Time to get crackin' on that Tumbleweed Frogger game (Xbox Live Creators Program Announced)

We all have those moments, those moment when we get that inspiration to create something. Come on, you know you do. I have. So here's your chance. Want to tap into over 55 million active games and be able to utilizing features to organically grow your audience and reach? Microsoft announced today a new initiative, the Xbox Live Creators Program (currently in Preview), that will allow any app or game developer to create or incorporate Xbox Live into their game and publish it to either Xbox Live or Windows 10 without having to go through the extremely cumbersome and extraneous channels previously required. Incorporate social experiences, leaderboards and more into your games with minimal development time.

I have to say that I'm pretty excited about this. When the Xbox first came out, a friend and I were joking around on Facebook about creating a new game similar to the old 70s game Frogger, but using tumbleweeds. See she and her husband were making a cross-country trek from Michigan to Washington and while crossing the plain states seemed to be hitting, literally, an inordinate amount of tumbleweed that would blow into their path on the freeway. I joked that that would make a good game and thus the faint glimmer of a game idea ignited into being. At that time though, in order to publish a game to the Xbox platform you had to either be Microsoft or a big gaming studio. I was pretty discouraged.

Now with the Creators Program, us little guys have a chance to build our own games and publish then to the platform. Pretty cool! There are just four steps to be on your way. Go over to the Creators site and:

  1. Create a Microsoft Account if you don’t have one. If you already have one, you are set!
  2. Enroll in the Dev Center developer program.
  3. Apply to join the Preview for Xbox Live Creators Program. Sign-ups are initially limited. As the program ramps up, more spaces will periodically be made available.
  4. Read the documentation to learn how to integrate Xbox Live into your game.

That's it. I can't wait to see all those great games you'll come up with. As for me... well, I better get hoppin'.

Microsoft Band Updates and SDK

MSBand2 I was a Fitbit fan. Still am. They're great devices--durable as hell, with fantastic analytics and an outstanding API. When I heard that Microsoft was releasing its own "fitness" band, I was skeptical, but when I saw that it was integrated with my calendar, email, and SMS / text messages, and it had the same (or better) fitness features as the Fitbit, I was more than interested. The fact that it was also integrated with Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant app, was icing on the cake for me. I dutifully went to my local Microsoft store and got one.

You never really recover from being a developer. Once it's in your blood, you're a developer for life. So of course, being the code junkie that I am, as soon as I got the Band, I wanted to write an app for it--or two or three. My app idea notebook just got a new section.

Fast forward four months. I can finally start writing apps for the Band; the MS Band SDK (Software Developer Kit) was released on Feb 23rd across all platforms (Windows, Android and iOS). You can get your copy of the SDK here. Watch this page for news on what I have up my sleeve.


In addition to the SDK, Microsoft released an update for the Band and its accompanying Health App that offers some much-needed improvements, including integration to MapMyFitness (YES!) and tracking for bicycle workouts. A new personal fitness dashboard brings it close to the analytics that are available for the Fitbit product line. All in all, a pretty good (and much needed) update. I hope there's more to come, and I'll be interested to see what ideas others come up with for apps. If you have one, I hope you'll write to me and let me know.

Surface 3 Pro - Tablet as Laptop replacement. Welcome to my world!

Today I watched the live stream of the Surface announcement from NYC. It was a fantastic show! Many expected an announcement for a Surface mini, including me. What happened was an introduction of a larger model, the 12" Surface 3 Pro. What was distinctly different in this announcement was the tone. I loved it! See I've long been frustrated by the marketing positioning of the Windows 8 tablets as gaming, kids drawing and essentially commercial only use machines, that it is a device in addition to your other devices. It makes it really hard to convince companies that these tablets are serious machines. The BIGGEST differential between a Windows 8 Pro tablet and the others is that it a full blown Windows machine. Period. Done. If you are looking to buy a tablet to just watch Netflix or check email or facebook, than any other tablet will be fine. If you are looking to actually CREATE content, like documents, spreadsheets, aka business content, or for in front of clients, then you have few choices there and then it depends what you are "presenting" and what your business is. Typically, the infrastructure of businesses is dominated by Microsoft technology. So to work on those business systems, you need to be able to talk, interact and connect to those business systems. Windows 8 Pro tablets run the same software as your desktop machine. It runs the same software as your laptop. It inherently knows how to talk to those business systems that you clients have. The specs have been there since the beginning that mimic many of the existing non-tablet machines. You don't need to think about having one machine for work and one for casual content consumption. It can be the same device. That was the best message from the press conference today. One that I hope I hear over and over from the MS marketing machine.

