Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Developer Viewpoint: Rapid Prototyping with SketchFlow

You can see my own direct review of SketchFlow here.

This article is a great introduction to SketchFlow, which is found in Microsoft's Expression Blend.

Rapid Prototyping with SketchFlow

Unlike developer "design" tools, SketchFlow is really great at focusing on the interface and how users will interact with the application. I'm not a graphics designer so I know pretty much right off the bat, my prototype may not have the prettiest graphics designs. However, with Expression Blend, I was able to make the UI look half-decent.

It uses XAML files to show case the interface - this is extremely useful as I just grabbed some earlier work being done in Visual Studio and dropped it in - worked like a charm. I was then able to make changes to the XAML from a designer's perspective instead of a developer's.

With the SketchFlow Map, you simply draw lines to create a flow between "pages" of your application or to integrate shared components. When you build your application, it provides a SketchFlow viewer with a navigation bar on the right. You can also add animations and direct content to create more interactive shots.

Now to present it, you can do a manual presentation (F5) and walk users through it - but one of the killer features is the ability to "package" the flow and give clients an application that they can walk through on their own, see your annotations or add their own and then send you feedback directly.

I'm a big fan of usability testing and while Sketchflow certainly is more on the prototyping side, it really does let you test concepts very easily.

If you're happy with what you've done, you can actually re-use the XAML and components you've built.

The Expression Blend evaluation period is 60 days - so it definitely gives you lots of time to work with it, even just for prototyping out concepts.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

VFP Stack Overflow: What's In A Name?

In the latest issue of FoxRockX, Ken Levy has an interesting op-ed piece called the Visual FoxPro Stack Overflow. I'm not sure if the latest issue is a re-hash of the original which was posted last summer.

It's a little like the similar page on the VFP Stack, nothing all of the possible VFP projects, including VFPX, VFP Studio, etc, etc. What would you call it? The community decided a few years back that VFPX was a better term than VFP.Next. Is that still the best term?

Perhaps more interestingly in the piece, Ken noted that the FoxPro trademark was dropped by Microsoft years ago. As a result, FoxPro and VFP can be found through search engines without anything having to do with the VFP Development tool. This is where the whole concept of stack comes up. If you consider that LAMP is (Linux,Apache,MySQL,PHP), what would a better term for VFP be?

The bigger issue here for me is that how do developers "get" Visual FoxPro, without MSDN, moving forward.

If you consider the tools that are available, it might be possible to build a front-end IDE to VFP - similar to the (abandoned?) VFP Studio, that would simply run the VFP compile steps in the background. Just an idea but it certainly is doable.

One challenge, of course, would be ActiveX controls but if you look at the work being done over at VFPX, there are a lot of places where you don't necessarily need ActiveX.

While a lot of the work I do now is in Visual Studio, I'm using VFP pretty much every day as one of my tools. Building a UI or executable for just specific pieces (such as the Data Explorer) might be another useful way of using it in a day to day environment.

Are you actively using FoxPro on a daily basis? If so, chime in and get involved in the discussion.