Thursday, March 29, 2007

Boys in Blue

No, no, not the quintessential English bobby, but the Microsoft lads who wear a uniform of a pale blue shirt over a whiter than white t-shirt.

I went to the MSDN roadshow presentation in Nottingham a few weeks back. I'd realised when I signed up that much of it would be over my head. Which meant that I was very pleasantly surprised when I did get the gist of the first presentation showing streamlining and tidying up of Visual Basic and C# 3.

I imagine that the Technet Day was probably more my level, but frankly, I don't want to find out about Windows Vista yet. My systems won't be able to operate it effectively and I hear that there are incompatibilities. It's a beast in terms of size. Neither do I intend to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2007 in the immediate future. Other than when I got my Microsoft Office Master certification, which required me to use a wide range of options in Office 2000, I make very little use of the 'gadgetry' other than basic word processing.

I use dedicated freeware or shareware apps for building websites, having given up Front Page three years ago.

All in all, the MSDN content appealed to me more with presentations on Ajax and XAML, even if I didn't understand it fully.

I was very taken with the potential of Visual Studio, which seems to offer an entry point for building some quite complex Web 2.0 applications without having to get buried by coding.

And it was useful to see a demo of Windows Expression, the successor to Front Page, even if it was still in beta format.

I continue to be concerned, though, that using Microsoft products will add an inordinate amount of code to websites. I like the lean approach of minimal coding.

I had to admire the presenters who were missioned to show off products which even they admitted were not truly ready for the market. And I like the way that when the MSDN emails arrive, I recognise the name of the chap who wrote it, thinking, Oh yes, he talked about that at the roadshow I went to.

The air conditioning system at the East Midlands Conference Centre was extremely efficient. Perhaps the benefit was that, although one risked getting a chill, one wasn't inundated with the aroma of The Great Unwashed, which has been the case in gatherings of this nature in the past.

I am supremely impressed with Microsoft's civility. Not only did I receive reminders before the event, but also an email afterwards thanking me for attending. Old school gentlemanliness. It makes me rather wistful.

And I made a discovery. Between each presentation, some very enjoyable music was played, which sounded vaguely familiar, but I didn't know the artist. Sitting with Rosie in the champagne bar in Leicester the following week, one of the tracks was played. "Oh, that's what they played at the Microsoft event. What is it?"

"Oh Mum," replied Rosie, "That's Jack Johnson. It's easy listening." I now have the CD.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Quark! Quark!

I've been pretty pleased with myself over the last month or so. I'd bought a copy of QuarkXPress 7.0, the self-proclaimed king of desk top publishing and print preparation software, and actually produced an issue of a magazine.

I had to learn to use the software on the hoof, and was very grateful to for its structured online training exercises. I'd never have got the hang of it with the manual, nor a book.

The basics are quite easy to learn and implement. It's the more 'advanced' features that are going to take some time to master. And version 7.0 is supposed to be able to help you build websites.

I've been running the software on a PC with XP. I haven't found the software particularly intuitive. Formatting that you could do so easily in Microsoft Word seems to involve going round the houses in Quark.

Perhaps it's easier to implement on a Mac. My Mac Book Pro is in the post and I intend to transfer the licence from the PC to the Mac.

Ten minutes ago, I got an email from Quark advertising a series of free seminars at Apple stores throughout UK, which would highlight the new features introduced in QuarkXPress 7. It was a bit late. The nearest seminar was in Birmingham yesterday. OK, so I could go to Sheffield on Friday, but I've got another engagement that day. No mention of Nottingham. Perhaps the company's gone out of business.

A link invited me to find out more. I clicked. I could hardly believe it. Problem loading page in Firefox, so I looked at the domain name in the status bar. Well, that doesn't seem right, particularly when the published text says

I put in the address bar, and hey presto, I get offered the option to choose between English, French and German.

Once at the English Language site, I was apalled at the very poor quality of the text (have they never heard of anti-aliasing?) and the mixed fonts. The navigation is a travesty. Hover over a main heading such as Training, and a sub-menu appears. Move the mouse to click on a sub-heading, and the whole menu disappears.

For a company that professes to market top-notch software, this is amateurism in the extreme.

I suppose we're stuck with Quark because no other software provides quite the right kind of flexibility for the task of desk top publishing. But I would never use it for web design, if they used their own product to build their website.

I've discovered that there is an open-source version of DTP software called Scribus, but I haven't loaded it yet. Could be worth looking at.