Sharovatov’s Weblog

Pomodoro Windows 7 gadget

Posted in widgets, windows 7 by sharovatov on 3 December 2009

I was really inspired by http://tomatoi.st/ web service which provides an easy to use web interface for Pomodoro time management technique.

But unfortunately, tomatoi.st is down due to overload too often, so I spent 20 minutes and prepared a simple Windows 7 pomodoro gadget. It does just what’s needed – showing timers:

image

Click on “Work” button to start 25 minutes work interval, “short br” – to get 5 minutes short break timeout, “long br” for a 15 minutes long break.

It’s dead easy to download and install – just click here. Or you can inspect the code if you want to – gadget is just a zip file with html, css and js inside.

Ah, and I have to warn you – when a period of time is over, it starts playing Alert.wav every second until you set a new period.

For more information about Windows 7 gadgets you read the following posts on my blog:

  1. introduction to the gadgets platform
  2. Exploring Windows Desktop Gadgets 
  3. Exploring Windows Desktop Gadgets #2 – security and limitations
  4. Exploring Windows Desktop Gadgets #3 – settings storage
  5. Exploring Windows Desktop Gadgets #4 – flyouts

Or read MSDN.

P.S. this gadget doesn’t have any settings or flyout or anything else – it’s very simple.


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Windows 7 will be shipped without IE8 in Europe?

Posted in browsers, IE8, windows 7 by sharovatov on 11 June 2009

As CNET states, Windows 7 will be shipped to Europe without IE8 because European antitrust regulators told them so. This clearly shows how rotten EU antitrust committee is and how easy it is for a well settled lobby to force the whole EU to accept absolutely stupid and nonsense act.

Who will gain any profit from this?

Users? No, they will have to find a way to get any browser on their new computer. And what if it’s their first computer? How are they supposed to download anything from the internet? Yes it’s a five minutes job for an IT specialist, but go teach your grandmother how to use ftp.exe to download anything ;)

Hardware vendors? No, they were always able to install any browser on the computers they sell and make it the default one.

Other browser vendors? To a degree. Anyway Microsoft will provide hardware resellers with an IE8 pack – so they can install IE8 on all the computers they build.

Is there any sense at all in this decision? I can’t see it.

I just don’t get it, really. If I’m buying a car, I won’t argue that the tyres on this new car are from Pirelli (or any other vendor). I will just change them if I don’t really like Pirelli, or choose another car which doesn’t have Pirelly. I’m not prohibited to change them. I’m just given the default one.

And now compare this situation with Apple who clearly prohibits installing Opera on its iPhone. Because it would compete (and, obviously, win the competition) with their Safari browser. Why doesn’t EU antitrust committee look at this? Why don’t Opera take any action here?


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Opera 10 Beta, BSOD

Posted in browsers, windows 7 by sharovatov on 4 June 2009

Just downloaded and installed Opera 10 Beta on my MSI Wind U100 laptop. It made quite a good impression on me – small footprint and quick download, fast load time. Much faster than Firefox. Displaying big pages with images, animated GIFs, YouTube flash movies – working really fast in situations where Google Chrome nearly dies (or eats CPU as if it’s encoding video).

But then I tried opening leprosorium.ru and – voila – Blue Screen Of Death. I haven’t seen BSOD for 10 years – last time I’ve seen it in Windows 98 when I ran con\con :). I don’t know how Opera 10 managed to kill my Windows 7 RC (build 7100), but here’s two memory dumps that Windows 7 prepared: 1 and 2 (I tried twice). No antivirus is installed, UAC is enabled, nothing really specific about the laptop, just plain system.

However, it works fine on my work PC. Just don’t know what to think. Will wait for the final release.

Update: I’d like to thank Sam Zhang from Microsoft IIS Media Team for looking at my crash damp – the problem was in my network card driver. I updated the drivers and everything’s working fine now.

