Microsoft’s Project Siena, Metro Apps in a Flash and the Return of the Programming Enthusiast…

App Builders have come a long way over recent years, web based tools are now available that allow anyone to quickly build code free apps for iOS, Android and Windows 8. Microsoft has this week released its contribution to the field with Project Siena, and she may just be a game changer.

Project Siena is a blindingly fast, obscenely simple yet surprisingly powerful way to build Metro apps that run on all Windows 8 platforms, from Smartphone to x86. Simple enough that no programming experience is required, if you can use PowerPoint or Excel then you can use Project Siena.

The beta of Project Siena is now available for download from Microsoft’s Store on all Windows 8 platforms, finally a use for those RT tablets, Metro developer? And could Project Siena herald the return of the programming enthusiast to Windows?

Project Siena's layout designer.
Project Siena’s layout designer.

Siena’s interface is pure simplified Windows 8; this should allow quick development on touch screen and desktops alike.

Microsoft has included plenty of smarts in Siena, smarts that allows multiple data sources, simple formula logic control and resolution independence.

Siena’s data sources can include Windows Azure cloud, Excel, RSS Feed, Sharepoint List and REST web service. Enough to allow Siena apps to be built on top of web, databases or local servers.

Interface design options include all of the classic controls from Visual Studio or MS Access. List boxes, Text Boxes, Sliders, Images, Gallery, Drop-down lists and the list goes on.

A limited number of events are even available to various objects; most controls have OnSelect. forms have OnVisible and OnHidden while List boxes also have OnChange. The number of events is drastically smaller than those in Visual Studio but there should be just enough to get it done quick and dirty.

Releasing the apps is as simple as hitting the publish button and sharing it with your friends. If you’re a registered Microsoft developer you can also release your apps to the Windows Store.

In the future Microsoft is already talking about web service post backs (save data) in real time along with improvements to the current data sources. The introduction of tiles to the desktop in the upcoming Windows 8.2 will allow Siena applications to run on the desktop as well as amongst the tiles.

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The Rebirth of the Programming Enthusiast.

Windows 8 saw Microsoft introduce the split between Apps and Programs. Apps being the tile based Metro applications that run on all Windows 8 platforms. Programs are the traditional desktop programs that live predominantly on the x86 desktop.

This may at first seem to be a confusing attempt by Microsoft to jam their foot in the doorway of new computing, the web enabled touch screen world. It is but its effects will be much greater than that. The reduced development time of Apps may just see the return of the enthusiast programmer to Windows.

Project Siena's Windows Store page...
Project Siena’s Windows Store page…

Setting the scene, over the last decade Microsoft has ruled the market for Windows application development software, especially when developing large complex applications. Modern applications with millions of lines of code and gigabytes of source data are handled with aplomb using their modern development environments.

Don’t be mistaken for a second that developing an app this way is easy. The need for many types of specialist talents to be working together to produce the millions of lines required as well as the thousands of man hours that go into interface design, data structures and graphics etc, these are projects with man hours calculated in the 10’s of thousands.

This proficiency at building large apps has come at a cost however, the disappearance of the enthusiast programmer cranking out quick overnight applications. Windows has become a very serious place, a little too serious some might say.

Does every application need to be that complex?’. Should it take 6 months to write a simple recipe search application? The answer to both is of course No, not every project requires complex project management skills or any of the overhead associated with developing large apps.

Tile's about to heat up?
Tile’s about to heat up?

This is where the new split and Project Siena step in. Smaller, simple and often far crazier apps now have a viable development process. Quick little apps, the stuff that built the Windows world way back when it was new. A style of app that made the Commodore 64 and Amiga what they were.

Interestingly the upsurge in platforms to help kids to learn to program like the Raspberry Pi could easily point to the lack of a simple starting points for children and anyone interested in programming, the enthusiast programmer.

Hopefully this is just the start for Project Siena and quick development systems like it. The return of the programming enthusiast is the breath of fresh air that a stale Windows world needs. Now if someone could write a quick utility to convert the Project Siena apps to iOS and Android we would have the perfect quick app builder, it is just HTML 5 and JavaScript after all.

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Conclusion

Project Siena may also provide the most compelling case for corporate organisations to upgrade to Windows 8 and its tiles, seamless cross platform apps (desktop, tablet and smartphone) with ultra fast development times and minimal maintenance. Imagine you’re companies dashboard spread across a number of live tabs on your Start Screen and even the desktop.

At the very least Siena will help Microsoft stimulate the Metro app eco-system, it is the perfect tool for the job and it should see more action in tile land. Will we see the enthusiast programmer return to Windows or will we simply see 10 million useless apps appear overnight? Only time will tell but here at Highpants we already have 3 app ideas, all of them fairly crazy.

Reference: Microsoft Project Siena TechNet page and help…