A Peek into a Microsoft Focus Group On Web Matrix and Azure

Fundamentals of Web Matrix Cover

Fundamentals of Web Matrix CoverWe get a special report from Desiree this week on The Bella Buzz podcast, as she returns from her first visit to the Microsoft Campus in Seattle, Washington.  Her mission during the visit was to provide some direct feedback to the developers and marketing team around the products called Microsoft Web Matrix and Windows Azure.

Before we get into the details of her discoveries there, she tells us about playing with the awesome gaming console Xbox Kinect. There are probably some people who underestimate the exciting work that Microsoft is releasing under brand names like Xbox and Zune. Those entertainment devices are much more interesting to the consumer marketplace than the latest edition of the Windows Office suite.

Joomla, Drupal and WordPress users were all present to see how the Windows Azure platform might benefit them.  This cross section of CMS users representing Drupal, Joomla and WordPress were treated to a presentation and some roundtable discussions about the ease with which this integrated platform will help launch web sites.

Microsoft Web Matrix fits into this ecosystem as well.  This development kit is intended to act as a toolbox, where you can find all of the tools needed to develop a site (using one of the three open source applications), integrate it with your MySQL database, and publish it to the web.

With this platform, developers can use a local desktop machine to code their sites and then push them to the web server. In many ways, Desiree felt that this went against the normal practice of developing sites on a development server.  The process that Desiree and her team has instituted helps clients monitor the progress of the site in actual time plus it ensures that the database is set up properly for storing every file path correctly.

The Azure cloud hosting environment precedes the Apple iCloud that was announced just recently. There has been a history of Microsoft attempts at getting adoption into the cloud for file hosting, but has suffered through some feature communication and branding issues.  Names like Windows Live, Windows Live Mesh, Skydrive and Azure have all been promoted as offering “file storage in the cloud” at one point in time.

Desiree can foresee a future of software rental coming from Microsoft’s cloud initiatives.

It is very timely to get some insights directly from Microsoft, coming on the heels of the recent statement from Eric Schmidt regarding the “Gang of Four” driving the consumer internet revolution today. These four in Schmidt’s estimation include Google (obviously), Facebook, Apple and Amazon .. notably leaving Microsoft out of the equation.

Microsoft really made an effort to use the group’s visit to delve into feedback on a variety of topics, ranging from PHP to typography to magazines.  Hopefully all of this feedback from the focus group will help put the company back into the conversation with the rest of the horsemen innovating our digital lives.

Maybe during the launch of Windows 8, some of the features that were discussed during this visit will be integrated into a seamless combination of cloud storage, content management, and maybe even some Kinect type gesture based interfaces. Maybe…

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Why the iPad and iPhone Have Changed Web Design

ipad iphone web design example

ipad iphone web design example

A sneak peek at the author's new iPad/iPhone friendly website.

As I was reading an article this morning on my iPad a CNN article popped up about How the iPad Changed 2010.”  There was a statement about how the iPad is actually changing how websites are designed. This couldn’t be more true from what I’ve personally seen with our own client sites this year. I thought I would expand on this idea. Here’s what I’m seeing:

Flash is dead (until they reinvent it). Flash is no longer considered a web compliant medium. If you have flash on your site, the iPad and iPhone will not show it. You’ll end up with a site that has empty space where the animation should be. Worse, if your whole site is in Flash, it will be completely invisible and no navigation will  render the site useless.

Websites will look more like apps. This is already happening to sites you visit on a regular basis. Look at Twitter’s recent major design transformation on an iPad or iPhone and you’ll see what I mean. The whole site looks like an application and is even better than it’s official iPad app, in my opinion. On the other hand, apps are designed more like the websites they represent. It’s all a matter of branding. Branding should be consistent including colors, logos and layout between both an app and its website.

Navigation is widgetized. If you look at an iPad application, you know exactly which buttons to push to get to where you need to go. Same with websites being designed to work on these platforms. There are more sections of information with larger buttons to get you where you need to go on websites which are iPad compliant. No more little text links to deal with which are hard to navigate with large fingers.

Video is sexy, images are beautiful. Site owners are investing in tools which will enable them to create HD video and images to set their site apart from the pack. Everyone knows it’s the images that really make a website shine. If your images are blurred, don’t kill your chances of making a good impression. Delete ‘em! Video will also continue to make strides on sites as it is a natural on the iPad and iPhone. A professional video on your site will impress more visitors than just plain text. If you can speak the words, why not videotape them being spoken by a company representative, or better yet, the owner? It will make a much more lasting impression.

So my question to you is, have you viewed your site on an iPad or iPhone yet? Are you afraid to see what you might find? I would encourage those who don’t own these devices to go to the Apple store and take a look. Why should you care? Over 9 million iPhones have been sold and this holiday season looks to add millions more to the 6 million iPads already out there. The most important marketing real estate right now is the mobile platform. If your own site doesn’t represent your company well on all popular platforms, you might think about hiring someone who can can change that.  (You might also look into creating an application that can further help your customers, but that’s another blog post forthcoming. Stay tuned!)

NOTE: Joe has been moving from Atlanta to Boston this week in the wet, icy cold weather and was not able to record the usual podcast. The Bella Buzz Podcast will be back next week with Desiree and Joe’s technology predictions for 2011.

The Future of Mobile Computing; Is Your Web Site Developer Thinking About Flash Alternatives?

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The Bella Buzz podcast devotes an entire episode to the vast change that is taking place in the web design world regarding the use of Flash.  As anyone with an iPhone or the new iPad from Apple knows, Flash applications are not supported on these devices.  Since these types of devices are becoming the norm for our mobile computing, we thought we should address the subject with an eye towards the future.

Adobe_flash The topic has really come to the forefront as Steve Jobs was questioned about the lack of Flash support on the iPad, and he has written a post title Thoughts on Flash that is prominently featured on the Apple.com web site.

We are heading into an environment where we have moved away from the desktop as the sole form of computing, with a keyboard and a mouse as the way to navigate, to a more mobile device that requires touch and tap capability to access the information we desire.  It is this lack of functionality that removes Flash as a way to distribute rich media content.

The uses of Flash really flourished as bandwidth allowed for quick rendering of larger file formats in the browser. It provided designers with a great way to include animation and rich graphics on their web sites, as well as a way ultimately to wrap multi-media elements such as video and podcasts.  It has also flourished in the online gaming environment.

As sites are redesigned in the near future, migration away from Flash should be a priority conversation with consideration given to jQuery, HTML5 standards or Quicktime.

Desiree is starting to investigate some solutions for sites with major graphical elements including one for a photographer and one in use for www.marketsmarter.biz. Desiree is suggesting that site owners make this change sooner than later.

NOTE: The Bella Buzz podcast will be taking a hiatus as Desiree does some international traveling.  We will look for some great insight into overseas technology as well as some uploaded photography upon her return.  The next podcast recording is scheduled for June 14th.

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