Archive

Archive for the ‘add-ins’ Category

“Vail” Launchpad and Its Extensibility

May 24th, 2010 No comments

Hi there! We are on to our second edition of Vail Engineering blogs, and this time we are talking about Launchpad – what it is, how it can be extended and why developers should care about it. I aso want to point out that we got pretty good response to Vail SDK with some of our MVPs covering it pretty well by now. You can check out some of these very informational posts here:

http://asoftblog.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/developing-an-add-in-for-vail/

http://blog.tentaclesoftware.com/archive/2010/05/07/89.aspx

http://blog.tentaclesoftware.com/archive/2010/05/08/90.aspx

What is Launchpad?

Launchpad is a light weight and extensible client-based user interface that we built for Vail. It was born out of a couple of pain points that our customers experienced from Home Server v1. While Home Server v1 provided the ability for developers to add what we call ‘administrative’ or ‘server management’ tasks to the Admin console, it did not provide any means by which a day-to-day or non-administrative task could be presented to users in a coherent manner that resonates its association with Home Server. As a result we started seeing add-ins for day-to-day consumption of home server capabilities that were deployed to Admin Console, but did not belong there since they were not administrative tasks. We realized that there is a need for providing a coherent and consistent grouping as well as entry point for home server related tasks that everyone in the household can perform from their client PCs. This was the first pain point.

The second one, and perhaps the more significant one of the two, was the limitation around having matching usernames and passwords on the server and the PCs. If you recall, in Home Server v1 we require users to create user accounts on the server that had the same username and password as that of the client PCs so that they can seamlessly access the shared folders on the server as soon as they login to their PCs. This generated lot of confusion with consumers, as was evident from the feedback that we got. With Vail, Launchpad acts as the login UI for signing the user onto the server, thereby granting them access to the Server shares and other platform services exposed via the SDK. We no longer have the requirement to have the user accounts matching on server and client, instead users can use Launchpad to ‘sign-in’ to the server with any user account and password combination that was set up in Dashboard!

    

In short, Launchpad serves the following purposes:

  1. It is the entry point for the day-to-day tasks related to Windows Home Server from the client PCs.
  2. It eiminates the need for matching usernames and passwords setup between server and client, and eliminates the password sync dialogs.
  3. It Provides a logical and centralized location where all home server related tasks are exposed, resulting in much better awareness of home server and its capabilities.
  4. It allows everyone in the household to have visibility to developers’ add-ins, than just home server administrators.

Why should developers care about Launchpad?

So far, home server add-ins or applications were focused on ‘Administrative’ kind of tasks that extended the Admin Console. The audience for such add ins were limited to one person in the house hold, most possibly the head of the house hold who does the ‘Administrative tasks’ on the computers. With Launchpad, we now have the ability to create end-to-end add-ins with user interfaces targeted at everyone in the home who uses a PC joined to home server. A typical example can be an addin providing the ability for everyone in the home to sync a folder on their PC to home server, and then subsequently to the cloud. The launch point for a configuration UI for adding or removing folders included in the auto-sync scenario above (which is specific to the user’s PC) would be Launchpad, and not Dashboard.

As you can see from the example this is an opportunity for developers to create add-ins with multiple facets – one server side component targeting the administrator and one client side component targeting everyone in the home. The result is more people using your add-ins and more word getting spread about your product/addin. With our add-in deployment mechanism, you can package both these components together and we’ll take care of deploying and installing the relevant pieces on the server and client appropriately as well (more on this in a later post). So, as you can see, we have built a powerful SDK for developers to build a truly end-to-end add-in spanning the client, server and the cloud.

 When to extend Launchpad and when not to

Just so that we give a clear guidance on extensibility of Launchpad vs Dashboard, I am going to call this out specifically here.

You extend Launchpad when…

  1. You have a task or resource/UI that you expect everyone in the household to access/ use. Eg: Backup my PC, access shared folders etc…
  2. The task IS NOT related to the management or administration of the Server.
  3. You DO NOT need Administrator privileges on the server to do the task.