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Exploring Windows Desktop Gadgets #4 – flyouts

Posted in IE8, javascript, windows 7 by sharovatov on 1 June 2009

This is the fourth post in "Exploring Windows Gadgets” series. In this post I’ll tell you about the flyouts.

As it’s practical to have small gadgets which don’t take much of screen space, it’s not possible to display much information on them. That’s why Gadget Platform provides a way to add a flyout object to your gadget.

Flyout theory

In theory, flyout is supposed to present additional or detailed information about anything you choose.

The great example of flyout use case is standard Windows 7 Stocks gadget – it shows basic stocks rates information in the main window and the if you click on the stock rate you’re interested, MSN Money chart for this stock rate is shown in a flyout. Here’s how it looks:

image

Flyout is a separate HTML page which you attach to your gadget similarly to settings window – by specifying the following:

System.Gadget.Flyout.file = 'flyout.html';

Another difference from settings dialog is that settings dialog is only accessible by clicking on a options button:

image

and flyout is shown/hidden programmatically by setting its show property to true/false:

//show flyout
System.Gadget.Flyout.show = true;

When you set show to true, flyout html will be rendered and its window will be automatically positioned depending on the content size and gadget’s position.

Flyout provides two events – System.Gadget.Flyout.onShow which is fired when the flyout is shown and System.Gadget.Flyout.onHide which is fired when the flyout is closed.

To set flyout content to something meaningful, you have to get access to flyout’s document from your gadget main window javascript. This is achieved by using System.Gadget.Flyout.document property – but the call to it will throw an exception if flyout is hidden, so make sure you either check System.Gadget.Flyout.show property for true or wrap the code which uses System.Gadget.Flyout.document in try-catch block.

Note that you can also access main gadget page from the flyout by using System.Gadget.document property which is always available.

Enough theory, let’s modify our Gadget to show only comments titles on the main page and render a flyout with comment’s content when title is clicked.

Practice

So here’s what I did:

  1. created flyout.html file
  2. referenced it as System.Gadget.Flyout.file = 'flyout.html'; in rss.js
  3. modified displayRSS function to store current comment object in paragraph’s expando property
  4. added toggleFlyout function to the rss.js file which passes the comment object from the <p>’s expando property to System.Gadget.Flyout.document and displays the flyout

The resulting files and the compressed gadget are here.

In the next posts I’ll show what styling options we’ve got in Gadgets Platform, will proceed talking about gadgets security and talk about advanced javascript techniques that can be used in gadgets.

Stay tuned! :)


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Exploring Windows Desktop Gadgets #3 – settings storage

Posted in IE8, javascript, widgets, windows 7 by sharovatov on 29 May 2009

This is the third post in Exploring Windows Desktop Gadgets series and it will be devoted to improving our comments feed reader gadget by adding settings storage functionality.

Settings storage theory

Any desktop program has its own settings storage (ini files, xml files, etc.) or uses a global OS storage (registry).

But in web-applications everything’s different – part of the functionality is provided by client (browser) and another part – by the server. Although it’s dead easy to store data on the server, on the client-side you can’t get access neither to file system nor to registry. (You actually can in IE, but this will require ActiveX scripting and therefore will ask user for an explicit permission.)

Until very recent DOM Storage specification draft, in most browsers you could only use cookies for storing some data on client side. However, IE5 introduced support for true client-side only storage – DOM Storage predecessor – userData. So it took almost eight years for the whole browsers industry to define and support similar client-side storage approach. And right at the time as DOM Storage is being drafted by W3C, it gets support in IE8.

The reason I’m telling you about DOM Storage in IE8 is that I have a strong feeling that this DOM Storage is used by Gadgets Platform to allow storing settings data for each gadget.

Settings storage practice

Settings dialog is a modal window which opens on top of your gadget. As it’s modal, the only way you can close it is to press OK or CANCEL button in its UI. Similarly to the gadget itself, settings dialog is a HTML page displayed by MSHTML.

