January 2013

Volume 28 Number 01

Editor's Note - The X Factor

By Michael Desmond | January 2013

Michael DesmondIf you’ve been reading MSDN Magazine long enough—and we’ve only been around in one form or another for a quarter-century now—you know that columns come and columns go, but timeless programming challenges remain.

Look no further than this month’s launch of the new DirectX Factor column. Charles Petzold is setting aside his Touch and Go column, with its focus on managed, Windows Phone mobile and touch UI development, to explore the new arena of native C++ development for the DirectX API in the Windows Runtime.

Of course, Petzold is a guy who’s not afraid to jump on a bandwagon early. The author of the book “Programming Windows” (Microsoft Press, 1988), now in its sixth edition, actually wrote the first-ever article in MSDN Magazine on Windows programming, way back in December 1986. Since then, he’s worked tirelessly to explore and explain new development platforms and technologies in the pages of MSDN Magazine. The arrival of Windows 8 and the Windows Runtime—with its support for both managed and native development—certainly gives Petzold plenty to explore and explain.

“As Windows runs on smaller and less-hefty processors on tablets and other mobile devices, and as we strive to make the UIs of our Windows applications become faster and more fluid, C++ and DirectX have become more important than ever. This is what I’d like to explore in this column,” Petzold says.

Make no mistake: Managed languages like C# and Visual Basic aren’t going anywhere, and robust platforms such as Windows Phone continue to advance and evolve. Petzold says he expects to see more solutions where applications are coded in multiple languages, with developers challenged to intelligently choose which languages should be used where.

“Programmers will identify and isolate the time-critical and graphics-intensive stuff, and code that in C++ in the form of a Windows Runtime Component library, which can then be accessed by C# or JavaScript code,” he explains.

Petzold says that all his sample programs will reflect this approach, as he combines DirectX with XAML-based UIs. “That’s something we really haven’t been able to do before, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to write about these techniques,” he says.

Petzold isn’t abandoning his mobile focus, either. The Windows Phone 8 API supports native C++ code and DirectX, and Petzold plans to explore how developers can write DirectX code that can run on both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 hardware. And as was the case with Touch and Go, Petzold plans to continue delving into issues and techniques related to touch interfaces.

“As we developers work with more intimate touch-based UIs, I’m particularly interested in how we can use touch to manipulate complex graphical objects,” Petzold says. “I actually think this is one of the keys to giving rather bulky fingers more precision on the screen.”

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. In this issue’s column, Petzold looks into the XAudio2 sound-­generation component in Windows 8, and he plans to move on to exploring 3D graphics within the next few months. Give the new column a read and let us know your opinion. What would you like to see Petzold cover in the DirectX Factor column? E-mail me at mmeditor@microsoft.com.

Lowering Higher Education, Again

I can’t close without making brief mention of this month’s Don’t Get Me Started column. David Platt returns to a topic he covered a year ago in our pages—the coming, Internet-driven revolution in higher education. As Platt notes, colleges and universities are poised to experience many of the same dislocations that have challenged the newspaper and music industries.

And for good reason. In his January 2012 column, David explained that the inflation-adjusted cost of a college education has quadrupled since 1982. As a guy with three kids (including two who will enter college in the next three years), the spiraling cost of higher education has me looking hard at alternatives.

Could emerging, massive open online course (MOOC) providers offer a cost-effective alternative to four-year colleges? And how could MOOCs such as Udacity, edX and Coursera impact the education and ongoing training of software developers? Read Platt’s thought-provoking column and let us know what you think.

Michael Desmond is the Editor-in-Chief of MSDN Magazine.