music for Groove Music Pass subscribers. It’s sad to see such a great service close and know that the many years of hard work and dedication I’ve put in through the years will now be at an end, but that also applies to those within Microsoft who were behind the platform, I thank them for all their hard work too over the years and I’ll always think fondly of the contributions I made using the platform and will listen to my playlists one more time before the end.

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RoguePlanetoid.com Picks – Microsoft Developers

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Microsoft Developers can cover a wide variety of platforms and devices these days – cross-platform Mobile development with Xamarin, enterprise grade software with .NET Framework, multi-device development with Universal Windows Platform including Windows 10, Xbox One and HoloLens, open-source development with .NET Core and cloud-based applications that run on Microsoft Azure. You can write for all these platforms and devices with the same programming language – C#, or even on many of them support other languages such as F# and Visual Basic that take advantage of the Microsoft development stack. Microsoft Developers in the past were regarded as big-business only with focus on proprietary solutions but recently this has changed over the past few years with focus on open-source with .NET Core and more platforms and devices to develop for such as tablets, PCs, consoles plus augmented and virtual reality devices. You can find more details about Microsoft Development platforms and options at developer.microsoft.com

Microsoft Developers can be open source by taking advantage of the .NET Core eco-system which is based upon the successful .NET Framework, a fully end-to-end open source project with all source code available for the framework, compilers, libraries and even the language itself with community feedback and submissions being accepted. Of course it wasn’t always this way but the perception out there is that it still is and that the open source initiatives are just temporary – that’s certainly not the with Microsoft being one of the biggest contributors to GitHub, even closing down their own online source code repository CodePlex in favour of posting all code there instead and there’s plenty of documentation for all of the Microsoft platforms for developers or designers at docs.microsoft.com

Microsoft Developers can cover so many more platforms and devices than just PCs or the web, you can build chat bots for Skype, services in the cloud, interactive 3D experiences for HoloLens, large-screen applications for Surface Hub, target Internet Of Things (IoT) devices and many more besides. The focus is on developers, even if building for non-Microsoft platforms there’s support such as Xamarin with the ability to write applications for iOS and Android as well as the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) – this extends the reach of developers who aren’t using Microsoft technologies to still have a great development experience. Microsoft offers many options for developers to create their applications with development environments – for those interested in cross-platform development there’s Visual Studio Code available at code.visualstudio.com, or for those on Windows then there’s Visual Studio with versions catering for every level of developer from beginners, small teams and companies with the free Visual Studio Community through to Visual Studio Enterprise for larger teams and companies, details including downloads are available at visualstudio.com

Microsoft Developers to-be can get started with resources such as microsoftvirtualacademy.com – which is free Microsoft training delivered by experts covering topics from Cloud Development, Game Development, Web Development and more plus content for Beginners. There are for learning specific parts of the Microsoft Development stack including, asp.net for ASP.NET resources, documentation, examples and much more besides and is a great resource for beginners and seasoned web developers. For anyone wanting to get started with developing for the Universal Windows Platform there are dozens of Tutorials available at comentsys.wordpress.com that I wrote – these go through many examples including basic features, building mini-games and small applications as well as covering more advanced features. You can also find out about developing for the cloud at azure.com, with information and resources plus the ability to manage and build solutions for the cloud on Microsoft Azure. For those who want to develop using .NET either with the full .NET Framework or .NET Core then dot.net is the best way to start with information, downloads and resources. Then there’s the C# language itself which is supported on every Microsoft Development platform from cloud to IoT – the best way to start learning C# is with a workshop, so a free C# Workshop will be posted all throughout August here on this blog at rogueplanetoid.com and hopefully will encourage many more people to become Microsoft Developers!

RoguePlanetoid.com Picks – .NET Core 2.0

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.NET Core 2.0 was announced earlier this month as a final release, making it ready for production workloads – it was also joined by the final release of ASP.NET Core 2.0 and Entity Framework Core 2.0. .NET Standard 2.0 was also finalised at the same time and makes it even easier to share code between each .NET implementation that supports this and doubles the set of APIs available for projects. .NET Core 2.0 includes major improvements to make it easier to use and more capable including framework and runtime performance improvements, additional supported platforms such as Debian Stretch and macOS High Sierra and it’s much easier to target Linux as a single operating system, can reference .NET Framework Libraries from .NET Standard, added support for Visual Basic, IDE productivity enhancements, project system simplifications and more, all making .NET Core a more mature and useful for everyone in .NET Core 2.0!

ASP.NET Core 2.0 adds many new features to make building and monitoring web apps and easier, including introducing Razor Pages which simplifies the Model-View-Controller architecture allowing the creation of standalone pages, there’s upgraded Templates and Single Page Application (SPA) Templates, Monitor and Profile with no code changes plus Application Insights, there’s Razor support for C# 7.1 to support the latest language features, simplified Application Host configuration and many other changes, providing new ways to write applications and simply operation of managing a production application when using ASP.NET Core 2.0!

