February 2012

Volume 27 Number 02

Editor's Note - Calling out the Client

By Michael Desmond | February 2012

Michael DesmondA month ago in this space, I wrote about an MSDN Magazine author and columnist—Charles Petzold—who marked his 25th year as a contributor to this publication. So it’s appropriate, I suppose, that I dwell now on another valued columnist who left the magazine after more than a decade, only to return to the fold this month.

John Papa first began writing for MSDN Magazine back in December 1998, and for eight years from 2002 through 2009 authored the popular Data Points column, which continues today under the stewardship of Julie Lerman. Papa wrote his last column in February 2009, stepping down when he took on a role with Microsoft as a corporate evangelist for Silverlight and XAML. Now Papa is back, penning a new column called Client Insight, which focuses on the fast-changing arena of rich client development technologies and platforms.

“Client technology has really changed over the past few years with XAML, HTML5 and mobile devices,” says Papa, who adds that he hopes to bring together the best parts of XAML and HTML5.

“I plan on exploring the good, the bad and the challenging aspects of client technologies,” he continues. “Anyone interested in writing software for the next generation should enjoy the column as I plan to cover HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, patterns, XAML, mobility, tooling and much more.”

For Papa, the new column is a second chance to pursue a passion. The Data Points column got its start in 1998 because he felt at the time that data-related topics were being neglected. What started as a series of data-focused features eventually turned into a monthly column that ran for the better part of a decade.

“It always seemed like data access got very little play time in magazines, conferences and books, so I decided to do something about it,” Papa recalls of launching Data Points.

Silverlight Shuffle

Of course, Papa is best known as a leading light in the Rich Internet Application (RIA) space, particularly in the arena of Silverlight development. A longtime independent developer, Papa became a fixture on the conference circuit, often appearing alongside Microsoft keynoters at events like MIX and the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference. He eventually joined Microsoft to help evangelize the company’s RIA efforts.

“When I got into Silverlight I saw a great opportunity to work with patterns, data and client-side RIA technology,” Papa says. “The opportunity I had to be the corporate evangelist for Silverlight/XAML was awesome. They gave me the freedom to run and try new ideas like Silverlight TV, running communities, MIXer parties, open source events, the Silverlight Firestarter and much more.”

So why the Client Insight column, and why now?

For one thing, Papa left Microsoft in November to move back to his native Florida, where he had lived prior to relocating to the Redmond area in 2009. More to the point, the emergence of JavaScript/HTML5, alongside the evolving Microsoft XAML/­Silverlight strategy, has turned the client development space on its ear. Developers are actively rethinking their positions as they weigh up-and-coming platforms and technologies against the challenges posed by an increasingly diverse client space. Papa says developers must keep things in perspective.

“We need to use the right tool for the right job. A lot has changed just in the past two years, but that rule hasn’t,” he says, noting that developers need to stay current even as they work with their existing tools.

“The best perspectives I’ve heard are from developers who have researched many alternatives. This prepares them to be armed for in-depth discussions on what technology to choose in what situation,” he says. “Keep an open mind and stay in touch with the evolution.”

Michael Desmond is editor-in-chief of MSDN Magazine.