Developing Clouds

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April 24, 2014  8:30 AM

Database-driven Web Apps Made Easy



Posted by: Michelle Greenlee
Cloud Services

Launching a logic-driven database application on the web can be as easy as clicking your mouse. Zoho Creator lets you create and access your database on the web without a developer. You can select a blank project and click to build each function you require or choose an existing template to get started.

Database operations are added through a drag and drop interface. Your database query is built onscreen with each click.

zoho_creator_drag_editor

Drag and drop tasks for your database to perform.

zoho_creator_define

Simple form creation is also available. Zoho Creator forms have a familiar drag and drop form creation interface but contain options to set up advanced rules to process entered data. Wufoo is a similar form product but without advanced rule processing capabilities.

zoho_form_rules

Zoho Creator lets users interact with an imported database or create one using forms and processing rules. At first look, the system seems to be a feature-rich form creation suite when it’s really a robust web database. Zoho integrates with third-party services to form a unique product capable of more than just collecting data from simple forms. The list of capabilities runs so long its outside the scope of this post.

I once believed Zoho was a copycat company that focused on creating products similar to Google’s. Products like Zoho Creator prove its uniqueness in the marketplace. Google’s database tools don’t offer the same easy-to-use interface and are generally targeted at experienced developers. Zoho tends to build its products for non-developer types. Zoho Creator is a tool you should certainly check out for database projects.

April 23, 2014  8:00 AM

Develop a Windows Phone App in the Cloud



Posted by: Michelle Greenlee
Development Tools

Develop a new Windows device app using the new cloud-based development tool from Microsoft called App Studio. App Studio is a cloud-based, code free, app development platform for Windows devices. Creating an app is free. Publishing in the Windows store will cost extra ($19 for individuals, $99 for companies depending on your location).winphone_appstudio_beta

The App Studio development process is fairly simple. Microsoft has set up a wizard-like interface to walk you through each step. An onscreen preview is visible during the entire process (as seen below).

winphone_webapp_start

Microsoft provides a few basic templates to get you started. Descriptions and app previews are provided with each template to help you decide. These templates include sample pages with text and image containers. Template descriptions are interesting and seem to encourage app creators to develop apps for movie reviews, vacation travel, and personal hobbies to share with friends and family.

winphone_landing

Microsoft provides basic templates but also allows creators to set up an HTML5 wrapper app. These web apps take your existing site and package it inside a wrapper for display on Windows mobile devices. Responsive websites are preferred, obviously. You can modify the look and feel of your Windows-style web app by applying themes and adding tiles before publishing in the Windows app store.

winphone_webapp_options1winphone_add_tiles

Developing in the cloud is but one option for the Windows Phone app store. Sample apps are also available for download if you want to dig into the code.

winphone_download_code

Completed App Studio apps are available free to download to your personal Windows 8.1 mobile device or PC (sorry Windows 8.0 users). You can generate a new installation package or download source code to Visual Studio. Installing your new app requires verification of your current copy of Windows 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1.

winphone_generate_app

The new browser-based App Studio from Microsoft is its own incentive for app creators to focus attention on Windows Phone and Surface Tablets. No additional revenue split is being advertised for new publishers. Publishers currently receive 70% of an apps price (per sale).

App Studio is a feature-rich tool with potential to bridge the traditional Windows app development process with today’s easy-to-use cloud tools.


April 21, 2014  8:32 AM

Build a Mobile Web App on Your Mobile Device in Under 10 Minutes



Posted by: Michelle Greenlee
Development Tools

Cloud-based development tools are increasing in number. Few offer a touch interface for use on your actual mobile device. Adsy (current in beta) offers a mobile user interface for creating web apps fast. Basic services are available free and promise to remain free until…forever.
adsy_start
Creating an account is simple. Register your email address and create a username then you’re ready to start creating. You can access the creation space on your mobile device or from a regular computer. Adding support for regular computers is a new feature of the once all-mobile product.