Entity Framework 2.0 is the lightweight, extensible, cross-platform object/relational mapping framework for .NET and now targets the new .NET STandard 2.0 which defines a shared surface area of over 32,000 APIs that work across .NET Framework, .NET Core, Mono, Xamarin and soon the Universal Windows Platform. There’s imrproved LINQ translation with increased number of patterns that can be translated to SQL plus addition of Like query operator, you define “owned” or “child” entities which group properties within other entities, global query filters are now possible where you can specify filters in the model that are applied automatically to all entities of a type, you can pool pre-created instances of DbContext to boost performance, there’s string interpolation of raw SQL methods – where the resulting SQL syntax is correctly parameterised where needed, and many more features besides such as explicitly compiled queries, self-contained entity configurations and database scalar function mapping, all of this making it even easier to work with data using Entity Framework 2.0!
Originally Published 30th August 2017

Innovate Now – XR for Businesses

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Innovate Now was held on 16th November 2017 at Hedgehog Lab in Generator Studios and comprised of a panel of industry experts discussing XR plus Q&A with the audience. The panel included Shaun Allan who started his own business in virtual and augmented reality development back in 2008 and currently heads up the strategic development of the VR, AR and MR division at Hedgehog Lab. Anya Bramich who currently works as a Digital Developer at Gateshead Council and before this she worked with automotive technology company Zero Carbon Futures and during that time worked with hedgehog lab on a HoloLens project designed to demonstrate the use of Augmented Reality in a training environment. Justin Barad who is the co-founder and CEO of Osso VR, an award-winning surgical training platform helping to increase patient safety and the adoption of cutting edge medical technology.

What is XR? Mobile AR / Augmented Reality to fully immersive VR / Virtual Reality, using various technology such as mobile phone or headset, covers all the layers of immersive technologies, although not knowing the phrases and terminology can cause confusion, for example there is a new implementation of XR, which is Diminished Reality – is where you take objects out of a room such as chairs or tables and replace these with virtual elements such as viewing home furnishings.

Virtual Reality – when will this be mainstream? Could be a solution to training challenges in medicine as often you do something once but need to do it a hundred times to be confident in doing it correctly and as close to reality as possible and enhance patient safety. Need to spend more time with VR in everyday life, it’s not as popular as it should be or as predicted. Older versions of the technology might have put people off with Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality is taking off much quicker and be on Mobile devices such as AR Kit on iPhone and AR Core on Android. HoloLens was clever name as people would be reasonably familiar with Holograms from science fiction and this has been used for training and seems well suited to this plus this may be the best benefit of HoloLens for businesses who need training solutions it might solve.

Most worthwhile use of XR? The simplest value proposition for it, including increasing adoption of more technology that allows or improve performance of users based on that training. It will be relatively KPI driven, but can make it something that is demonstrably an improvement in a business. Other industries where XR could be implemented other that uses such as surgeries could include training staff in many sectors such as aerospace or engage staff in understanding processes within a company. At the moment these experiences tend to be entertainment industry for headsets such as Oculus and HTC Vive but there are also commercial packaged versions of these.

Most impressive implementation of XR? Examples could include showing off plans and gaining feedback from residents for new developments for councils and understand proposals. MS sufferer experience was something that stood out to glimpse a little what that is like. Collaboration in a 3D space or a room to provide feedback or have a chat in a virtual space meetings. Northern Design Centre has launched their own Immersive Lab and allow access to latest XR technologies. Innovate UK provided a budget for this to provide facilities such as Green Screen cubes for Mixed Reality and expands on the Vertigo Labs experience and this will move into the forthcoming Proto Building in Gateshead which will house these companies and facilities, plus allow large untethered headset experiences similar to HoloDeck concept from Star Trek. Hospitals are providing VR experiences as part of medical treatment for distractions for children while delivering medication and is an option for many hospitals. Gateshead is leading the UK to build the facilities for XR experiences and build the skills needed for this technology.

Why is adoption not as high as it should be? The cost of headsets and systems is quite expensive with Samsung leading with their cheap headset addition to their high end phones, Oculus is about £400 but was around £700 but when it’s £300 might help more adoption of the hardware. Even when people have the hardware they need a really good reason to use it over something else, such as more experiences or solve a problem better with the technology, need to have more daily user engagement  to help improve the situation. Early Adoption can seem risky but can also give you and edge such as property could take advantage of this. Ikea is working on experiences to see how items will look in a given space, once this sort of use case appears then more companies may follow as well, or visualisation apps like Dulux has for paint are basic versions of this, not a gimmick but something useful. Idea of standalone untethered headsets will help with this including Oculus Go but the first wave of these won’t  as powerful as the tethered device. But there are devices such as HoloLens are very expensive and relatively fragile. Mixed Reality Headsets powered by Microsoft Windows Holographic allow Virtual Reality experiences for a lower cost.

How should Haptic Technology be used with XR? This would allow feedback within a virtual experience or environment, could provide enhanced usability but can be expensive and maybe unnecessary.  With surgery could use it but can actually provide your own feedback with the brain even if there’s no actual feedback and could be overriding someone’s own sense of presence and providing something that feels artificial or the uncanny valley and for haptic feedback it can be confusing or distracting, less is more is the current trend.

What is the one narrative that will ignite interest in XR or VR and take it to the next level? It mainly means showing the evidence of how things can be improved using XR, collaborative experience with virtual events could be one or experience Google Earth in VR for places or taking people to places they can’t go such as Mars.

Going from Pilot to Mainstream, what is the inflection of this? People aren’t moved to action to improve surgeries with XR or technology as much as the aviation industry has to improve itself, and more widespread usage is important and allows training to be more cost effective if centralised.

How do you prevent XR from being the next 3D, where this failed to ignite consumer interest? VR is best used to do something you cannot do in any other medium. The general principles of XR depend on the capabilities of the various “R”s and best experiences are those that require the least on boarding. If there’s a lot of information to take in and if it’s not apparent what this means in reality – these technologies can help visualise this. Anything that is expensive or need to be replicated over and over again, or dangerous is where VR can make a business case.