Enterprise WinRT Apps Build Roundup

Wow, it’s been a whirlwind couple of days down here in San Francisco @ Build 2014. It has certainly been a huge thrill for me, getting a chance to be a part of the day one keynote and getting 15 minutes of fame. However, as the conference winds down I wanted to pull together a summary of the stuff Microsoft announced that relates to enterprise app development and Windows 8.1 Update. I mean, it wasn’t all about my wardrobe choices…

The Windows for Business blog as a good summary post that hits the highlights. The stuff I wanted to specifically call out is:

  • We’ve changed the policy to allow side loaded apps to communicate with desktop apps. Literally every single enterprise customer, Microsoft dev consultant and enterprise technical sales rep I’ve spoken to in the last year has asked for this.
  • We’ve added a feature in Windows 8.1 Update to enable side loaded apps to run code outside of the App Container. This opens up side loaded apps to access the full power of Windows as well as all the existing code the enterprise may have in its portfolio
  • We’ve made it significantly easier to get side load rights. I’d go thru the specifics here, but Rocky Lhotka (who has been very vocal about the issues in this space) had a great summary: “For a maximum of around $100 virtually every organization (small to huge) can get a side loading unlock key for all their devices.”

If you want more information on how to take advantage of these new features for side loaded apps, here are some resources for you:

  • In addition to my 5 minutes in the keynote, I did a whole session where I drilled into more details on that demo. I also demos that used network loopback for interprocess communication.
  • John Vintzel and Cliff Strom had a session on deploying enterprise apps. As of this writing, the video isn’t online yet but it will be within a day or two at that URL.
  • We have published whitepapers on both Brokered WinRT Components and using network loopback in WinRT apps that go into more details on how to build solutions with this technology
  • Last but not least, we have a set of samples of sideloaded WinRT apps. This includes the keynote demo, another brokered component demo and the WCF & ASP.NET network loopback demos I did in my session. Note, the keynote demo sample is packaged oddly because of the way MSDN’s sample repo handles (or in this case doesn’t handle) VS solutions with multiple projects. When I get back to Redmond, I’m  going to see if there’s a better way to get this sample hosted.

I heard many times over the past two days from folks in person at the conference and via email, twitter, facebook, carrier pigeon, etc just how excited they are about these changes & features. As an engineer who spends most of his days in his office and or in meetings building this stuff, it is amazingly gratifying to hear directly from our users how much our work can help them.

Windows Camp Demo, Part Two

In my previous post, we set up a C++ WinRT component project and a C# Metro style XAML app to use the component. The code was dinky Hello, world type stuff. Now, let’s do something a little more interesting.

In preparing for this demo, I found a C++ bitmap library on CodePlex that includes a plasma texture generation function. This sounded like a good demo for both language interop and using existing code. It builds on the code from my previous post, so either start there or clone from GitHub and checkout the part1 tag.

First step is to add the bitmap_image.hpp file from Arash Partow’s C++ Bitmap Library to the C++ component project. Download the latest commit from CodePlex as a zip and extract the bitmap_image.hpp file into your C++ component project directory. Switch over to VS, right click on the component project node, select Add -> Existing Item… and select the bitmap_image.hpp file.

Now that we have included the library code, we need to write the wrapper code to expose that library functionality to other languages via WinRT. We’ll start by adding the following namespace declarations to the top of the Class1.h header file:

using namespace Windows::Foundation;
using namespace Windows::Storage::Streams;

And then we’ll add the declaration for our GetPlasmaImageAsync method to Class1’s header file underneath the SayHello method. Note, in my original presentation I called this method GetPlasmaImage, neglecting to follow the naming convention of appending “Async” to name of all asynchronous methods.

IAsyncOperation<IRandomAccessStream^>^ GetPlasmaImageAsync(
    unsigned int width, unsigned int height);

We’re using two WinRT types in this method declaration.