You extend Dashboard when…

  1. You have a task or resource/UI that you expect only the head of the household (home Admin – typically the person who sets up Home Server) to access/use. Eg: Add a hard drive, create user account etc..
  2. The task IS related to the management or administration of the Server, and not a day-to-day one.
  3. You DO need Administrator privileges on the server to do the task.

When in doubt, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

Extending Launchpad

 Adding entries to Launchpad

You can add entries to Launchpad to point to a client application that makes use of Home Server in one way or the other. Your entries will appear under a category called ‘Addins’ on the main page of Launchpad.

Adding categories to Launchpad

If you want to add multiple entries to the Launchpad UI, we recommend grouping them under categories. Categories can be added upto three levels deep.

Example:

Addins-> (Built-in category)

              Company-> (Your category)

                       Antivirus -> (Your sub category)

                                  System Scan (entry)

                                  Scan Schedule (entry)

                       Online Backup-> (Your sub category)

                                  Backup Now (entry)

                                  Backup Settings (entry)

 

Enhances coming in future builds

In the later builds, we are looking at adding capability for targeting Launchpad tasks to specific users who are part of a User Group on the Server. For example, you can target only users who are part of ‘Remote Access Group’ to see a link to your remote portal hosted in Home Server. We are also making it so that Launchpad automatically authenticates the machine to home server using the username and password stored, if the user choses to do so. So, as soon as the user logs into the local machine, they are authenticated to Home Server so that all the services that require authentication to server work seamlessly. Another enhancement that is coming is the ability to control the alerts that are seen from the tray icon. User would be able to choose from three options – No alerts, network alerts or local & network alerts. On top of that you’ll see a lot more in the look and feel for Launchpad when we ship!

That’s it for today. As always, we welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions!

Introduction to Windows Home Server “Vail” SDK

May 7th, 2010 No comments

Hi everyone! My name is Dileep and I am a Development lead with Windows Home Server team. It has been more than a week since we released the beta builds of the next version of Windows Home Server “Vail”, and we are very encouraged by the download and the feedback pouring in through connect. Thank you for everyone who is participating in the beta program! Alongside that, we thought this is the right time to start discussing some of the features of Vail and its extensibility with the community to get the excitement started for building great, cool and useful add-ins for the next version of Windows Home Server. The SDK is also available to download from Connect and if you already tried it out, you might have noticed that the extensibility options for Vail are pretty broad in comparison with first version of Windows Home Server. There are many ways one can extend Vail – by extending Dashboard (old Admin Console), Launchpad or by building a Provider. You can even build an addin which has both server and client components to it.  Vail SDK contains information about all these plus APIs for many other core features like Alerts framework, Storage (Server Folders & Hard Drives), Computers & Backup, Identity, Remote Access, Media Streaming and much more! The SDK also contains detailed documentation as to how you can build, package and deploy your add-ins to Vail Server and clients. All-in-all, you can see that we’ve tried to put up a much broader and more powerful SDK in place compared to the previous version.


There is a lot of information to digest in Vail and SDK in particular. Hence we are taking this opportunity to do a series of blog posts to talk about the various extensibility points of Vail in a much higher level than the actual SDK documentation. The idea is to give developers an overview of the capabilities of Vail SDK along with providing guidance as to how to go about building addins the right way so that the user experience or performance is not compromised. In the first of such posts, I am discussing the Vail ‘Dashboard’ and its extensibility vis-à-vis Home Server v1 here.


The Administration console in Home Server v1 has been renamed to ‘Dashboard’ to better reflect the information it provides. Just like the Admin console in v1, Dasbhboard still is the main user interface for administrative or management type of tasks on the Server. Dashboard is where you would go to monitor the health of the network, create user accounts, view backups, add shared folders, increase storage capacity, enable or disable media streaming etc. Dashboard is still not the place to put any day-to-day non-administrative tasks. I have posted a document on connect website (link is given below) which talks about the differences in the Dashboard UI compared to Home Server v1 Admin Console. In the document I talk about the new Dashboard layout, the new UI elements introduced, the three different kinds of tabs that one can build as well as plugging into the existing Microsoft tabs and wizards. I also cover the extensibility aspects of Home Server v1 Admin console which are no longer available in Vail.


