Who’s on 8: Save Recipes

Being on vacation for a couple of weeks has given me some extra time to check out new apps in the store, and I thought I’d share a recent find by one of our more prolific developers, Matt Ruffell of MDR Applications in upstate New York.

Save Recipes by MDR ApplicationsSave Recipes does exactly what it says – allows you to store your favorite recipes from friends, grandma, and all those cooking reality shows right on your Windows 8 “sous chef” slate in the kitchen! This app also comes with a backup and restore feature to SkyDrive so you’re not at risk of losing your culinary collection.

Matt has published the app with a free (30-day) trial – a best practice for any paid application. In fact, around a year ago, the Windows Phone team published some statistics indicating that paid apps with a trial were downloaded 70 more times than paid apps without a trial and came with around a 10% conversion rate to the full version, a majority within a day after downloading the trial.

I’ve yet to meet Matt in person, but have conversed with him numerous times over the past year or two beginning when his Windows Phone app, Cool Tools, first caught my attention.  That was one of his first Windows 8 apps and as I’m writing this, Cool Tools for Windows 8 also appears as the highlighted app for the Tools category on the Windows Store. So I guess double congratulations are due – nice job, Matt!

Who’s on 8: Tablet Letter Pro and Tablet Invoice Pro

Steve Hall of Lucky 8 Solutions is no stranger to Windows 8. He has published 10 Windows Store apps focused on mobile data collection and digital forms, including the recently launched Table Letter Pro, and in September 2012 founded and continues to run the Boston Windows 8 App Developers and IT Group in Cambridge. 

Table Letter Pro   Tablet Invoice Pro

Recently I asked Steve to share his thoughts on the latest apps he’s developed (pictured above):

Most recently I launched ‘Tablet Invoice Pro’ (Windows 8/RT App). This app is optimized for Windows tablets and touch-screen usability. You can choose from professional templates or customize yourself by adding images, receipt photos, and a touch-screen signature. Stay organized with easy filter options and automatically attach invoice to emails (Word, XLS or PDF format). Taxes and totals are calculated for you.

I started Tablet Invoice Pro in July 2013 because I wanted to create a digital forms app for mobile business users that would showcase the capabilities of Windows store apps when optimized for Windows tablets. I set out with three primary objectives.

  1. Make it faster to fill out touch screen forms using a Windows tablet;
  2. Use the tablet to include photos and to get a customer signature using the touch screen;
  3. Be able to easily save, edit and email the invoices in Word, Excel or PDF formats right from the tablet. I wanted knew Microsoft was focused on tablets and I wanted to show other app developers what is possible.

To save time custom developing key functionality we took advantage of Syncfusion Essential Studio for WinRT/XAML. By using this tool set, we were able to save over 100 hours developing the technology that turns forms into formatted Word, Excel and PDF documents (plus functionality to include photos and digital signature).

The process of developing mobile business apps optimized for Windows 8/RT tablets has been exciting. I am not a developer, but I hired a developer in India thru Elance, which was recommended to me from Microsoft BizSpark. I understood workflows and picked up the concept of the metro design and XAML fairly quickly. The developer understood WPF, MVVM and XAML, so the coding was pretty straightforward.

We developed the entire app in C#/XAML. The hardest part was just figuring out the best way to do something new since there weren’t really many good digital forms apps in the Windows Store to look at. My local Boston Windows App Tech evangelist, Jim O’Neil gave me advice along the way and great feedback on improvements I could make based on Microsoft suggested best practices.

Over the past year my experience with Microsoft has been great. They have helped me every step of the way and as a result I have 10 apps in the store. Building Windows Store Apps is fun and easy and I would recommend it to anyone. I have created apps focused on photos, videos, drawings, Bing Maps, voice notes, text notes and SkyDrive – all with the help of Microsoft and the tools and resources they offer for app developers.

Next I plan to develop more mobile business apps showcasing digital forms and mobile data collection capabilities for Windows Tablets to help Boston Windows 8 App Developers & IT Group members understand what’s possible. Windows 8 tablet apps are better for mobile business users than iPad apps and I can prove it.

Publish Your Own "LetterMan" in the Windows Store

Ok, I admit it: LetterMan holds a special place in my heart. It was the first app I published in the Windows Store, and it’s how I cut my teeth on Scirra’s Construct 2.

