Did you feel a slight disturbance in the force? That was Microsoft releasing [in beta] Project Siena, a Windows 8 “modern” app that allows non-developers (and devs looking for a shortcut and/or prototype) to very quickly create very functional Windows 8 Modern applications. When I say “very functional” I mean apps that can support business functions, interface with REST services, consume Excel data, feed off of RSS, etc. Pretty impressive functionality for a first beta.
As I mentioned, Project Siena is itself a Modern App and so you can use it just fine from Windows RT or any other edition of Windows 8. Yes, that’s right, Windows RT just became a development platform for creating Modern Apps!! Also, these are some weird “community app” programs, these are apps that you can publish to the Windows Store like any other “real” app. Also, if you are a software developer you can also modify the source code in Visual Studio to make any changes that are outside the scope Siena; the generated code uses HTML+CSS to render the views [rather than XAML].
In terms of getting to data outside of the app there are a surprising number of choices this early on and they include:
- Windows Azure Mobile Services (AWS)
- RSS Feeds
- SharePoint Lists
This being a beta there are a couple of restrictions with the above sources, most notably with RSS (doesn’t refresh live, just on app start) and AWS (needs a bit of tweaking with a config file). Excel is limited to “just” 15,000 rows by 100 columns and SharePoint Lists have the same issue as RSS. REST is more dynamic but for the current beta you can only GET data, not PUT [but that’s coming].
Also, if you have assets (graphics, photos, video, data, etc.) that you’d rather were bundled into the app so they’re available offline you can do that too. It’s not quite as smooth a process as I’d like [beta] but it’s not terrible and like all the things I’ve mentioned here it’s well documented on the Siena website.
When you’re ready to publish your app you just access the “Publish” function from the File menu (right-click anywhere in Siena and you’ll see the top App Bar drop down with this and other options).
What’s quite interesting about the deployment story right now [beta] is that Project Siena comes with a little install “loader” that can install your published app on your local machine, where Project Siena is installed, with little or no hassles. In fact, it’s not much more complicated to use the same tool to create a package you can distribute to other people without using the Windows App Store! That’s right folks, this official Microsoft Modern App development tool allows you to create app packages that “side load” onto machines, bypassing the store entirely. Sure, it’s a little rustic [beta] in its current form (it actually generates a PowerShell script to do the magic) but the fact that it does this at all is pretty interesting.
This is just a brief “across the bow” into to Project Siena and I’ll be posting more about it in the coming days as I get a chance to play with it and create an app or two in order to test the bounds of what the beta is capable of right now. It’s a very promising start and I think the tool shows a lot of promise for both devs and power users looking for a way to create modern touch-friendly solutions.