There’s nothing to download and no code to review during the creation process. Apps can span many pages and contain images, links, videos, and more. Free accounts have access to a few plugins.

adsy_generic_app

Adsy offers an intriguing approach to code-free development by giving users something they call “magic”. As you might expect, the magic isn’t really magic. In fact, it’s an onscreen click area selection tool. Activating the magic selection tool is easy – just click the pointed finger icon to activate it. Next, scribble your desired click area (greenish smudges outlined in pink below).  Designating a clickable area automatically brings up a toolbox of options available. I added simple external links to my generic Adsy app.

adsy_magic

I created a simple app in less than 10 minutes without coding. While Adsy is an interesting entrant to the code-free app dev market it’s not without weakness. The user interface isn’t quite as intuitive as I would like. I prefer to dive right in without reading instructions. Adding a simple onscreen tutorial would help ease the user interface learning curve. Adding more free plugins would also be nice. Details about each plugin’s functionality would be helpful too. Adsy probably won’t change your web app marketing strategy but it may enter your future plans as it evolves. This tool is definitely on my list of services to watch.


March 26, 2014  7:00 AM

Microsoft was late to the presentation. This is what happened in its absence.



Posted by: Michelle Greenlee
Cloud Services, Office Productivity, Productivity

Microsoft waited too long to bring PowerPoint online. This is the short story of what became of the slide show presentation space in its absence.

haiku_cover

While Microsoft focused on the desktop, competitors took to the cloud.

  • Prezi – Prezi.com offers a free online tool for slide show creation and hosts the final product too.
  • Haiku – Haikudeck.com offers a free presentation creation tool and hosts the final product. It gives users access to a large image library complete with automatic source citing.
  • Google Drive – Google Drive has offered a hosted slide show solution for many years now. Google Drive offers users a simple way to collaborate on presentations. You can easily make a 4 minute presentation last a cool 35 with help from enough collaborators!
  • SlideShare – SlideShare is dedicated to hosting presentations. They offer business promotion tools for pro accounts but no creation tools. Most other hosted creation tools will allow users to export presentations for offline use. You could create presentations on one platform then upload to SlideShare if you were keen to do so.
  • Zoho Show – Zoho is the Google Docs clone from way back. It’s proven to be just as good and sometimes better than existing Google tools. Zoho Show looks a lot like Google Drive Presentations but it’s not an exact copy. Zoho Show allows you to both create and host your slide shows on its platform. You can use Zoho Show for free. They also offer pro accounts with additional features just like the others featured in this presentation.

Microsoft was late bringing PowerPoint online. Lateness brought consumers an excellent selection of hosted tools. No longer are you confined to the world of PowerPoint for presentations. Microsoft may one day be a relic of the past in the world of presentations. It may already be that relic in the present.

See the above slide show with notes on Haiku or without notes on SlideShare.


March 22, 2014  3:48 PM

Sustainability and Business Innovation from SAP



Posted by: Michelle Greenlee
Training

SAP offers free online courses at through a new program called Open SAP. The Open SAP education model gives learners an opportunity to study SAP technologies and network with other learners. The program is relatively new and currently offers ten courses.

Each Open SAP course has a set run time, start and end date, and final exam. Courses usually run 5 to 7 weeks. Participants are expect to complete weekly assignments and attend video lectures. Additional study materials such as slide decks and handouts are provided.

SAP offers courses over its own products and services as well as other operations critical courses. Sustainability and Business Innovation begins April 29, 2014. In this course, participants will learn about sustainability in context with other business units. Participants will learn how IT can help create competitive advantage while reducing cost and driving innovation.

openSAP_sustainability
Since this is not a developer-centric course, attendants need not be developers. Of course, developers are welcome to attend and encouraged to do so. No additional software or programming knowledge is required to attend.

Course Requirements (from the site):

  • Basic understanding of business and administration processes
  • Basic understanding of industry value chains
  • Basic understanding of information technology (IT)
  • Interest in sustainability

Completing all assignments (graded weekly) and completing a final exam earns a certificate of completion. The final exam is scheduled for the week of June 10-17, 2014. The course is free and open to the public. SAP claims courses are even compatible with tablet devices like the iPad. Open SAP hopes you’ll spend your Spring and Summer studying with SAP for free.


March 9, 2014  8:27 PM

Spider Oak vs. ownCloud



Posted by: Michelle Greenlee
Cloud Services

Cloud-based storage options are plenty. Consumer versions are no doubt well-loved and oft-used in your enterprise. Enter SpiderOak and OwnCloud. Each offers both consumer-grade and enterprise options.

