Windows Phone on Campus

The Washington University ACM chapter sponsored a Windows Phone development workshop last night.  Elizabeth Moran, the Microsoft Student Rep (MSP) on campus, was kind enough to invite me to attend since she knew I have an interest in Windows Phone (that’s putting it mildly).  I figured this might be an interesting opportunity to learn more about developing for Windows Phone.

The workshop was in a computer lab in Urbauer Hall, and before it began, I wandered around in what used to be my old stomping grounds. Back in the late 80’s when I was a student, the Chemical Engineering department was located there (my undergraduate degree is a BS in Chemical Engineering).  Much has changed, but the Unit Ops lab is still there (hard to move a multi-story lab) as is the AIChE lounge.  The lounge was locked, but I’m sure it probably looks the same as it did 20 years ago, cramped quarters, ratty couches, and roaches that’ll steal your lunch right out of the fridge.  But I digress…

The event started late as the Microsoft person (he was out of cards, so I’ll update this after he sends me his contact info), was tied up in traffic.  In the meantime, one of the students, Shubhu Sadhu, presented the Windows Phone version of the new WUSTL Dining app that debuted last week for iOS devices.  Students were also passing around two LG phones they received from Microsoft for development use.

Eventually the speaker arrived and gave a general overview of the Windows Phone platform and its design goals, highlighting the idea of “Putting People First,”  the integration of information and communications around the people you know rather than an endless stream of disconnected apps. He then moved into a demonstration of Visual Studio 2010, the Windows Phone emulator, and built a couple of basic apps. He also highlighted the wide range of resources available online for programmers at the App Hub and in MSDN.

I haven’t poked around in the App Hub much, but I was amazed at all of the content there — code samples, tutorials, videos, etc.  It made me think that even I might be able to write something a bit more advanced than the first app I wrote last week with these resources backing me up.  That’ll be the true test.  Stay tuned…

By the end of the evening, even the students who were dismissive of the platform and making jokes about Windows on a phone before the event seemed to appreciate the ease of use of the development environment, the breadth of educational materials that are available (tutorials, code samples, etc.), and the benefits they receive as students through Microsoft DreamSpark.

If you’re not familiar with DreamSpark, Microsoft makes available to college students the same tools professional developers use, such as Visual Studio 2010 Professional and Expression Studio, at no cost.  They receive free access to the App Hub and the ability to distribute their applications in the Marketplace as well.  Plus so much more.  It really is an amazing opportunity for students with an interest in developing software.  If you’re a student or know one, check out the DreamSpark web site for more info.

What I liked about this event was the simple fact that Microsoft was there putting Windows Phone in front of people.  I’ve always believed that people need to see the phones and try it out for themselves to really understand what makes it different from other mobile platforms like Android and iOS.  Once you put a Windows Phone in someone’s hand, the phone sells itself.  Put the combination of Visual Studio and Expression Studio in front of a developer along with a Windows Phone, and I think it makes a compelling case for developing for the platform. Look at it this way, if I can install the SDK and have a working app by the end of a weekend, then just think what these students can create.

Hopefully this was just the first of many such events on campus.  I’m glad to see Microsoft putting people front and center at universities and making these resources available.  Kudos as well to ACM for bringing Microsoft in and making this event possible.