Back to Rich Client Development

I’ve made it my goal to get back into hands-on software development. There’s such a vast amount of software technology nowadays that the development choices are overwhelming.

There are three centres of gravity in development: .NET (Microsoft), Java (Sun/IBM) and Open Source (everyone else). You could add C++ and Flash (Adobe) in there too I guess. There’s plenty of smaller communities. I’m sticking to .NET because I love the programming model, tools and choice of languages. And there’s a good demand for contractors. Java and Open Source (eg. Ruby, Python and LAMP) have lots of great stuff too but you gotta start somewhere. I consider myself agnostic when it comes to platform wars.

But even with just .NET, there’s a huge amount of areas to specialize.

So I’ve decided to concentrate on Rich Client development using Windows Presentation Foundation and Silverlight. Now, I know this isn’t in vogue. Everyone seems to be doing ASP .NET with AJAX. Or if they’re developing rich clients, it’s still Winforms. And if you want to get paid more as a contractor, it’s better to write backend code: WCF, WWF, SOA and all that database stuff.

But I like pushing pixels and I’m hopeful demand for WPF and Silverlight will be on the up and up. The barriers for using rich clients are coming down. Self updating apps are easy to write. Flash has proven that it’s ok to have a 26Mb plugin if you only have to do it once. And the full .NET 3.5 client profile is only 60Mb which isn’t much with fast broadband. Vista penetration will gradually improve. Mono & Moonlight will ship. The trends are right.

There will always be a place for HTML + AJAX apps. It’s great for relatively simple and infrequently used apps or apps where you want to broadest accessibility. But it’s an ugly programming model with an horrendous test matrix if you ask me.

WHICH NIKON ZOOM LENS?

I bought my first digital SLR camera last week. I used to shoot a Contax film SLR many years ago before going for a digital compact camera. Early DSLR’s were way too expensive.

But the DSLR market has many good cameras now for a reasonable price. I knew from the start it was going to be either a Canon or a Nikon because of their reputations and breadth of quality lenses that both offered.

I went for the Nikon D80. I reasoned that I wanted more than the entry level cameras (D40x and 400D) so that left either the Canon 30D or the Nikon D80 and D200. I liked the D80 as it wasn’t very heavy compared to the other two and offered all the features I needed. It was an easy choice.

However, choosing the lens has been really hard. I want to travel light so I really just want a single zoom lens. That also avoids getting dust in the camera through lens changes.

My first choice was the AF-S 18-200 VR but after a day of shooting I was pretty disappointed by the lack of sharpness – particularly on the long end of the zoom. It didn’t seem much better than a compact camera and I was expecting a lot more sharpness from a DSLR. On macro shots, it just didn’t show up surface textures that well.

I returned it to Kerrisdale cameras (in Victoria, Canada) and tried another copy of the same lens just in case the one I had was a dud. Nope – the second one was lacking too. I have since read up on the internet and found quite a few people complain that its a soft lens at either end of its range but that’s the sacrifice you make when you have cheap consumer glass and a huge zoom range. The build quality is also lacking. I have to say the 18-200 zoom range is fantastic for a travel camera.

Instead, I’m now using the AF-S 18-70 kit lens. It’s 1/3 the price and has a respectable 4x’s zoom range. But I’m still not impressed with the sharpness. Maybe I’m expecting too much? At any rate, it’s supposed to be better than the other kit lens which has a 18-135 zoom range.

I’ve been tempted to splurge on the AF-S DX 18-55 2.8 G IF ED lens but its horrendously expensive, very heavy and covers quite a short zoom range. There are many people raving about how good it is.

So I’m stuck with the 18-70 until Nikon creates a better walkabout lens for me. I’d like them to invent something like an AF-S DX 18-105 VR ED. Take the current kit lens, add a little bit more range, add VR, add pro glass and voila, it would be almost perfect.

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