So in reality, users have been able to replace their laptops with a Windows 8 pro tablet for several years. Don't believe me? I am a prime case in point. I have been running a Windows 8 Pro tablet as my primary computer since Dec 2011, and a machine that I do development on at that. Yes, you read that correctly, Dec 2011. My first Windows 8 tablet was a Samsung Slate 7 which I bought  because I was starting to write Windows 8 Store (then Metro) apps. I say first Window 8 tablet because I had also just bought an awesome Sony Tablet running Android OS in October when it was introduced. Great tablet/device... for consuming content.

Samsung Slate 7 with Docking Stn and Keyboard

For the Samsung Slate, I had the Developer Preview on it and then the Consumer Preview and then the RTM versions on it. It really wasn't an optimized machine for Windows 8, mostly because it was made before there was a Windows 8, but it worked and it was one of the best models on the market at that time. At the time I bought it (Dec 2011), I had a new-ish Sony Viao Z with an i7, 8 gigs of RAM and a 128gig SSD. It was (and is) an awesome laptop, but it was missing one important thing that I needed. It didn't have a touch screen. Nothing did then. So I bought the Samsung Slate. It had a docking station, a Bluetooth keyboard and I could connect it to my 27" monitor, just like my laptop. Now, the specs were not as great (i5 and 4gig RAM), but I was still able to use it to develop Win8 apps and other things, do email, present, teach, write SSRS reports and dashboards, and create pretty much anything I wanted. Pretty soon, I was on it all the time, working. So I transitioned to it full time as my primary machine and the kickass Z ended up gathering dust on the bookshelf.  When I would show up to client meetings with it, people couldn't believe I used this tablet just like a laptop.

About 11 months later, Microsoft introduced the first Surface Pro. Because my Samsung Slate was the exact same specs as the Surface (and I had just gotten it a few month earlier), I didn't get my first Surface until the next year, June 2013, as part of //Build. It was much lighter than my Samsung. It had a crisper display. And it had a slick slim keyboard. The Samsung went on the shelf with the Viao. I then upgraded to the Surface 2 Pro (this time selling the then just barely used Surface Pro) when it came out because I wanted more RAM (remember that development stuff??). It has been my primary machine, dev and all, since. Since I do type for a living, spending anywhere from 8-15 hours a day working on the machine, the keyboard does matter. My personal experience is that the Surface type cover works just fine for me and is my one and only keyboard. Because I do do development work, I have issues with the default setting for the function keys to control media and other function rather than the "real" functions they are meant to. That is a pain, but only when I'm debugging something.

I am interested in the Surface 3 Pro, mostly because of the addition of the i7 model and new pen and Adobe collaboration. I've been doing so much App Design work for clients that I'm about to buy a Wacom digitizer to connect to my Surface 2 Pro. If I can get that combination in one device... well, I am interested. I need to play with the new pen to see how it is and also to see what tip and pen options will be available. I'll let you know what I find out. The only other thing I need to make this an ultimate machine for me, would be a 16gig RAM model. I could then use it for local hosting of Hyper-v images for dev and training at client sites. So I do wish and hope and plead for a 16 gig RAM model sometime soon, but I don't think that is in the stars.

So I like the new model. Like where the "message" about them (and other Win8 Pro tablets) is going. Interesting stuff.