  • IRandomAccessStream represents a stream of binary data that supports random access. We’re going to return our plasma image as an IRandomAccessStream and then wrap it in a XAML bitmap image for use in our UI.
  • IAsyncOperation<T> represents an asynchronous operation that returns a value. Generating the image takes a significant amount of time (especially given the shortcut I used as you’ll see in a bit) so we need to make it async. Async is a big topic and we’re just touching on it in this walkthrough. For more on async in WinRT, check out my teammate Jason Olson’s post on the Win8 app developer blog.

Now that we have the declaration, let’s switch over to the Class1.cpp file to add the method implementation. This isn’t a one line method like SayHello, so I decided to separate declaration from implementation as is traditional C++ best practice.

Before we do anything else, we need to #include the bitmap_image.hpp file. However, this bitmap library uses an unchecked destination STL copy function that Microsoft considers unsafe. I really should be updating the code to used checked iterators, but since this is demo code, we’re going to turn off the warning instead. We do that by #defining _SCL_SECURE_NO_WARNINGS. While we’re doing that, let’s add the additional #includes and using namespace statements we’re going to need.

#include "pch.h"
#include "Class1.h"

#include "bitmap_image.hpp"
#include <string>
#include <ppltasks.h>

using namespace WindowsCampComponent;
using namespace std;
using namespace concurrency;
using namespace Windows::Storage;

In addition to the bitmap image library, we’re going to need the STL string library and the Parallel Patterns Library, so I’ve gone ahead and #included those header files and used those namespaces. We’re also going to use some types from the Windows::Storage namespace, so I’ve used that namespace as well.

The implementation of the GetPlasmaImageAsync method is going to happen in several steps:

  1. Generate the plasma image using the C++ Bitmap library
  2. Save the plasma image to a temporary file
  3. Reopen the temporary file as an IRandomAcessStream with WinRT’s file system APIs

Saving and reopening the file is the shortcut I alluded to earlier. The image library includes a save_image method that uses STL streams to write the image out to a file. A better solution would be to factor the save_image method to support saving a bitmap to a stream and then implementing an STL -> WinRT stream adapter, but this is a simple demo so I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader. (Please send me a pull request if you do this!)

First, we’re going to generate the file path we’ll be saving the image to. Turns out this somewhat difficult because WinRT uses wide character strings while the bitmap library expects ASCII STL strings.

//get the temp filename
auto tempFolder = ApplicationData::Current->TemporaryFolder;

wstring tempFolderPath(tempFolder->Path->Data());
string folderPath(begin(tempFolderPath), end(tempFolderPath));

auto filePath = folderPath.append("\\plasma.bmp");

I’m not proud of this code. It’s the kind of code you write when you’re rushing to get a demo for your talk done. But lets look at it anyway.

First, I get the path to the temporary folder via the current ApplicationData object. Then I converted it first to a stdwstring and then to a stdstring. I probably could have created the std::string directly from the tempFolder variable, but using the begin and end iterators of the wstring is a clever hack I read somewhere online. Finally, I append the file name to the folder path to get the final file path name.

Next, we generate and save the plasma image. This code is lifted almost verbatim from the bitmap_test.cpp file that comes with the C++ image library. The only difference is that we’re using the width and height arguments as parameters to the bitmap_image constructor rather than hardcoded values.

//create the image object
bitmap_image image(width, height);

double c1 = 0.9;
double c2 = 0.5;
double c3 = 0.3;
double c4 = 0.7;


//generate plasma image
plasma(image, 0, 0, image.width(), image.height(),
    c1, c2, c3, c4, 3.0, jet_colormap);

//Save the image to the file

Finally, we open the image file from the temporary folder using WinRT APIs. File access APIs in WinRT are exclusively async, so I’m using PPL tasks to simplify the async code. Note, I’ve reworked this code from what I did in the video to make it easier to understand. I’ve also added explicit type declarations that I didn’t need to make it clear what each type is. If I replaced those all with the new auto keyword from C++11, the code would work the same.

