Tuesday
Aug312010

New GApps features? Prepare for enterprise complaints.

I wish I could dig up the link, but some time ago Google announced they were putting effort into unifying the code bases between their consumer products (Gmail, Google Calendar, etc.) and the Google Apps suite designed to work with your company s domain name. The products have the same core functionality, so on the surface this makes a lot of sense.

However, Gmail gets new features at an extremely rapid pace. Within just the last week, we ve seen both the Priority Inbox and Google Voice integration released, in beta of course. And if you ve worked in the IT department of a medium-to-large company, you know that change management policies would never allow features to dribble out like this.

I see an analogy in the way that software updates automatically get pushed to Android phones. Some Android users I know have complained that a forced update installed to their last-generation phone made it slower and buggier. (Being an iPhone guy myself, I'm not sure if this can be disabled.) If new features showed up for users automatically, in something as critical as e-mail, without the knowledge or consent of corporate IT...yowza.

Best-case scenario, I would expect bumps in the road, since this feels like the type of thing that Google does not usually excel at; call it support, communications, enterprise tooling or anything else. If it's not core engineering, it's not truly in their DNA.

Thursday
Jul152010

Moved on to Appiphony, blogging there too!

A few months back, I accepted the position of Chief Architect at Appiphony, a boutique Force.com consulting firm based in Chicago. It's an amazing job, and I can't imagine a better position for myself. I've known the founders for several years now and it's a fantastic group to work with.

Additionally, I've started writing for the company blog, so posts related to cloud computing will probably appear there. My first article on testing for Force.com applications was recently posted. I'd love to hear your feedback, especially if you have either deep experience in quality assurance or Force.com. Thanks!
Thursday
Jul152010

Guest blogging for Phonefreek

An old friend runs an irreverent blog called Phonefreek, which features his own amusing and foul-mouthed writings on the state of the smartphone market. It's definitely an active marketplace, so I think there's plenty worth writing about.

Since we both possess the charming quality whereby we share our unsolicited opinions, he asked me to write some guest posts. Naturally, I was honored and spat out two such posts in the past few months:

  1. Some thoughts on the possibility of an iPhone 4 recall
  2. A fond farewell to Palm

Enjoy.

Wednesday
Mar102010

Custom look-and-feel with Force.com Sites and Blueprint CSS

At the core of Force.com Sites is an extremely simple, yet powerful concept: the ability to address a set of related Visualforce pages with a publicly accessible URL. Anyone with a web browser can access your application s Visualforce pages, which in turn can incorporate a completely custom look-and-feel.

The sky is the limit but where do you begin? Most developers investigating the Force.com platform will have a background in programming rather than visual design, and may be intimidated when building a UI from scratch.

Fortunately, there are some HTML/CSS frameworks that can give you a jump start. I ve had success with one called Blueprint, and in this article I ll show you how to use it with Visualforce and Force.com Sites.

A brief intro to Blueprint
In practical terms, Blueprint is a set of CSS files that provides a predefined look-and-feel for a web site, though it s specifically designed to be easy to extend. To use it, you build your HTML as you normally would, and include the CSS classes defined by Blueprint to apply a layout and styling.

Here s one of the examples from Blueprint s Quick Start Tutorial:



Header


Left sidebar


Main content


Right sidebar

In a typical scenario, what s shown above would be the entire contents of the HTML body tag. Blueprint s styling will only be applied to content within the container, providing an easy way to enable or disable it. The content will be displayed in a centered grid, which is subdivided into 24 units of width. Here s a quick walkthrough of the remaining div tags:

Create a block 24 units wide (span-24) for header content, and wrap to the next line after this block (last)
Create a block 4 units wide (span-4) for left sidebar content
Create a block 16 units wide (span-16) for the main content of the page
Create a block 4 units wide (span-4) for right sidebar content, and wrap to the next line after this block (last)

Click on the image below to see a full sized version of the output, with Blueprint s grid shown for clarity:

Basic grid with dummy content

This example isn t very exciting, but with a little imagination you can see how a menu would work nicely in the header, perhaps with site navigation on the left side, and so on. Other examples and tutorials have been created as well, including one pictured below so you can see what Blueprint is capable of.

