Life with Visio and other Microsoft Toys!

Future of Visio?

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Visio was introduced 22 years ago and has unfortunately become complacent. The Visio wannabees have become established and use half-truths to promote their products. What was Visio’s last oh wow feature, something to make the market pay attention?

In its’ life time, most under the Microsoft brand, Visio has come out with some interesting innovations, Data Graphics, Containers, Rules, the shapesheet and a programmable model. Before joining Microsoft, Visio was the first non-Microsoft company to fully embrace VBA.

Initially, Visio was a simple way of making connected diagrams. Drop a predefined shape and add a connection line. If the shape moves, the lines remained connected. Unlike other packages at the time, which did not have the connection feature, you were not limited to the eight shapes they supplied. The Visio team had added some magic behind the shapes, called the shapesheet. My handwriting is atrocious and I can not draw, but with the shapesheet I am able to create some fantastic shapes. Nothing compared to the mastery of one of the original shape miesters like Chris Roth, but adequate. The shapesheet contains formulas that react to the shapes surroundings. So, you could start a shape from scratch or build on an existing shape. Chris Roth’s site is the place to be if you want to be a shape developer.

Then custom properties were added so the shapes could contain more than a picture of the object. The information could surface in reports or be used to alter the shapes appearance. A critically low value could change the shape colour to red. Along the way, it was possible to interrogate a Visio drawing or modify it under the control of a program. Data Graphics added the ability to add KPIs to a shape without cluttering a drawing. Since one use of Visio drawings was to illustrate processes, rules were added (I am willing to bet most people are not aware that there were Visio Rules (Check out David Parker’s books, he is our Rules wizard)). So, with rules you could check a drawing for compliance and is with most things Visio, you were not limited to the rules in the box. As I said, David Parker wrote the book on it.

So, what happened? When Visio was on its’ own, it had full control of the marketing and training, but as part of Microsoft, Visio is just a small piece of the puzzle. Now marketing has a plethora of products to promote and sales can make their quota on other products. Unfortunately, a lot of people are unaware of Visio’s capabilities. Most consider it just a diagramming tool using clipart. On the Microsoft site, there are a number of “Visio” stencils which are no more than clipart encapsulated in a Visio shape, with none of the smarts of a true Visio shape.

Visio 2013 was a great product, but it was released more than three years ago. So far, there have been no hints of what is to come, or if there will be a new version.

So what needs to happen? There needs to be a stronger marketing campaign to promote Visio both inside and outside Microsoft. Has anybody heard of an ad for Visio? The sales force needs to aggressively promote Visio features, especially to the regions. By the time information reaches the regions, the gung ho attitude has been watered down and Visio has become just a clipart diagramming tool.

There should be a Visio-lite to get more on board. A web version would take of the Visio wannabees who complain that there is no a Mac version.

The programming of Visio should be simplified. In the old days I use to use VB until Visio spoiled me with VBA. I have tried to return, but the various methods, like VSTO have too much overhead or the process of including shapes is convoluted and keeps changing. There should also be training. At one point there was certification for Visio, but that has lapsed. And when I talk about programming Visio, I also include those who want to master the shapesheet.


I have owned almost all versions of Visio, except Visio Maps, but I am probably not the best person to comment on the price. I have never paid for a version. What got me interested in Visio was a Visio 1 sampler that was on a Windows 3.1 upgraded evaluator floppy from Microsoft Canada. I started answering questions on the ShapeWare forum on CompuServe and as Visio improved, was given beta versions and then the final releases. Having said that, I do find the price high. This is software, not a physical object, so dropping the price just means you have to sell more for the same revenue. A lower price would increase demand and destroy the main reason used by the wannabees.

MSO shapes – (MSO – MicroSoft Office) For a long time, the other Office products, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher have had Visio like capabilities. The problem is that these drawings can not be copied into Visio and the experience continued. What you get is a single grouped shape. Ungroup it and it falls apart. A simple red text box becomes a shape for the fill colour, a shape for the outline, a shape for the text. So you end up redrawing using real Visio shapes. At some point the MSO shapes need to merge into Visio.

As part of the learning curve, anyone who wants to appreciate the power of Visio should visit the websites of my fellow Visio MVPs: David Parker, John Goldsmith and especially Chris Roth.


John Marshall… Visio MVP

Written by johnvisiomvp

January 27, 2015 at 3:46 am

Posted in Visio

Universal Apps – Settings on stun

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Settings are one of those things that are not the same between Windows and the phone. In Windows, there are charms and developer can add their code to Charms like Settings, on the phone, the developer has to handle it on a page they create that they call by adding a button to the screen, usually an AppBar button. So, the user has a nice UI experience on the phone and the developer has to match the experience on the phone. Normally this is done with the AppBar. There are also several other housekeeping tasks, (help, about, reviews, promos for your other apps) that also compete for the AppBar.  On my WP7 apps, with only four AppBar buttons, I had to make use of the AppBar menu buttons as well. To allow multilingual text on the buttons, this was done in code behind and got a bit messy.

Now with Universal Apps, a method is needed to try and reuse some of the code. So, rather than managing multiple buttons, it was easier to use a single button and make the page called a bit smarter. The logical choice appeared to make the “Settings” page a Panorama or a Pivot page with each housekeeping task having their own subpage. Since Panorama has gone and Pivot is on it’s way out, a HubPage appears to be the solution. So a button to get to the page and scrolling left or right to get to the information worked nicely. The overlapping of the hub sections gives a nice hint at the next hub section.

Of course, there is still the issue with duplicating the code for Windows and the Phone. This can be easily handled by making each housekeeping task a user control  placed in the shared folder. So the different mechanisms for calling the housekeeping task are stored in the Windows and the Phone folders and the actual functions, that are probably going to evolve over time, are in the Shared Folder.

Windows will use commands to invoke flyouts of the housekeeping tasks, and the Phone will use a HubSection to do the same thing.


John Marshall… Visio MVP

Written by johnvisiomvp

August 4, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Universal Apps – Sort of?

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In WP8, I can set up a view and use a few SortDescriptions and I have view several my data in a sorted format. Not so with a universal app. The answer I received from the forums is that:

Universal apps are based on WinRT, not Silverlight. As you can see in the relevant APIs:

Windows.UI.XAML.Data.CollectionViewSource does not have a SortDescriptions property.

System.Windows.Data.CollectionViewSource does have a SortDescriptions property.

So, it appears UAs have taken a step back from phone apps.  Sorting, something that should be standard, does not exists.


John Marshall… Visio MVP

Written by johnvisiomvp

July 25, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Universal Apps – TextBox

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Though not specifically for Universal Apps, the TextBox control has been nicely enhanced. In the past, if we wanted a header, we had to add a TextBlock before the TextBox. This meant coordination was required every time the TextBox had to be repositioned. Now the TextBox control includes a Header parameter. If you are not entirely happy with how the Header appears, There is a HeaderTemplate.  Just include


within the TextBox control. Now you can format it to your hearts content and it will move with the TextBox if it is repositioned.

Another new feature is that you can include a watermark within the TextBox as a placeholder. So if the TextBox is empty, it displays some default  text.  This is handled by the PlaceholderText parameter.

Of course, those that know me know that I like making everything multilingual. These parameters do not disappoint, they also support multilingual text. Just add a x:Uid to the TextBox and include rows in the resource file referencing that Uid. So, if the Uid is Num1, your resource file should include Num1.Header and Num1.PlaceholderText. If you do add the HeaderTemplate, it can use an x:Uid within the TextBox or a different x:Uid within the HeaderTemplate.

No matter how many times I do it, I still need to double check the difference between TextBox and TextBlock.


John Marshall… Visio MVP

Written by johnvisiomvp

July 9, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Universal Apps – Starting from Windows Phone 7

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So, in other posts I have mentioned what is new as far as Multilingual support and Navigation is concerned. Now it is time to point out other differences.

For those lovers of Blend, it is now gone. Okay, it is still there, but it has lost its’ place on the Project menu. Now you have to right click a xaml file to invoke it. It is definitely a tool to be used.

Isolated Storage seems to have gone. You now use
var localSettings =Windows.Storage.ApplicationData.Current.LocalSettings;
localSettings.Values[“MyFirstVar”] = “Hello Windows”;

Object value = localSettings.Values[“MyFirstVar”];
var roamingSettings =Windows.Storage.ApplicationData.Current.RoamingSettings;
Object Value = roamingSettings.Values[“MyFirstVar”];

Signatures on routines have changed. EventArgs has been replaced by RoutedEventArg.

OrientationChanged has now gone. So has Split if you peeked at Windows 8 development. Use the SizeChanged keyword on the XAML page. Use Windows.Current.Bounds.Width to get the widths value. you can use
ApplicationViewOrientation winOrientation = ApplicationView.GetForCurrentView().Orientation;
if (winOrientation == ApplicationViewOrientation.Landscape)
// Landscape layouts
else if (winOrientation == ApplicationViewOrientation.Portrait)
// Portrait layouts

For keyhandling, replace System.Windows.Input.Key.D0 with Windows.System.VirtualKey.Number0.


So how do you do convert a WP7 app to a universal app? Since there is no update button, you will have to do it manually. Unlike WP7/WP8 development, app names have to be unique, so the first step is to reserve the name. The next step is to create a Universal App with that name. As Andy points out in , the UA templates do not fully support navigation, so delete MainPage.xaml and create a new one based on Basic Page.