LetterMan was also the basis of four additional apps I published, each leveraging the same game logic but offering bilingual play in English and each of Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, and German (all with the help of volunteer translators).  Together, I’ve had more than 4000 downloads and 22 ratings with an average of about 3.75. Alas these are free apps, so I haven’t yet quit my day job!

Screenshot from German version of LetterMan

I had grand plans for a Latin version and even a “geek” version, but also realized there are a host of other apps that could arise – fueled by all of you multi-linguists out there.

So rather that hoard all the fun myself, I’ve open“open-sourced” the template I used for each of these applications and provided detailed instructions for you to create your own localized versions of the game and likewise get published in the Windows Store.

You’ll need to do a bit of work translating some text and, of course, finding images of objects starting with the various letters of your target language’s alphabet, but there are lot of public domain and Creative Commons repositories that can help (assuming you’re as graphically challenged as I).

For my apps, I made heavy use of the following sites for the graphics and background music:

  • clker.com – for vector-based, public domain clip art (there’s even an in-browser SVG editor you can use to make modifications to existing assets)
  • soundbible.com – sound effects (public domain and Creative Commons)
  • incompetech.com – royalty-free background music requiring only attribution within the application (something already accounted for in the template)

I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with, so be sure to add a comment to this blog post if you’re planning to undertake a new language version. And definitely let me know when your app is live in the store!

Lastly, don’t hesitate to drop me a note if something about the template or the instructions isn’t clear.

Boston Code Camp – Oct. 19th

Boston Code Camp

Boston Code Camp is just around the corner – another chance to attend your pick of nearly 30 sessions on topics ranging from Windows 8 to Azure to Neo4j and have the opportunity to network with over 200 area technologists.

This is the 20th edition of the Boston Code Camp, and like all its precursors, the event is completely free to attend, courtesy of sponsors such as ComponentOne and Microsoft. The event will be held at Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center (NERD) on Saturday, Oct. 19th, from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and registration is now open.

For those traveling by car, note that the event coincides with the Head of the Charles Regatta which may result in additional traffic flow and travel time.  Additionally, the Longfellow Bridge is currently under construction and allows only one-way traffic from Cambridge to Boston (see detour map). For those travelling east on Memorial Drive and intending to use the left exit to Kendall Square, note that due to MIT construction, Wadsworth street is closed, but the detour on Ames Street to Amherst Street will lead you to the NERD building (see detour map).

Harvard Needs Your Help

Ok, with over a $32 billion endowment, Harvard doesn’t need your money, but about 10 students would benefit from just a bit of your time.

My colleagues (Michael Cummings, Edwin Guarin, Bob Familiar, and Lance McCarthy) are teaching a course on Modern Mobile Application Development using a Lean Startup approach. At this point in the course, the students are in the pre-launch phase of their marketing and development efforts, and we’re leveraging our networks to provide them some feedback.

For this first assignment, they are each building a game for Windows Phone using Construct 2, and the students have PreApps accounts to preview their application concepts to an audience of mobile application developers and enthusiasts. Visitors (like you) to PreApps can comment on the design and concepts as well as register to be notified when the application is published. It’s a great way to play a part in the Build-Measure-Learn cycle and help the students launch a more successful product.

I encourage you to visit their application landing pages, offer constructive and actionable comments, and follow them to the ultimate launch of their games in a few weeks.  Below are the profiles currently registered (more may be added over the next few days); just click the icons/links below and you can review and add your comments directly.


Koala Quest SmurfPlatformGame Kitchen Mess The Spins

Koala Quest

Smurf Platform Game

Kitchen Mess

The Spins



Who’s on 8: Word Guesser

Word Guesser in the Windows Store

Here’s a shout out to Kyle Mitofsky for getting Word Guesser published in the Windows Store. I’m a big fan of word games, and although this one has a simple concept – essentially a binary search – it’s really tough to put it down!

What’s additionally great about Kyle’s work here is that he’s put all of his code out there on GitHub so you can see and learn exactly how he built the app and leverage that to achieve your own successes in the Windows Store.