//reopen the image file using WinRT
IAsyncOperation<StorageFile^>^ getFileAsyncOp =
    tempFolder->GetFileAsync(ref new String(L"plasma.bmp"));

task<StorageFile^> getFileTask(getFileAsyncOp);

task<IRandomAccessStream^> openFileTask =
    getFileTask.then([](StorageFile^ storageFile) {
       return storageFile->OpenAsync(FileAccessMode::Read);

return create_async(
    [openFileTask]() { return openFileTask; });

First, we call GetFileAsync to get the file from the temp folder which returns an IAsyncOperation<StorageFolder^> object. We then convert the IAsyncOperation to a PPL task via the task constructor. Note, these two steps could be easily combined into a single step if you not being extra verbose for education purposes.

Once we have a PPL task to get the file, we specify the operation to do when the task completes by passing a lambda to the task’s then method. In this case, we’re going to open the file after we get it. The then method is nice because we can chain together as many async operations as we want in a nearly-synchronous coding style.

Finally, once we have built up the PPL task that represents the entire asynchronous operation, we use the create_async method to convert the PPL task back to an IAsyncOperation which we return from the function.

Now that we have written the component side, lets update the client side. Async operations are very succinct in CLR because of the new await keywords. Much nicer than the .then model used by PPL (which is probably why Herb Sutter wants to see await added to C++).

private async void Button_Click_1(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
    var wcc = new WindowsCampComponent.Class1();
    myText.Text = wcc.SayHello("Herb Sutter");

    var stm = await wcc.GetPlasmaImageAsync(800, 600);

    var bitmap = new BitmapImage();
    myImage.Source = bitmap;

And it works!

And that’s the entire demo. About 20 lines of code to wrap a pre-existing library function and make it available to other languages via the Windows Runtime. I showed calling my WinRT component from C# here, but I could have called it from JavaScript just as easily.

Windows Camp Demo, Part One

Several weeks ago, I did a talk on building Windows Runtime components in C++. As part of that talk, I did a demo that showed accessing a WinRT component written in C++ from a C# XAML application. Like I did for my //build talk, I’ve written this walkthrough so you can follow along at home without having to read code off the recorded video stream. I’ve also published the source up on GitHub.

The demo had two parts – the first was a “Hello, world!” style demo, the second demonstrated wrapping an existing C++ library in a WinRT component to make it callable from other languages. This post covers the first part of the demo. I’ll post a walkthrough of the second part of the demo soon.

In order to follow along, you’ll need the Windows 8 Release Preview as well as Visual Studio 2012 Express RC for Windows 8. You should be able to use the RC version of VS 2012 Pro, Premium or Ultimate, but I’ve only tested with Express. Note, the original presentation was done on Win8 Consumer Preview / VS 11 Beta, but I figured it made more sense to write up the walkthrough on the latest bits.

We’re going to start by creating the C# XAML app we’ll use as the component client. Fire up VS 2012 RC and select new project. Select Visual C# -> Windows Metro Style -> Blank App (XAML), name the project “WindowsCamp” and press OK. Once the project has been created, open up the MainPage.xaml file, replace the Grid element that’s there by default with the following XAML code:

<StackPanel Background="{StaticResource ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush}">
    <Button Click="Button_Click_1">Click me</Button>
    <TextBlock x:Name="myText" FontSize="20"></TextBlock>
    <Image x:Name="myImage"></Image>

As you can see, my UX skills have not improved since //build.

Now, we need to add a project for the C++ WinRT component. Right click on solution in the Solution Explorer and select Add -> New Project. In the New Project dialog, Select Visual C++ -> Windows Metro Style -> Windows Runtime Component, name the project “WindowsCampComponent” and press OK.

Once the component project has been created, we’re going to add some code to it. Open Class1.h if it’s not already open. Update the file to read as follows:

#pragma once

using namespace Platform;

namespace WindowsCampComponent
    public ref class Class1 sealed

        String^ SayHello(String^ name) {
            return String::Concat(
                ref new String(L"Hello there "),

The code is a bit more complex than your typical Hello, world. The SayHello method takes a string parameter that represents someone’s name. The method concatenates the provided name with a hard coded greeting string and returns the resulting string. Doesn’t get much simpler. However, even though it’s just a single line of code there are several concepts that are important to point out:

