azure

Microsoft and Xamarin better together

It is not a very fresh recent news anymore, but still we'd like to dive into some more details about why the acquisition of the company Xamarin earlier this year by Microsoft is advantageous and exciting for us and our clients.

Who is Xamarin? What do they do?

Xamarin is a young company, about three years old but growing very fast, which its primary business is to create tools to let developers build native desktop and mobile applications for non-Microsoft platform by using Microsoft modern tools and languages as Visual Studio and C#.

With the increased popularity and adoption of mobile devices and mobile apps, obviously a pure Microsoft developer is in trouble having to build a native mobile application for either iOS, Android or both platforms.

Any of these would require not only knowing the specifics of each different system well, but also adopting different toolsets and languages for each platform to support. Furthermore, this type of development is in contrast with modern methodologies which help delivering custom Apps in shorter time, to be more reliable, and with possible more frequent updates and upgrades.

Having to manage a single team of developers and make use of one unique toolset, fully supported and evolved, is a huge advantage in developing a cross-platform mobile application, and for sure Xamarin's strong point.

Why the acquisition has been positive?

Xamarin used to be a commercially licensed product, with yearly subscription licenses to be acquired for developers. Especially for this reasons, and despite what you would think if you go read about the history behind Xamarin (started in reality about 15 years ago with Mono project), it was indeed a pretty closed source and commercial product.

During this year's MS Build Developers Conference, the partnership has been publicly announced, together with some revision on the licensing model of Xamarin, opening it to wider audience, and publication of most Xamarin's source code on GitHub. This has generated a big increase indeed in the interest and adoption of Xamarin widely.

Finally, the merge can be of course only advantageous to get Xamarin's tools still better and better integrated with the rest of MS development tools.

Are there alternatives? Is it the best?

In cross-platform mobile development, so when having to create a mobile application for multiple mobile OS, two main 'worlds' exist: native Apps vs. hybrid Apps.

Native apps, as the name suggests, run native on the platform where they're running on, getting the best of performance and possibility to make use of all specific platform capabilities.

Hybrid apps are always created with a single language/toolset which is HTML, JavaScript and CSS, and they run on different platforms in a web browser, simulating the experience of a native app (so you won't notice for instance web browser's address bar or such).

In many cases it's very hard to notice with type has been chosen when using an App we have downloaded or obtained in other ways, and many apps have been recently changed from hybrid to native (don't know any that has done the opposite path) without the users can notice because interface and experience remained pretty the same.

As mentioned earlier native apps are anyway in general more performant, even if harder to create with a single toolset, where Xamarin is for sure leading and few other minor competitors.

At Rapid Circle we think native apps and Xamarin are the best, and probably Microsoft thinks that too :)

xamarin
xamarin

Can Rapid Circle help my business creating a mobile app with Xamarin?

Absolutely. We've been developing custom mobile apps for our clients using Xamarin since 2014, and since then Rapid Circle is as well an authorized Xamarin Consulting Partner.

The Apps we've been developing normally connects with LoB or Azure environments, having the possibility to fully work in case of lack of intermittent network connectivity, or other such features based on customer's needs; but they'll always run native!

Our preference are off course Office 365 and Azure, and for this I'd suggest you to check out some of the Apps we've published in the App stores:

We'd love to hear your feedback on them.

What to say more… I am myself also a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer for the second year now. This certification can be obtained by subscribing to Xamarin University and passing needed exams. As last (but not least), one of our former colleagues in India, software engineer, is now working as engineer at Xamarin, or better to say Microsoft.

We have then proven experience if you need to build a custom mobile application, and we can respond to all your question or needs about Xamarin apps, Xamarin Forms, Xamarin Test Cloud, Application Insights, HockeyApp, and more..

A Preview of Microsoft Flow: the Pro's and Con's

1. What’s Flow?

Microsoft Flow is a new product that allows the creating of cross application action-reaction scenarios which was announced at the keynote of the Future of SharePoint. Flow allows you to define what should happen if a certain event occurs, also known as the “IF This, Then That” (IFTTT) [1] model. It is currently in preview and at https://flow.micosoft.com you can sign up and get started on creating your own flows.

The whole premise is that you pinpoint the events that are important for you and decide what should happen if such an event occurs. To name just an example: let’s imagine that you are a project manager for a top priority project and you want to keep a close ear to what people say about this project. You could create a Flow that keeps track of Yammer and creates an entry every time someone mentions your project on Yammer. With Flow this is possible.