As it would be useful to have comments feed URL and refresh frequency configurable, this is what I’ll add to my gadget:

image

In the settings dialog only area outlined in red is actually a HTML file, title and OK/CANCEL buttons are provided by Gadgets Platform:

image

To add the settings dialog to our gadget we’ll have to create a HTML file, let’s call it “settings.html”. To save comments feed URL and refresh frequency, we only need two fields and couple of labels. This is what I came up with.

If  you look at the JS code, you’ll see that it does two things:

  1. calls System.Gadget.Settings.read function to retrieve data from the Gadget settings storage
  2. defines a handler for System.Gadget.onSettingsClosing event

There’s a complete reference of Gadget platform events and properties on MSDN, but for our simple case it’s enough to say that System.Gadget.Settings.read reads object from the storage by its name, System.Gadget.Settings.write writes object to the storage with its name and System.Gadget.onSettingsClosing event fires when the settings dialog is closing. Settings store is separate for each gadget so don’t be afraid that your settings names can be accessed from other gadgets.

So in the window.onload handler of settings.html I try to get the data from the storage and set inputs values accordingly, and when the gadget is closing, I check if OK was pressed (e.closeAction == e.Action.commit) and if so, save inputs values into the storage. Dead easy.

Now we have to attach settings.html page to our gadget. This is done by adding the following javascript code to main.html file:

System.Gadget.settingsUI = "settings.html";

Now our Gadget will show this button in the control area:

image

And if you click on it, you’ll see your settings.html page rendered in a nice UI:

image

So now we have a settings dialog that reads and writes data from the Gadget settings store.  What we also need to do is to make our main.html read comments feed URL and refresh frequency from settings store as well. If you look at this javascript, you’ll see how it’s changed from the previous version. Basically, I just did the following:

  1. rss.js now doens’t have blog comments feed URL and refresh frequency hardcoded, instead, it reads these values from settings store:
    window.onload = function(){
    
      //read data from storage
      var data = getDataFromStorage();
    
      if ("" != data.url && 
          "" != data.frequency && 
          /^(\d*)(\.?)(\d*)$/.match(data.frequency)) startLoop(data);
      else document.body.innerHTML = "<b>Please make sure you"+
                                    "configured everything properly</b>";
    
    };

  2. System.Gadget.onSettingsClosed event handler is used to restart main loop with new settings:

    System.Gadget.onSettingsClosed = function(){
      var data = getDataFromStorage();
      startLoop(data);
    };

  3. And startLoop function has been rewritten to allow only one main loop (but that’s pretty irrelevant to Gadgets platform):

    var startLoop = function(data){
       //clear existing interval (if present)
       if ("undefined" != typeof arguments.callee.intervalHandler)
         window.clearInterval(arguments.callee.intervalHandler);
     
       //retrieve feed again
       getRSS(data.url);
     
       //set new main loop
       arguments.callee.intervalHandler = window.setInterval(
         function(){ getRSS(data.url); }, data.frequency * 1000
       );
    };

And here we go – gadget’s ready :)

Save it as rss-comments.gadget to your computer and install it – you will be able to set comments feed URL (so you can start using it to watch comments on your own blog) and refresh frequency in seconds.

In the next posts of this series I will cover flyouts, make the gadget look really slick with UI enhancements Gadget platform provides, show how debugging gadgets can be really effective and dive into more details of the Gadgets platform. Stay tuned for more interesting stuff!

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Exploring Windows Desktop Gadgets #2 – security and limitations

Posted in IE8, javascript, widgets, windows 7 by sharovatov on 28 May 2009

In this post (second in Exploring Windows Desktop Gadgets series) I’m going to dive deeper into Windows Desktop Gadgets platform and cover its security model and some limitations.

First of all, let me repeat that gadget is a client-side web-application running in chromeless mode on your desktop. It’s similar to HTA but provides a whole new set of functionality and also has some restrictions compared to HTA.