You can download the complete document here.


(You will have to sign in to Microsoft Connect site.)


I hope I was able to give an adequate overview of the changes and new features in Windows Home Server ‘Vail’ Dashboard in the document, especially when compared to v1. Please remember that this document is meant as a high level overview of the extensibility points, and the low-level details of all of those extensibility APIs, documentation, samples and templates are available in the Vail SDK. We would love to hear your comments and feedback. Moreover we would love to get all of you started on writing cool addins for Vail. Please use Vail SDK Forum for discussing seeking assistance for the SDK. In subsequent posts, we’ll cover other topics such as Launchpad, building Providers, addin deployment, various object models etc. Happy coding!


Download Dashboard overview document


Download “Vail” SDK

Discuss about “Vail” SDK

Windows Home Server – Can It Be a SOHO Solution?

July 22nd, 2009 No comments

Although the name of Windows Home Server may make you inclined to believe that it is only for consumer households, it can also be very functional in a small office/home office setting.


One article that was recently brought to our attention came from SMB PC Magazine (See page 7). The article provides an overview of Windows Home Server and discusses how it could be beneficial to SOHO customers. Research conducted by the author, Aaron Booker, includes contacting companies offering 3rd party solutions, and value-added providers that are installing home servers in businesses today. From the information gathered, he has validated that backup of up to 10 computers is the most common use of a home server because of its unparalleled speed and convenience. He then goes on to compliment Windows Home Server restore capabilities. Booker states that “The restore function is what is really impressive. If a user deletes a file or overwrites a file- the time needed to recover is literally seconds”. He also discusses topics such as using Windows Home Server to remotely connect and log onto PCs (Remote Desktop) along with add-ins, that enhance Windows Home Server functionality, as key features for this market.






clip_image002 clip_image004






 


Another article that featured Windows Home Server can be found in Inc Magazine which is targeted at entrepreneurs and small business owners. Under “The Goods” section, the magazine introduces and writes about various aspects of the HP Media Smart LX 195. Some key items were noted about the HP Media Smart in this piece includes its small size, low cost, and how it can be used in both the home and small businesses. Once you begin using a home server, the article relays that you have the ability to listen to your music while you are out of the office and also share your pictures and videos on all popular social networking sites.


clip_image006

With these articles as a backdrop, the Windows Home Server Team is pleased to announce a new web page which is focused on the SOHO customer. http://www.microsoft.com/windowshomeserver/soho


The page opens with an overview of Windows Home Server’s features from a SOHO customer perspective. Five case studies were written which describe how an average SOHO has benefited from using Windows Home Server. Corresponding to the written case studies, there are video interviews where you have the opportunity to listen to business owners discussing their personal experiences when using their home servers. They talk about subjects including how Windows Home Server has helped advance their office by saving hundreds of hours, money, and data.






clip_image008 image

As always, there are links which allow you to view a demo of Windows Home Server and also download a FREE evaluation version.


– Steven

Secure online photo sharing with Windows Home Server and Community Add-Ins

June 17th, 2009 No comments

Don’t you love to share your photos with your friends and family? Those great shots of your little kids wearing their strained carrots or a picture of your daughter’s first formal dance; it’s through images that we graphically share the high’s and low’s of our most personal lives.  With Windows Home Server you can easily create a private online photo sharing experience for only those individuals you permit while being accessible to the internet.


 


When you add a Windows Home Server to an online photo sharing site, like Flickr it gets even more interesting. We know that for many Windows Home Server users securely storing and sharing photo’s online is a main reason for them to purchase a server in the first place. Add to that the robust developer community add-ins such as Ed Holloway’s online photo sharing Photosync for Windows Home Server  which automatically syncs the contents of your photo’s folder on the Windows Home Server to Flickr, Doug Barrett’s WebGuide which enables you to remotely access, listen, watch and stream your music, photos and videos stored on your home server while away from home and Andrew Grant’s Whiist that allows you to create and manage web content on your Windows Home Server.


 


I’m a social networking geek these days,  Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and I blog about our cycling epics and Windows Home Server, yet I am very hesitant to share truly personal photos, especially group photos, using the current publically available online tools. I value my privacy and want to respect the privacy of my friends by not sharing photos or videos of them in a way that might make them uncomfortable, now or in the future.