  • ref class – WinRT objects are projected in C++/CX as ref classes and vise-versa. Since we’re building a WinRT component to consume from C#, we define it as a ref class. Note, unless you’re writing a XAML control, all WinRT classes must be sealed.
  • Hats – The ‘^’ character after the String type declarations is the handle-to-object modifier. It’s basically the pointer-to-object modifier (aka ‘*’) but for ref classes. We’ll see in the second part of the demo that you invoke members on a ref class using the same ‘->’ syntax that you use in vanilla C++.
  • ref new – You create instances of ref clases using “ref new” instead of “new” as you do in vanilla C++. Ref new returns a handle to the newly created ref class – a String^ in this case.
  • PlatformString – C++/CX projects some non-class WinRT types as ref classes in the Platform namespace. In this case, C++/CX projects the new language interoperable string type HSTRING as a PlatformString ref class. HSTRINGS are UTF-16, so PlatformString provides a constructor that takes a wide string literal. We imported the Platform namespace via the “using namespace” directive so we wouldn’t have to type “Platform” multiple times.

For more information about the design of the C++/CX language, check out Jim Springfield’s post on the Visual C++ team blog.

Now that we’ve written our WinRT component, we’ll write the code to consume it in C#. First, we need to add a reference to the C++ WinRT component project in our C# Metro style XAML app. WinRT references are added just like traditional CLR references – via the Add Reference dialog. Right click on the WindowsCamp node of the Solution explorer, select “Add Reference…” from the menu, click the check box next to the WindowsCampComponent project from the solution and press OK.

Go back to MainPage.xaml and double click on the button labeled “Click Me” in the designer. This will add a click event handler named Button_Click_1 and take you to MainPage.xaml.cs so you can write the code for it. Type in “var wcc = new Windows” and look at the resulting intellisense list. Notice that WindowsCampComponent is missing.

This is because the C++ component hasn’t been compiled yet. We need compile the C++ component project in order to generate the Windows metadata file (aka the file with the .winmd extension) that is used to drive intellisense. Delete the line of code you just added and compile the solution. Now type that line of code again, and you’ll notice that the WindowsCampComponent namespace is available.

Now, update the button click event handler to read as follows:

private void Button_Click_1(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
    var wcc = new WindowsCampComponent.Class1();
    myText.Text = wcc.SayHello("Herb Sutter");

Now, run the app, click the “Click Me” button and marvel at the wonder of WinRT language interop to print a greeting to Herb Sutter. I used Herb Sutter from the C++ team since he was the keynote speaker at the Windows Camp event and was standing in the back of the room when I did the demo.

And that’s it for the Hello, world demo. Kind of a lot of steps for essentially 3 lines of code – 1 line of component code and 2 lines of client code. However, we did get the infrastructure set up so we add more substantial code in the next post.

Building WinRT Components with C++/CX

I don’t get out to talk to customers like I used to in previous jobs. <sigh> But a few weeks ago, I got a chance to do a session at Channel 9′s Developing Windows 8 Metro style apps with C++ Windows Camp. There were some great talks at the event on XAML with C++, C++ for Metro Style Games and using DirectX and XAML together. My talk was on building Windows Runtime Components in C++. Here’s the abstract:

The Windows Runtime enables developers from a variety of languages – JavaScript, C#, Visual Basic and C++ – to use the Windows APIs in a natural and familiar way. But did you know that you can build your own components that project into those same languages for use in your Metro style apps? Watch this session to learn how to build your own Windows Runtime components with C++ that can be used across languages in Metro style applications.

I haven’t had time, but I plan to blog the demo step-by-step like I did for my //build demo. In the meantime, check out the talk:

(Note, the static image below appears cut-off, but the video should scale to the width of my blog automatically. If not, head on over to the official page for the talk over on Channel 9)

My //build Talk

I just realized that while I posted the demo steps from my //build talk, I never posted the talk itself here on DevHawk. Consider that oversight rectified with this post.

(Note, the static image below appears cut-off, but the video should scale to the width of my blog automatically. If not, head on over to the official page for the talk over on Channel 9)