2. So the new Workflows basically?

Officially Microsoft has not yet stated whether or not Flow is going to replace SharePoint Designer workflows. But as we all know, SharePoint Designer 2013 (because SharePoint Designer 2016 was an exact copy of SharePoint Designer 2013) was the last release of SharePoint Designer we can expect from Microsoft and with that we will say goodbye to workflows as well. This makes Flow the prime candidate to replace SharePoint Designer workflows. What I did find in the communication is that the product team will focus on “…adding ways to leverage your existing SharePoint workflows in Microsoft Flow.”[2]

I personally am a big fan of SharePoint Designer workflows, so when getting my hands on the Microsoft Flow Preview I could not help comparing it with the possibilities that SharePoint Designer workflows bring me.

3. What are the Pro’s

Flow should not be simply seen as a newer version of workflows, because it is a whole other platform and approach to support “if this, then that” (IFTTT) [3] logic. So what makes Flow great?

Cross site workflows

SharePoint Designer workflows only operate within the borders of a site. So all lists and libraries that are involved in your logic process need to be in 1 site. With Flow it does not matter where your items are stored on SharePoint. It can trigger the creation of an Announcement of the Management Team site because a deal was completed in the prospects list of the sales department site. It even does not matter if these site reside in the same site collection or the same tenant.

Flow1
Flow1

Cross application workflows

The cross platform approach of Flow even goes way beyond the borders of SharePoint by allowing you to tap into all sorts of different applications. If we go back to our previous example of the project manager keeping his ears open to the conversations on Yammer, we could expand that scenario by including other social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. So whenever the project is mentioned on either Yammer, Twitter or Facebook we record an entry in a SharePoint list. Or maybe we do not want to use a SharePoint list, but log everything in an excel file so that we can crunch the numbers later and do some slicing and dicing analysis on the mood around this very important project.

With Flow all the above mentioned application can be linked to each other and used for your IFTTT scenarios. Below you find an overview of applications that are currently included in my preview version of Microsoft Flow.

Flow2
Flow2

Recurrence

Everybody who has experience with SharePoint Designer workflows will have had a firsthand taste of how difficult it is to add recurrence to your workflow. Starting a workflow on a certain date or time required making use of retention policies and making a workflow recur every hour, week or month meant pulling out a whole bag of tricks. But not anymore with Flow, because you get recurrence out of the box which allows you to run your Flow every day, hour, minute or even second!

Thinking of our example case. We could add a recurrent step that sends out the mood analysis about the project every week.

FLow3
FLow3

User Profile Lookup

Flow allows you to lookup a User Profile as one of the action. This can be your own profile, a specific user profile or the profile of a user based on a search. Even getting the profile of someone’s manager is no problem, which is a real help in approval flows.

With looking up the profile, you also get access to the field that are in the profile. And since you can add fields to the Office 365 profile of your users which make sense for your organization, this means that you can use those organization specific profile fields in your Flow. Thinking back to our example, we could lookup certain details about the people that mention the project, for example the department they work for or the country they are based in. This could increase our insight in which parts of the organization the project is on the agenda.

Flow4
Flow4

Templates

Where SharePoint Designer Workflows came with a set of predefined templates that you could use straight out of the box, Flow goes the distance when you consider the amount of templates that are offered[4]. Also, the set of templates is growing every day, because you can choose to share your self-created flow with the community.

4. What are the Con’s?

As said, Flow is in premium state and thus still being worked on. Therefore, it is expected to have some bits and pieces missing. So what are the things that are not so great about Flow?

Everything is personal

One of the first things that I noticed is that, because Flow spans its logic across many applications, I was entering a lot of usernames and password to prove that I had the correct credentials for all these applications. Whenever you enter credentials, a connection is added to your Flow account in order to allows you to run the steps in your Flow that access that particular application. And you can manage these connections your personal connections overview.

Flow6
Flow6

This however begs the very important question: Is every Flow and impersonation workflow? And while I could not find a definite answer in the documentation [5], I cannot see any other conclusion than that a Flow you create only works based on the connections you have defined. This means when you build a Flow that start when an item is modified in a certain list, that anyone who has the permission to modify items in that list can trigger the Flow to start and will make use of your connections to go through all the defined steps. So any item that is modified, any item that is created, any email that is sent is sent using your credentials.

This is a very big deal and requires serious thought before activating a Flow and letting it run on a library or list. As highlighted in the introduction of this blog, Flow helps you to organize

Start other flows

It is not possible to start a second Flow as an action of your primary Flow. While this option brought much happiness for the users of SharePoint Designer 2013 workflows, it is not included in the set of actions in Flow. Which is a pain, because this will again lead to the situation that every single variation and exception within your logic process has to be included in the same Flow. This makes building and maintaining Flows unnecessarily complex.