 


It’s amazing how much information is shared across the web and photos are a means of visual sharing.  These days social networking and online photo sharing sites  like Facebook,  Flickr, Photobucket, and SmugMug  to name a few, allow us to share our photos with our friends and potentially the world with a few clicks of a mouse. These sites do a great job and provide a community gathering place for those interested in visually exploring the world around them. For an in depth look at the online photo sharing ecosystem including analysis of the various services, check out Wikipedia, cnet Online digital photo printing & sharing and Lifehacker’s review of the Five Best Photo Sharing Sites.


 


I mentioned my cycling epics earlier; this past year I spent 2 weeks riding our tandem down the pacific coast with 28 other folks from all over North America to raise funds for the American Lung Association. Before the trip I knew only one individual, afterwards we are all fast friends who now keep in touch regularly over Facebook and email. Over the course of the trip as the miles passed we all unwound and the ensuing antics of the trip were dutifully recorded by multiple cameras including some video footage of the best dances, camping mornings and late night cribbage games.


 


After the trip we all wanted to check out the photos from the other riders, especially the dancing, however as many of the riders are in the legal profession it was important to ensure security for many of the pictures, especially the really good stuff; yet we wanted to make it possible for all of the riders to access the photo’s online.  The answer to our dilemma was the Windows Home Server and its remote access and shared folder features.


 


Specifically what we did is to create one photo album (folder) and it’s link and password was sent out to the participants. This enabled them to use the web to link into the remote Windows Home Server to access the one online photo album while still keeping the rest of the information on the server private.  We also leveraged the add-in Photosync to share specific photos with the masses on Flickr.


 


With Windows Home Server we were able to collect hundreds of photos of the trip in a private password protected online location.  By allowing each rider to upload their photos, sharing became a breeze. Each of the photos is available online to anyone using web browsers who have the proper permissions.  Permissions are simple to set and can be revised at any time by the Windows Home Server administrator (probably youJ).  This enabled our entire cycling crew to share the experience all over again whenever they want. In addition with the add-ins like Whiist & WebGuide we were able to create a more robust viewing experience.


 


For families, hobby organizations, sports teams, vacation buddies, or conference attendees, anytime when privacy matters Windows Home Server is your online photo sharing solution. It provides a secure location to allow private online photo sharing in addition to robust image based backup software technology. There are alternatives to public websites, why take the chance with a public solution when Windows Home Server can create a private community where you can share photos, videos and files with your friends and family?


 


Moira

Windows Home Server – Report from Computex 2009

June 8th, 2009 No comments

For those of you that have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember Dispatch from Computex Taipei (Posted: Tuesday, June 03, 2008).  Last year was the Windows Home Server team’s first time attending Computex. 

Fast forward one year.  Microsoft had a major presence at Computex last week which included a large booth, broad marketing & PR activities, and a June 3 keynote in the main convention auditorium.  One of the significant announcements was the October 22nd General Availability date for Windows 7.

For the Windows Home Server team, Computex was an important opportunity to meet with existing and prospective hardware manufacturers.  We also strove to increase industry awareness.  Over 14,000 international buyers and attendees visited the Microsoft booth! 

 clip_image001clip_image001[4]clip_image001[6]

Our team in Taipei organized a terrific event presence.  In the Microsoft booth, there was a section dedicated to Windows Home Server.  On the main stage there was a 25-minute demonstration that featured: Easy setup, protecting PCs and files, easy storage expansion, smart storage management, media streaming, and home surveillance. 

We were really pleased to unveil the D-Link ViewCam add-in for Windows Home Server, which allows control of a wide range of D-Link’s IP cameras from the Windows Home Server Console.  Also notable, each scenario was demonstrated using a netbook as the interface and playback device for Windows Home Server.

Of course no booth would be complete without a "muscle beach" of cool hardware.  Acer, Foxconn, Lenovo, and VIA hardware designs were showcased in the booth.  For those of you seeing the Lenovo model for the first time, it is currently only available in China. 