But he didn’t stop there, he was one of the presenters at the recent Vermont Code Camp where he covered Introduction to Windows 8 Apps for Windows Form Developers (and also posted his slides). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend code camp, but from his description he certainly got a lot done in that hour!

This talk will focus on the differences between traditional desktop applications and new Windows Store apps. We’ll build a couple small metro applications using VB/XAML while leveraging new controls to build an immersive application that meets Windows 8 Design Guidelines, by supporting app bars, settings panels, snapped layouts, and asynchronous calls. We’ll even get to debug code on the SurfaceRT tablet provided by Microsoft to the .NET user group.

For those of you that see Windows 8 app development as a huge learning curve or requiring super-human design abilities, Kyle’s code and slides are a fantastic way to jump in and begin leveraging the skills you already have.

Congrats, Kyle, and thank you for sharing your own experiences with the greater development community!

Publish Your First Game – Hartford, Sept. 28

I am somewhat of a rarity – a geek that’s not really a gamer (well, unless you count Wordament with my 40 1st place finishes, w00t!), but for those of you that are and/or aspire to bring your own game concepts to life, plan to attend the FREE Windows 8 Game Development for Beginners workshop this Saturday, Sept. 28th, at the Microsoft Farmington Office.

Even if you have no software development background, you’ll be able to quickly grasp how to create a casual game using Construct 2 and package it for submission to the Windows Store. I’ve done that a few times – check out Letterman for instance, but don’t be fooled by how simplistic that one looks. With the same tool, another developer (with considerably more artistic skills than I) created the stunning Mortar Melon app (below) that’s on both Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

Mortar Melon - built with Construct 2

So set aside a few hours this coming Saturday (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.), bring your laptop with Windows 8 (or even Windows 7), and join me and Josh for a fun and informative session.

Lunch is on us!

And if you have teens or preteens that might be interested in taking part bring them along too. At past workshops in Farmington and elsewhere, we’ve had several parent-child teams participate. After all, the family that codes together….

Umm, what’s this Codocent thing?

Opening day!

Welcome to the inaugural post of my new presence on the web. If you were directed here from my MSDN Blog, nothing’s really changed in terms of my role as a Microsoft Technical Evangelist. One of the primary motivators for the move was to gain more flexibility and control over my blog hosting and perhaps most importantly provide a responsive theme for mobile users – something that wasn’t easily achievable on the MSDN platform. By the way, my MSDN Blog and all the past articles will remain in place, and you can get there by clicking the “M” icon on the right sidebar.

What’s with the name – codocent – you ask? Well, my eponymous URL, jimoneil.com, was already claimed; the owner wasn’t interested in relinquishing (and from the state of that site apparently not too keen on publishing either); and I didn’t want to settle for just a .net or .me version.

That set me off on a brainstorming mission.

  • I love code. I love the craftsmanship aspect, the discovery of a better way to do things, and the learning along the way. I knew that “code” needed be part of my brand.
  • My other passion is teaching, helping folks understand concepts, seeing the lightbulb come on and learning from them as well as they go through that process.

Many of you know that I have a strong background in the classics, so it’s second nature for me to reach for words with Latin roots. “Teacher” in Latin is “doctor”, which has an patently different connotation in English, but from that I gravitated to “docent”, which literally means “they teach” but in English refers to learned guides in museums, historical sites, and other such attractions.

Codedocent, though, doesn’t quite roll of the tongue: co-dedocent? code-o-cent?

Enter a bit more of my classical training (and some poetic license). In poetry, there’s a device known as elision where you conveniently leave out parts of a word or phrase to fit a meter or make it easier to pronounce. Take the word temperature for instance – not many of us spend time with that second ‘e’.

codocent then is an elision of code and docent and with that comes a bit of serendipity. A co-docent is exactly what I aspire to be. As I explore and write about technical topics like mobile development and cloud architectures, I endeavor to expose others to what I’ve learned.

But it’s not a one-way street. Through every interaction I take away something from the audience that I’m ostensibly there to educate. Each individual comes from a different place, a different context, different experiences, and I learn as much from them as I hope they do from me.

So it’s in that spirit of mutual learning that I’m kicking off this new blog. I hope you’ll join me on the journey and participate in the conversation here and whenever we have the chance to meet in person.