Privacy demands a zero-knowledge service like SpiderOak. The service promises to know nothing of your user account and saved content. Privacy and security are among the services top priorities. Saved data is encrypted, user names and passwords are never available to employees. SpiderOak encrypts data during transmission and while it’s saved on their servers.

SpiderOak offers cloud storage, sync, and backup. Data across multiple devices can be automatically updated and synced on a schedule you create. Access is available on every device you set up. They currently support Android and iOS mobile devices. Desktop support is available for Windows, Mac, and multiple Linux flavors.

SpiderOak delivers both a hosted version of its platform and an enterprise version. The enterprise version can be set up on-premises for tighter control of stored data. This large scale deployment option offers the same encryption technology as the consumer version behind your organization’s firewall.

OwnCloud is a data sync and share platform delivered as a hosted platform at OwnCloud.com or on your own server. Like SpikerOak, OwnCloud’s priority is securing your data against prying eyes. OwnCloud’s enterprise solution is also available for use behind a corporate firewall. OwnCloud offers a solution to every organizations problem with consumer-grade cloud storage services.

Unlike SpiderOak, OwnCloud offers an open source version of its platform and is available as a quick install web application on multiple hosting services like Red Hat’s OpenShift. Installation is quick and easy, usually done with one click. Keeping your personal data secure requires an SSL certificate. You’ll be reminded to install one after installing OwnCloud. You will control your own cloud just as the name implies.

OwnCloud and SpiderOak enterprise solutions are an obvious answer to the consumerization of I.T. while fending off snoops of many kinds. Quick adoption of enterprise software isn’t always easy when its difficult to use. OwnCloud and SpiderOak deliver a well-designed interface while securing data.


March 6, 2014  9:50 AM

Automate the boring with Zapier



Posted by: Michelle Greenlee
Web Services

Zapier is an automation tool for web services that promises to zap the boring out of repetitive tasks by handling the work for you. There are zero promises of putting away the laundry or washing the dishes on the site so I’m not quite sure how they pull it off.

A closer look reveals a nifty IFTTT competitor with an edge – Zapier offers a paid tier. You pay to let them automate tasks on many of the free services you’re already using. Fascinating, right? Unlike IFTTT, Zapier only automates web services. Home automation devices aren’t available at Zapier.

Zapier works with a huge list of web services. You can automate the duplication of data many times over if you choose. Support for familiar services include Gmail, Dropbox, Wufoo, and RSS. You can even copy your work between Asana and Trello if you like.
Zapier
Tasks like saving form entries to a Google Docs spreadsheet can be helpful if you prefer not to use a system’s built-in support for Google or you want to avoid the dreaded weekly data export. I vote for the latter. Exporting data from some of these services takes only a minute or two but you must remember to do it on a schedule. Who has time to schedule a dreaded task like exporting form entries?

Zapier’s slogan should really be something like “we automate the boring”. Somehow the automation of boring tasks is exciting in its own way. You can marvel at your own cleverness while working on something only slightly less boring. Time saved, mouse clicks spared. Every mouse click saved is one that can be used on something totally useless later in the day.

What do you automate in your day-to-day activities? Do you prefer IFTTT or Zapier? Tell me in the comment section below. I promise not to automate my responses.


March 5, 2014  9:00 AM

SAP’s Curious Browser-based Development Tool



Posted by: Michelle Greenlee
Development Tools

Choosing the right tools for mobile development can be difficult if you don’t know where to look. It can be just as trying if you look in all the right places but only find snippets of information you must string together on your own. SAP offers a browser-based tool for mobile app development called AppBuilder. The browser-based tool is available free but you have to set it up on your local machine. Interesting isn’t it?

SAP AppBuilder is ready to build web apps with the default set up. You must have the Android SDK installed if you want to create Android apps with it. Today, we’re going with the default set up on a Windows machine.

  1. Install Node.js
  2. Open a command window and type npm to verify your Node.js installation is working.
  3. Download and unpack SAP AppBuilder to the desired location. You’ll be running the program from this location.
  4. Run AppBuilder by double clicking run.bat in the directory you created for AppBulder.
  5. Using Google Chrome, open the AppBuilder interface by going to http://127.0.0.1:9009/ide/ares/index.html if it does not load automatically for you.