 

clip_image001[8] clip_image001[12] clip_image001[16]

Acer Aspire easyStore H340

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q500

VIA NSD 7800

-Steven

Categories: add-ins, events, netbooks, Platform, Team, Windows 7 Tags:

Windows Home Server – Imaginations are unleashed with the Add-in Idea Challenge

May 22nd, 2009 No comments

Earlier this month, Terry Walsh at We Got Served announced the launch of a new Windows Home Server add-in competition.  Announcing the Windows Home Server Add-In Idea Challenge ‘09!


With an interesting format, this competition should attract the attention of a broad group of Windows Home Server enthusiasts.  As opposed to actually developing the Windows Home Server add-ins, We Got Served is simply looking for the best ideas.


Excerpt from blog post… “You don’t have to be a developer or technically minded to enter. All you need is your creativity and imagination to come up with the best idea for a future Windows Home Server add-in, which will then be coded up and released to the community for all to share.”


There is still some time left to submit your ideas!  The entry period closes on May 31st, and voting will commence in June.  Developer Felix Kollmann (author of Router Control) will turn your idea into reality.


The Windows Home Server team anticipates seeing some terrific ideas from this community-led challenge.  The winners may be featured in stories on the Windows Home Server Community web page.  We showcase some of the most popular add-ins every month on the Windows Home Server add-ins page and your idea for an add-in may join the ranks of over 100 Windows Home Server add-ins available.  For a comprehensive list, visit Home Server plus


Whiist


Pictured: “Hall of Fame” winner of the Code2Fame contest, Andrew Grant’s Whiist.


If you need any added encouragement, here it is!  Microsoft was asked to contribute some prizes for the contest… and believe me, they are awesome!


xbox360.jpg


– Steven

Categories: add-ins, community, developers, Platform Tags:

Windows Home Server MVPs – April 2009

The Windows Home Server team is excited to have 2 new MVPs added to our MVP family.  Please join me in welcoming our latest additions:



I look forward to their continued contributions to the Windows Home Server Community.


-Jonas

Windows Home Server Website Updated

March 25th, 2009 No comments

Possibly lost among the frenzy of the Power Pack 2 release, and the addition of Windows Home Server software to MSDN, was the update today of our very own product website. While clearly not a complete overhaul, we think it’s improved in a couple of key ways:

  • A simpler and more contemporary layout
  • Snappy scrolling graphics that feature direct links to popular pages on the site
  • Redesigned links to Free Eval and Demo pages
  • Added a few more Windows Home Server add-ins to our growing ‘featured list’ page. (Be sure to let us know if you want yours added too 😉

We encourage you to come check it out and let us know what you think. 

Here’s a quick link right to our top page:  www.microsoft.com/windowshomeserver, as well as a snapshot of what it now looks like. 

image

Enjoy!

MP

Categories: add-ins, Blogs, community, Marketing, Media, Releases, Team Tags:

Windows Home Server – Now available on MSDN

March 24th, 2009 No comments

A key benefit of Windows Home Server is the versatility and power it offers as a development platform.  Even when Windows Home Server software was still in the beta stage, we published a software development kit (SDK) so that 3rd party developers could develop interesting add-ins for the product.  See the original post, "Developers, Developers, Developers".

There are currently 100+ add-ins developed for Windows Home Server (up from 70+ in January of this year).  We have a dedicated Windows Home Server Add-ins page  on the Microsoft web site.  There are also a number of other sites dedicated to this topic, such as the Forums on We Got Served and Windows Home Server Add-ins.

image 

At the Professional Developers Conference last fall, we received a huge amount of interest in Windows Home Server from the developer community (standing room only in information sessions).  MSDN availability will increase awareness of Windows Home Server with a larger community of professional developers and help further grow the ecosystem of software applications built for Windows Home Server.  Effective today, Windows Home Server is available under Operating Systems on the MSDN Subscriptions Download Page.  (Instructions for downloading.)

clip_image001

Hat’s off to Loren on MediaSmartServer.net Forums and Alex Kuretz for catching us during the MSDN testing phase last week!  Enjoy the real deal.

Categories: add-ins, community, developers, SDK, Team Tags: