Tip: “Path” Control in XAML – Boredom Challenge Day 21

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The default controls in Visual Studio for WPF, Windows Phone and WinRT contain a XAML control called Path, which allows us to display simple shapes and drawings in our apps. The advantage of using it comes from the fact that it uses vectoral graphics, which provides us flexibility in several situations, the most prominent of which is, of course, resizing.

What it does is mix parts of different shapes together via a special markup syntax.

What it does is mixing parts of different shapes together via a special markup syntax.

For example, the above Skype logo is a Path object, which looks like the following in our XAML code:

        <Path Stretch="Uniform" UseLayoutRounding="False" Fill="White" Height="50" HorizontalAlignment="Left" VerticalAlignment="Top" Margin="145,100,0,0" Data="F1 M 15.364,15.168C 14.9453,15.7707 14.3307,16.2427 13.5267,16.5813C 12.7213,16.9186 11.7707,17.088 10.6693,17.088C 9.35334,17.088 8.26267,16.86 7.4,16.3933C 6.79067,16.06 6.29467,15.612 5.91334,15.0546C 5.52801,14.4973 5.33601,13.9507 5.33601,13.4173C 5.33601,13.1027 5.45467,12.8306 5.68934,12.6066C 5.92533,12.3826 6.228,12.2693 6.58801,12.2693C 6.88267,12.2693 7.13334,12.36 7.33734,12.5333C 7.54134,12.708 7.71334,12.964 7.85334,13.3C 8.02001,13.688 8.20267,14.0133 8.39468,14.276C 8.58801,14.5293 8.86001,14.744 9.21201,14.9133C 9.55868,15.0813 10.02,15.164 10.5973,15.164C 11.388,15.164 12.028,14.9933 12.5173,14.656C 13.008,14.316 13.244,13.9013 13.244,13.4C 13.244,13.0014 13.116,12.684 12.856,12.436C 12.5933,12.1867 12.2533,11.996 11.8307,11.8627C 11.4067,11.728 10.8373,11.5853 10.124,11.436C 9.16801,11.2267 8.36667,10.9827 7.71734,10.704C 7.06667,10.4226 6.55067,10.04 6.16801,9.55463C 5.78268,9.06666 5.592,8.45866 5.592,7.74C 5.592,7.05335 5.79333,6.43732 6.2,5.904C 6.604,5.36933 7.18668,4.95866 7.952,4.672C 8.71334,4.38667 9.60934,4.24403 10.6333,4.24403C 11.4533,4.24403 12.164,4.33866 12.764,4.52799C 13.364,4.72001 13.8613,4.97065 14.2627,5.284C 14.6587,5.60001 14.9493,5.92933 15.1373,6.27869C 15.3227,6.628 15.4133,6.97065 15.4133,7.30134C 15.4133,7.61066 15.2933,7.89066 15.06,8.13734C 14.828,8.38264 14.528,8.508 14.1787,8.508C 13.864,8.508 13.6187,8.43464 13.4453,8.27998C 13.2787,8.13334 13.104,7.896 12.916,7.56666C 12.676,7.10401 12.3907,6.74799 12.0573,6.49198C 11.7307,6.24 11.1947,6.10932 10.452,6.11066C 9.76267,6.11066 9.21201,6.25065 8.79467,6.52665C 8.37467,6.80668 8.17467,7.13065 8.17467,7.51066C 8.17467,7.75065 8.24401,7.95069 8.38267,8.12397C 8.52001,8.29731 8.71734,8.44666 8.96667,8.57331C 9.21734,8.70267 9.47334,8.80399 9.728,8.87333C 9.98934,8.94666 10.4173,9.05335 11.0147,9.19465C 11.7653,9.35465 12.4453,9.53602 13.0573,9.73331C 13.6667,9.92933 14.1867,10.1693 14.616,10.4533C 15.0493,10.736 15.388,11.096 15.6293,11.5333C 15.872,11.9706 15.9947,12.5027 15.9947,13.1307C 15.9947,13.8867 15.7827,14.5667 15.364,15.168 Z M 20.4413,12.2106C 20.52,11.708 20.5613,11.1933 20.5613,10.6667C 20.5613,5.19999 16.132,0.769325 10.664,0.769325C 10.14,0.769325 9.624,0.812019 9.11868,0.890663C 8.20801,0.326668 7.13201,7.62939e-006 5.97867,7.62939e-006C 2.676,7.62939e-006 0,2.67731 0,5.98133C 0,7.13468 0.32534,8.20936 0.890678,9.12269C 0.810669,9.628 0.768005,10.14 0.768005,10.6667C 0.768005,16.1333 5.2,20.564 10.664,20.564C 11.1893,20.564 11.7053,20.524 12.2107,20.444C 13.1213,21.0067 14.1973,21.3333 15.3507,21.3333C 18.656,21.3333 21.3333,18.656 21.3333,15.3533C 21.3333,14.2 21.004,13.1253 20.4413,12.2106 Z "/>

The extremely long string value in the Data property of the Path object is how our shape is defined; meaning, it is the mathematical calculation. We can find many icons and symbols for Path control on the internet (I usually use http://www.thexamlproject.com, which contains hundreds of them). However, if you are interested in how you can create them yourself, Blend can import Adobe Illustrator files, so could draw them in Adobe Illustrator and import them to your project via Blend. And if you wonder how the syntax works, this article might be a good place to start.

Now, you might be saying “Why bother with this when I can just use images?”. Well, there are a few specific situations where using a Path has advantages.

➤ Read on to see when we should use a Path instead of an Image

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Making Simple Windows Store Games in XAML – Boredom Challenge Day 19

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If you wish to develop games for Windows 8, you’ll need to learn how to use Direct3D, HTML5 or a game engine that supports Windows 8 (like Unity or Construct2). Since XNA is not supported in Windows Store apps (and also since Microsoft has announced XNA will be discontinued), if you were using only XNA (like me) and you didn’t have enough time to learn the technologies I’ve listed, you may end up wondering how to create a game without you requiring to learn something entirely new.

If that is the case, you’ve found your easy solution. As long as the game is simple (don’t expect to put a physics engine or 3d models in there), we can use XAML’s features (like animations) and add the game logic to the codebehind files for a simple game.

Don't expect something like Angry Birds, but I bet we could make a side-scrolling platformer.

It may not be something like Angry Birds, but I bet we could make something enjoyable.

In this article, we’ll make an example game called… Catch the Cage!, starring Nicolas Cage. 😛 It will be a classic game where you tap the ball on the screen to keep it from falling out of the screen. Here’s a screenshot to whet your appetite. 🙂

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➤ After this masterpiece, you won’t even bother to look at Angry Birds

Integrating Facebook in Windows Store Apps Part 2 – Boredom Challenge Day 13

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In my previous article, we’ve seen how we can sign in to Facebook, display our user’s data and share status updates in Windows Store apps. In this article, we will take our example app further by reading and displaying the user’s timeline and allowing the user to like/unlike posts, view a post’s comments and also add comments of his/her own.

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We’ll start with the part 1’s completed app and continue from there. If you wish to go with the article step by step, you can get it here. If you’d rather not, jump to the end of the article for the completed source code. 😉

In this article, we will see how we can create Json classes for Facebook items, how we can read and display our user’s timeline, how we can like/unlike posts and how we can display and add comments. Apparently we have a lot of work to do.

➤ We’re basically making a Facebook client here…

Using Graphs and Charts in Windows Store Apps – Boredom Challenge Day 11

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Graphs and charts are very effective tools for visualizing and summarizing data for our users. In apps they not only look cool, but also can be made interactive for further effectiveness. They are also an indispensible feature of financial apps or apps which need to show statistics.

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In Windows Store apps, there isn’t a default XAML control in Visual Studio for graphs. However, we can easily use other libraries such as WinRT XAML Toolkit or Telerik RadControls for Windows 8 (there are many more). In this article we will create a sample app which uses different types of graphs and charts to show example data (pie chart, bar chart, line chart etc.) using WinRT XAML Toolkit.

➤ Bonus points for creating a “pie chart of my favorite bars” and “bar chart of my favorite pies”…

Using Multiple Item Templates Together: DataTemplateSelector – Boredom Challenge Day 9

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If you spend some time developing Windows Store apps, you will notice that item templates play a major role since we have to use them to display data in many controls (most used ones are GridView and ListView). They give us total control over how we should present information to user, and if designed right, they can single-handedly make our app quite beautiful.

However, as you progress, you will also notice that sometimes just creating an item template is not enough: You may need to customize them based on the data you have. For this purpose, we can do several things that I’ve mentioned in my blog, such as using IValueConverter to bind your data to nearly every property, or creating a custom user control and using it in the item template. Still, however, if the amount of customization you need to do in the item template is way too much, you can instead decide to create several different item templates, and then use them at the same time via the DataTemplateSelector interface.

Screenshot from the example app we will create.

Screenshot from the example app we will create.

If this looks interesting to you, read on and we will create an app that uses the DataTemplateSelector interface. 🙂

➤ You can also use this for multiple GroupStyle or ItemContainerStyle items, but that is a little more advanced topic…

Creating and Using Custom User Controls in Windows Store Apps – Boredom Challenge Day 7

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In a software, user controls are the building blocks of the user interface. A user control is basically a piece of interface and code mixture that is designed for a specific action or purpose, and they provide the interaction between users and our app. They range from simple textblocks to more complex ones such as buttons, sliders, scrollbars, lists and grids, or to even more complex ones such as webviews, maps, pie charts or graphs. As developers, we can customize these user controls as much as they allow, like changing their texts, colors, sizes or even events (like what happens when we click a button or move a slider).

Another aspect of user controls is this: They are repeated a lot. Think what would happen if you wanted to put a button to your app but there weren’t any button controls. You would need to put a rectangle first, then a textblock in front of it, then set a click event, then arrange it’s animations for clicking and so on. Just for one button. Then if you wanted to put another button, you would need to copy all that you’ve prepared and paste it to the place you want, which would result in an absurdly big markup code composed completely of basic controls and a maintenance nightmare.

Some of the XAML user controls in Windows Store apps.

Ok then, now that we know what user controls are and why they’re nice, we’ll come to the custom user control part. Well, apart from default user controls, you can broaden the number of your user controls via adding other libraries (for Windows Store apps, like WinRT XAML Toolkit, Telerik RadControls for Windows 8 or Bing Maps control). However, you might still have a specific part of your interface (unique to your needs) that you need to repeat a lot. If this is the case, we can create a custom user control composed of other user controls that will make our work a lot easier.

Before going on to make an example app, I’d like to make it clear how custom controls are useful in Windows Store apps:
– They increase maintainability. If you want to change how it looks or works later, just make your changes to the custom user control, instead of not using a user control and changing it in every place you’ve used.
– Combined with data binding, they can be very powerful and dynamic.
– Especially useful in places where you don’t have a codebehind file, such as the item templates for gridviews or listviews. Without them, you will not be able to easily put buttons or other interactive user controls in your item template.

Alright alright, enough ranting, let’s create an example app. 🙂 We’ll now create a Windows Store app which will have a custom user control in a GridView item template. It will be a mockup app, where we will show the user his/her incoming friendship requests and the user will either accept or ignore them. 🙂

➤ For bonus points, you can create custom controls and put them on the internet for other people to use…

Mixing Light and Dark Themes in a Windows Store App – Boredom Challenge Day 2

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When developing a Windows Store app, you get to set the default theme of you app, Dark or Light. This value determines the system brush resources for your app – therefore the colors of your controls. The theme is set in the App.xaml file, and can not be changed in runtime; so we need to pick a theme and stick with it.

An app in Dark theme.

An app in Dark theme.

The same app in Light theme.

The same app in Light theme.

This is generally not a problem, but as you can guess sometimes you may need to mix things up a little. For example, in your Dark themed app, you may need to have a page with a white background, or if you have a custom background (like a picture), some of your controls may be unseen on a specific part of the picture. When this happens, it can result in your control not being easily seen (or not being seen at all).

To fix this for simple controls that do not have states (like a textblock), just setting the foreground will be enough. However, if you wish to change the color of a more complex control, such as a button, after changing it’s foreground – background – border colors you’ll see that either a) it partially works but the button is not entirely visible when you hover over it, click it, or when it is disabled and thus looks bad, or b) it doesn’t work at all.

The same app, when themes collide.

The same app, when themes collide.

After spending 2 hours just for the color of single button, I have found a solution (which is definitely not elegant, but it works), and in this article we will make an example app that demonstrates how we can mix these two themes.

➤ Let’s make our app look like Yin Yang ☯☯☯☯☯☯☯☯☯☯☯☯☯☯☯