The AppBuilder code includes a few sample applications to get you started. You’ll see these on your welcome screen. Creating a new app loads the onscreen code editor. You should see a familiar development environment layout in blue and gray. The editor gives you access to code or use a simple drag and drop interface.

If you’d like a more in-depth look at your installation options, refer to SAP’s AppBuilder installation tutorial at SAP Academy. Learn how to create a new chart app with this chart app tutorial.

sap_appbuilder

AppBuilder is easy enough to set up and run from your local machine but it feels a little backwards to do so considering the power of SAP. I expected a fully hosted version of this browser-based IDE when I first read about it. The developer center wasn’t quite clear enough about the real location of this tool. A SAP hosted version could have data connections built in where developers need only enter login credentials to get started. This is an interesting development tool worth testing out.


March 3, 2014  9:47 AM

Connect your mobile app to OneDrive



Posted by: Michelle Greenlee
Cloud Services, Mobile Development

SkyDrive is now OneCloud, writes Ed Tittel. The service has a new name and new design. Early adopters got additional, free storage just for signing up or upgrading from SkyDrive. If your apps don’t already connect to this service, you may decide now is a good time to make that connection.

Microsoft hopes you’ll add OneCloud support too. They want users to choose OneDrive for all. I found Microsoft’s own OneDrive iPad app lacking in features myself. Compared with the Google Drive app, it loses big time. OneDrive offers read only access to existing documents and that’s disappointing.

Adding OneDrive support to your apps can be done through the OneDrive API. Code samples are available on GitHub. If you’ve never used the OneDrive API there’s a course for that. Study the OneDrive API at Codeacademy for free. Free access to code samples and an API course are enough to pique my intrest in OneDrive for apps. The OneDrive API is available on Windows Phone (obviously), Web apps, Android, and iOS.

If you’re really curious about the Live Connect specification used to connect Microsoft users to services, give the Interactive Live SDK a try. You’ll move through core concepts, OneDrive API, Identity API, and the Hotmail API with an interactive code editor. You can modify code onscreen the run it to test your results.

Microsoft is obviously hoping to gain a large user base with the re-branding of its cloud service. Offering gigabytes of free storage and web access to some of its most-used programs are a good way to change user habits. I’m not a Microsoft fangirl but I do find myself looking for reasons to test its newest cloud offering (upgrade). Perhaps OneDrive re-branding is Microsoft’s key to gaining access to the mobile market in new ways.


March 2, 2014  6:44 PM

Earn a Certificate in Android App Development + Cloud Computing



Posted by: Michelle Greenlee
Cloud Services, Mobile Development, Training

Coursera now offers Specialization Certificates for around $200. Coursera Specialization Certificates are earned by paying for three courses and one capstone project. Courses can be purchased individually, as you complete them. Each course can still be taken free individually. Free courses do not count toward a Specialization Certificate, however.

The new Mobile Cloud Computing with Android specialization offers three courses and a capstone project.

Programming Mobile Applications for Android Handheld Systems focuses on connecting Android applications to cloud services. This course will cover the Android platform and development environment. The course includes lessons on application development fundamentals. Students will create applications in multiple lab activities. This course doesn’t stop at a simple ‘Hello World’ app. Students will study user interface design, notifications, alarms, sensors, location, and more. This course requires at least some experience with programming languages. Familiarity with Java is recommended.

Pattern-Oriented Software Architectures: Programming Mobile Services for Android Handheld Systems is the second in this specialization services and focuses on connecting Android apps with a cloud backend. This course dives deep into cloud-based storage and synchronization methods. Content providers will also be covered. Students should be familiar with object-oriented design and programming.

Programming Cloud Services for Android Handheld Systems is the third in this specialization series. As the name states, the course covers cloud services for Android. Students will learn how Android apps communicate with cloud services and how to secure these communications. The course even includes information on connecting apps to Google Glass. Cloud services such as Google App Engine and Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute will be used.

Students must complete a Capstone Project on the Specialization track to earn a certificate. Details of this required project aren’t posted online with the rest of the courses. Completion of this project is required.

If you’re unable or unwilling to carry around your personal laptop and own an iPad, you can participate in your courses through the new Coursera iPad app. Earn your specialization certificate just a bit faster by watching a lecture or two during your lunch hour!


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