Within the Windows and Phone folders, create a strings folder as mentioned in the article on the Multilingual toolkit. The first version of you app may be unilingual, but by setting the ground work, adding new languages should be relatively easy. The hard part will be creating all the blarney and screen shots for the marketplace. Luckily, the Multilingual Toolkit can help (It is designed to help handle translations and not all string translatons will be INSIDE the app.).

Within the Shared folder, create a new folder called Old and place the XAML, CS and image files of the WP7 or WP8 project in it. Along with any other data that is needed by the project. This will be your working folder and the items will be removed from the folder as you convert. You did remember to do a backup of the original project? ;-)

Within the Windows and the Phone folders, create new XAML with the names used in the original project. Copy the main part of the original XAML to the new XAML files, ignoring the declaration section. Within the Shared folder create a class for the C# code behind and name it with the same name as the code behind. Place the content of the code behind within it ignoring the Usings,  Anything with Phone in the name will have to be replaced, so the Usings can be recreated (or in some cases pointed to new locations).


This is a work in progress, so I will be updating this post in the future.


John Marshall… Visio MVP

Written by johnvisiomvp

June 22, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Universal Apps – Multilingual Toolkit

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I fell in love with the Multilingual Toolkit when it was first introduced and found it very useful to add multiple languages to my apps. The only down side was that the submission process increased with each language. Even so, the Toolkit was useful in translating the text that is submitted with the app. All I had to do was add extra strings to the project, have them translations and then use the translations in the submission.

The XLF files use an industry standard for translators, so it is a very useful way to communicate with translators. The translator may have his own application for handling the XLF file, but the Toolkit does come with a useful app that anyone can use to do the translation. Unfortunately, the first release seemed to indicate that you had to install Visual Studio, the current version still seems to be a part of Visual Studio.

Of course, that familiarity caused problems. When you add languages in WP7 or WP8, the toolkit would automatically add the resource file (resx) and the XLF file for that language. With 8.1, only the XLF file is added. Of course, correcting that mistake is a mistake, only the resource file for the default language is needed. If you add the missing resource files, you will get a cryptic error message about duplication.

Rather than AppResources.resx, 8.1 uses resw files and the name is string/EN/Resources.resw. Converting from resx to resw is just a matter of renaming the extension, but I prefer to just copy all the strings and paste. I have yet to try it, but it should be possible to add the language to the filename as was done in WP7 / WP8.

With 8.1 the C# code for using strings from the resource file is to add

var loader = new Windows.ApplicationModel.Resources.ResourceLoader();

ErrorBlock.Text = loader.GetString(“ErrorCode01″)

In the xaml it is a matter of


to the textblock or button. This will overwrite the content of the Text or Content parameter, but they should be left in for editing. I tend to add an x to the end of the test. Unlike in WP7 and WP8, Visual Studio does not show the resource string in the editor. So the overwritten string are useful for determining the look and feel while editing.

Also  there is no XML that shows the languages being used, so the task of removing a language is just a matter of deleting the appropriate XLF file.

Another interesting thing is that the UIC can change several attributes. So for one use of a UIC, you can change the text and the width for a textblock. In the resource file it would be Help.Text and Help.Width.


John Marshall… Visio MVP

Universal Apps – Navigation

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Unlike the navigation on Windows Phone 7, the navigation is a bit more complex in a Universal App, but luckily, Microsoft has provided some helpers. To add the helpers, you need to create the page with a Basic rather than a Blank page. You will be told that you are missing components and do you want to add them. Accept and the navigation components will be added. One key point that MVP Andy Wigley mentioned in an MVA course on Building Apps for Windows Phone 8.1 JumpStart is that the Blank default MainPage is created with a Blank page rather than a Blank Page. So you need to delete the MainPage and create a new one from a Basic page.

For some reason, I used cut & paste to merge a WP7 project into a UA project and somehow lost the name of the page (It should be pageRoot). Trying to work out what went wrong was not easy. For the most part, the process seemed easy. Create a skeleton app with the name you want, delete MainPage and replace with a new one based on Basic page and cut and paste the code. Ignore the declaration section of the old cold and just copy over the content of the Grid.

The NavigationService.Navigate are replaced with Frame.Navigate(typeof(NextPage));

Most of the code in the cs files are placed in classes using the same name in the Project.Shared folder. So there should be a MainPage.xaml.cs in that folder when you are done. The code in the xaml files will be in the Windows and duplicated in the Phone folders. This is where most of the differences of the Windows and Phone versions of the app will appear.

Andy Wigley’s JumpStart course on MVA is a good start.

Next time languages.


John Marshall… Visio MVP

Written by johnvisiomvp

June 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm


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