Gadgets security model

IE has always been the de-facto-standard platform for building powerful applications that require access to file system, Cryptographic Service Provider, WMI and other OS functionality. This functionality is achieved by using ActiveX controls. But ActiveX can’t run without a user permission! So by default javascript in web-applications has quite strong security limitations. This security model can only be weaken by users choice – by allowing ActiveX controls to run or by adding a website to a trusted zone.

But as gadgets are installed by user, so it’s his choice to run them, all functionality that MSHTML can provide is enabled (*). MSDN says:

The MSHTML runtime is configured with the set of permissions given to HTAs or the Local Machine Zone security configuration.

This rises a very important point – don’t install gadgets from non trusted sources. Or if you do, please inspect the code before you install the gadget. As Gadget runs under current user account, it won’t be able to delete system32 directory or do any other critical damage to the system. But it will surely succeed in deleting your documents or photos.

And of course, as any other Microsoft technology, Gadgets can be fully controlled by Group Policy.

For more information on Gadgets security please read this and this MSDN article.

Gadgets limitations

The main limitation to me is that there’re no modal dialogs. No alerts, no window.confirm, nothing. So if you want to do a quick debug, you have to dump data to the document itself or use a script debugger.

In one of the next posts on this topic I will cover debugging gadgets.


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Exploring Windows Desktop Gadgets

Posted in IE8, javascript, widgets, windows 7 by sharovatov on 27 May 2009

With this post I’m starting a series of posts about one great Microsoft technology – Windows 7 Gadgets. I’ve already created an introduction post earlier and I recommend you to read it to find out the history of desktop gadgets. But now I will describe the technology, its theory and practice in more detail.

First of all, let’s get our hands dirty and create a simple gadget.

Creating a simple gadget

One of the things that was always bothering me was checking comments to my blog entries. There’re usually two ways to check for new comments on your blog – either by subscribing to comments RSS feed or by going to admin web-interface of the blog and checking for comments there. I don’t like first option because I’m subscribed to more than a hundred feeds in my Outlook so I only read them at the weekends when I’ve got enough free time. And I don’t particularly fancy logging to my blog every three-four hours to check for new comments. So Windows 7 Desktop Gadget with my blog comments feed would perfectly suit my needs.

Although this might not sound as a killer app to you, but it does its job and also perfectly shows how simple it is to build a gadget.

First of all, as I’ve already said, Windows 7 Gadget is nothing more than just a HTML page with Javascript and CSS. So I use the same approach as if I had to parse my blog comments on a website – a simple HTML, a bit of CSS and a bit of AJAX. So gadget building comes down to building a client-side web-app and packing it.

Creating a web-app

I created a simple page with a pretty straight-forward javascript. If you take a look at window.onload js code, you’ll see the following:

window.setInterval( function(){ getRSS(url); }, 5*60*1000);

meaning that every five minutes getRSS function is called.

This is the “main loop” of our program. As our gadget is a desktop program written in javascript and since  Javascript blocks UI when being executed, setInterval/setTimeout is the only one way to set the “main loop”.

That’s how the javascript in this web-app works:

  1. getRSS function creates XMLHTTPRequest object and sends HTTP GET request to https://sharovatov.wordpress.com/comments/feed/.
  2. wordpress responds with XML file containing last ten comments from my blog
  3. parseRSS function parses the XML and passes the resulting object to displayRSS which just dumps it to document.body

It takes 15-20 minutes to write such a tiny piece of code. So now we’ve got a small web-application which is a very basic version of RSS reader.

As you may notice, the script doesn’t work on sharovatov.ru. Cross-domain security restrictions is a reason for that – the script is located on one domain (sharovatov.ru) and it tries to request data from another domain (sharovatov.wordpress.com). However, if you save main.html page and rss.js file to your machine, run main.html from IE8 and confirm JS execution, you will see the comments feed displayed.

As we’re done with functionality, it’s time to convert our small client-side web-app to a gadget.