Reorder steps

I almost could not believe it, but I cannot rearrange the steps when building the flow. When you start building you have a first step and a plus sign beneath it. But after adding three or four steps I could not squeeze another in between the ones I already had. This would mean that each time you want to go back and add a step in between others, you would have to delete everything first, add it, and then create the deleted steps again. I dare to say that this is not just user unfriendly, it is just ridicules.

And/Or conditions

In Flow you still rely on Conditions and Actions to create your Flow. But the options you have with formulating your conditions are greatly reduced compared to what you are used to in SharePoint Designer, where putting multiple conditions together immediately results in a AND or OR logic. In Flow this is not that easy. If you put two conditions beneath each other you have to define actions in between, so no possibility to define a OR scenario. And the AND scenarios are only possible by putting a whole series of conditions beneath each other and leaving out an action for the “If yes” path.

Flow7
Flow7

For conditions you do have the option to move into advanced mode within Flow, but that requires you to learn the new type of syntax building to create your AND or OR condition. Oh, and when you choose to go into advanced mode, there is no turning back to the “not advanced mode”. Very user unfriendly to say the least.

Flow8
Flow8

The verdict

Microsoft Flow really is one of the game changing components of the Future of SharePoint announcement. While it is very tempting to compare it to SharePoint Designers workflows, it actually requires a whole different approach because of the cross platform possibilities, deep integration with office products and personalization.

The product on the one hand shows great potential but on the other hand still shows clear signs that it is merely in Preview. If I had to make up the score right now, I would already conclude that the good outweighs the bad, so I am very eager to see what will be added to Flow in the future.

I will definitely keep a close eye on the roadmap to see what is coming and advise everybody to do the same, because for me, Flow is absolutely part of the Future!

This blog post is part of the series Future of SharePoint. More on this topic can be found at http://08b.4d7.myftpupload.com/tag/FutureOfSharePoint/

Sources:

  1. IFTTT
  2. Flow Microsoft
  3. IFTTT
  4. Flow Microsoft Templates
  5. Flow Microsoft Documentation

Rapid Circle wins again! Cloud Partner of the Year

After winning the worldwide ‘Health Partner of the Year’ award from Microsoft we also received the ‘Cloud Partner of the Year’ award for the Dutch healthcare sector. Andre Piso, Health & Local Government Lead from Microsoft Netherlands handed over the award to Wilco Turnhout.  With this annual awards Microsoft wants to express their appreciation for all Dutch partners who developed special or innovative solutions for the healthcare industry based on Microsoft technology. The Microsoft Health Partner awards are awarded in 5 categories: Innovator of the Year, System Integrator of the Year, Solution Partner of the Year, Licensing Partner of the Year en Cloud partner of the Year. We also want to congratulate the other award winners – Wortell, Caase.com, ChipSoft and Agile Software.

The reason that Rapid Circle won this ‘Cloud Partner of the Year’ award is because of our express choice for Office 365, Cloud and Microsoft Azure. Our clear ‘Cloud first’ strategy at our customers, but also in our marketing and PR.

Rapid Circle is Gold Certified Cloud Productivity Partner

logo.jpg

By the end of 2014 we were chosen by Microsoft as the winner of the ‘European Microsoft Cloud First Partner Healthcare’ award. And now, as one of the first in Europe, we have also recieved the Gold competency for the Cloud Productivity program and the Silver competency for the Cloud Platform program for Microsoft partners. Those programs are part of the total cloud strategy of Microsoft, in which technologies as Office 365, Windows Azure and Dynamics CRM are very important. We are very proud that we reached those two competencies as a recognition of our knowledge, experience and commitment to the ‘Cloud First’ strategy of Rapid Circle. It gives our customers the security that they can trust us on our cloud expertise. Besides those competences we already got the Gold competency for Content & Collaboration and also the Gold one for App Development.

Rapid Circle & the Cloud

For years we think that cloud is the right way to go for organizations. Employees bring their experiences with the apps and solutions for the home consumers into the office and expect the same experience with their business apps. Cloud solutions bring those innovative and new technologies for business solutions and help organizations with reducing costs, increase productivity and innovate on their internal communications and collaboration. The Cloud helps organizations to grow and makes them more flexible in a fast changing world.

Implementing new technologies is always challenging for businesses on the technical and organizational part. When they are successful in the cloud they can focus more on those two pillars, which brings them in a better balance.

Do you want to talk about Cloud solutions for your organization? Please contact us.