Sample Blueprint page
Use with Visualforce
You may have realized that the CSS classes used above are defined in external files. Indeed, Blueprint s documentation indicates that the following code should be placed in the head of the HTML document:


In the context of Visualforce, these CSS files would become Static Resources, and the link tag would not be used. What s trickier is handling the conditional comment for the Internet Explorer-specific stylesheet, since the head of the document is not directly accessible in Visualforce.

After some digging, I came up with this workaround:


Congratulations


This is your new Page

The use of < and > allow the conditional comment to sneak by the Visualforce parser, while still getting rendered in the browser. To validate this approach, I defined the ie-test class as being red and bold in the IE-specific stylesheet, allowing me to clearly test whether Blueprint s IE-specific styles would only be applied in that browser.

VF Sites page rendered in IE

VF Sites page rendered in Safari
Other features of Blueprint
Now that we ve got Blueprint up and running, let s dive a little deeper and look at some of its aspects that match up nicely with Visualforce. One of VF s nicer features is the dataTable component, which provides significant power and flexibility when rendering columnar data in an HTML table. Blueprint s default styling of tables handles this quite well.

Here s a simple use of the dataTable component in Visualforce:


DataTable



My Accounts
Page 1 of 1

Name



Street



City



State






And here s the table rendered with Blueprint s styling:

DataTable test

Blueprint also includes some nice styles to handle user errors and notices. This maps nicely to the pageMessages component. Here s a quick example in Visualforce:


PageMessages



Here s the throwError method from the controller:

public PageReference throwError() {
ApexPages.addMessage(new ApexPages.Message(ApexPages.Severity.ERROR, 'Sample error message'));

return null;
}


And this is the rendered error widget:

PageMessages sample
Summary
Force.com Sites, when combined with Visualforce, is great in that you can present any look-and-feel to your web site s visitors. But when presented with a blank canvas, developers may not know quite where to begin. That s where Blueprint comes in.

Though it s no substitute for having talented designers on your team, Blueprint usually saves time and can be very helpful for proof-of-concept work or internal applications. And what s even better is how well it works with Visualforce and the Force.com platform.

Wednesday
Feb102010

Salesforce.com officially de-supporting IE6 in 2010...woo hoo!

I just received the below e-mail from Salesforce.com stating they're ending support for Internet Explorer 6 at the end of calendar year 2010. It made my day...enjoy. :)

Dear Ross,

At salesforce.com, seamless upgrades are a top priority, and we strive to provide open communication whenever we make changes that may impact our customers. You are receiving this email because we have identified you as system administrator for a Salesforce.com organization that will be impacted by an upcoming change to our support policy for Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 (IE6).  We have identified that one or more users in your organization logged into salesforce.com using IE6 between September 2009 and December 2009.

What is the change?

With the Spring '10 release, salesforce.com will begin delivering features that will not be supported for use with IE6, including our new user interface theme.  In subsequent releases throughout 2010, we may release additional features and UI enhancements that will also not be supported on IE6.  This is all in preparation for a full de-support of IE6, which is tentatively planned for end of calendar year 2010.

Why is salesforce.com doing this?

There are several reasons we are ending support for IE6:

  • IE6 is less secure. Multiple security vulnerabilities in IE6 have been exploited over the years.  The most recent attacks against Google, Yahoo, and other companies specifically targeted vulnerabilities easily accessible in IE6 but much more difficult to exploit in IE7 and IE8—leading the Microsoft Security Response Center to recommend that users of IE6 upgrade to a newer version of Internet Explorer.

  • IE6 is slow. Of all of our supported browsers, IE6 provides the slowest and least rewarding user experience for our customers.

  • IE6 is a “last generation” browser. IE6 was first released in August 2001.  As an obsolete, non-standard platform, IE6 is a difficult browser on which to develop and support the rich internet applications our customers have come to expect.


What action do I need to take?

You and your company's IT administrators should plan and/or upgrade your users to IE7, IE8, or another supported browser by the end of calendar year 2010.

What will happen if I take no action?

Your organization can continue to use IE6 in the Spring '10 release. However, beginning with the Spring '10 release, salesforce.com will make available several new opt-in features that are not supported on IE6.  Your organization has the option of leaving these features inactive until you have upgraded to a supported browser.

How can I get more information?

Please contact salesforce.com Customer Support with any questions you may have.

Best regards,

Salesforce Customer Support

support@salesforce.com
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