Converting to a gadget

All we need to do now is to add a special manifest file. It’s just an XML file with your gadget description. Here’s mine.

That’s all. Now we pack these three files into a zip archive and rename its extension to .gadget. Here’s a link to what I came up with. Save it as test.gadget and double-click on it. If you then confirm gadget installation prompt, it will appear on the screen and the feed is downloaded and displayed.

That’s the basics of creating a gadget, if you feel interested, read MSDN or follow my posts – I will keep on writing about gadgets and in the next post I’ll show what my comments reader gadget will look like eventually :)

This is the screenshot of a 20-minutes job:

image image

Every five minutes the gadget is updated so I can clearly see whose comment is the last one and reply if needed. Very handy :)

Stay tuned and we’ll proceed.


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Googletranslateclient.com and Windows Accelerator Platform

Posted in usability, windows 7 by sharovatov on 21 May 2009

Yesterday I’ve blogged about Accelerators Platform and now I’m looking at a website googletranslateclient.com which offers to download a standalone VB6 win32 application that uses google translate service to dynamically translate a selected text.

Funny thing is that this program implements what Accelerator Platform is invented for, but in a very limited and counter-productive way – its functionality is limited to only one service so nobody can enhance it!

I think the best thing Microsoft could do would be to create a program that would capture text select event in any window and add Accelerators group to the context menu of that program!

Or alternatively, if this is too much work, just show Accelerators icon (accelerators-icon)  when any text is selected. I’m not much of a system application developer, so I’m not sure this is easy to do, but I’m sure people would benefit from it and developers wouldn’t need to add Accelerators API support in their apps!

Hope that someone will pick this idea.


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Windows 7 taskbar – new approach

Posted in design, usability, windows 7 by sharovatov on 19 May 2009

I just love the way programs are organised on new Windows 7 taskbar.

History

In earlier Windows versions to get the program window shown you had to do two things:

  • check if the program is running by looking at the taskbar and maximise it window if it’s there
  • if it’s not running, you had to launch it from quick launch or other place

This approach has some major flows:

  1. when you just need a program window to be shown, you have to do a cognitive effort to find where to get it from – either launch the program from quicklaunch (or somewhere else) or maximise its window from the taskbar
  2. if you have, say, ten commonly used programs and put them on a quicklaunch and then open all them up, you’ve suddenly got quicklaunch icons just taking space and doing nothing as the programs are already opened. And you’ve got your programs’ icons in the taskbar – so you effectively have two icons for every program – one for launching a program and one for controlling its window state.

Nowadays

In windows 7 the new approach is taken.

Basically, taskbar and quick launch are combined in one place and then enhanced a lot.

The concept is just great – you don’t need to check if a program is running or not to get it shown – you just click on its icon and if its running, you’ll get its window, otherwise it will launch and you will still get its window. Less cognitive effort, better usability.

One of the implications of this approach is that the space on the taskbar is saved by having “program-launching” and “window-managing” controls combined.

Here’s a screenshot:

sidebar_screenshot

As you can see, Far, Explorer and Microsoft Word are not launched, Outlook, Messenger, Sticky Notes, Live Writer and IE8 are running.

As you can also notice on the screenshot, multiple instances of IE8 are grouped and if you hover them, that’s what you’ll see:

sidebar_Screenshot2

So managing multiple program instances is really easy – when you hover on an item, its window appears on the screen so you can preview if this window is what you were looking for and click on it to open. You can also close any window from the group right from the taskbar.

Here’s a screenshot when there’s many IE8 tabs opened:

sidebar_Screenshot3

Again, when you hover on an item, its window is shown, so you either click on it to make it active or close it down.

Another great interface solution is displaying progress bars directly on the taskbar. For example, here’s how IE8 displays download progress bar:

sidebar_Screenshot4

And all the features I showed is just a part of all the goodness Windows 7 taskbar introduces.

So yes, I agree with Gizmodo that Windows 7 Taskbar is much better than MAC OS X dock.

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