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Task-It Series

This post is part of a series of blog posts and videos about the Task-It (task management) application that I have been building with Silverlight 4 and Telerik's RadControls for Silverlight 4. For a full index of these resources, please go here.

Finally...the code

I've received many questions about when the source code for the Task-It application will be released. Well, the time has finally come.

I haven't been able to release this sooner due to the flurry of releases that have been coming out lately. Silverlight 4, WCF RIA Services, and even our Q1 Rad Controls. Each time I got the latest bits I ran into issues (either bugs or visual issues) in the Task-It that needed to be fixed. Having said that, the app is far from perfect. There are still some bugs lurking and things that need to be fixed up visually (especially the RadGridView filtering popup), but the main purpose of this app is to show the RadControls for Silverlight 4 in the context of a real-world application, and I don't want to keep delaying the release of the source code.

Minimum requirements

To run the app you will need the latest Silverlight bits. Silverlight 4 RTM, VS2010 and the Silverlight Tools for VS2010. I've also tried to make things lay out properly at a minimum resolution of 1024x768, but to be honest I get pretty used to laying them out on my monitor...which runs at 1920x1080. If you run it at 800x600 there are some things that may not lay out so well.

Custom styling

One thing you'll notice is that I've created a custom 'look' for the application. You may not be a fan of user interfaces that involve primarily black backgrounds, but my plan is to eventually have multiple skins available. What I have found in the last year of working with Silverlight app development though is that custom skinning is not for the faint of heart. It can be extremely time consuming getting things to look just as you'd like, and just when you have it right, a new release comes out that blows everything out of the water.

This is a piece of Silverlight that I think could be made a lot easier, and I have had some conversations with the Silverlight development team about this. Hopefully it'll get easier in the future. Oh, and one other thing, the custom skinning that I did is by no means a 'complete' skin. I didn't test things like control appearance in the disabled state, I didn't skin every control in the Telerik suite, etc., please don't take this as a new Telerik skin! :-)

As few frameworks as possible

There are a lot of Silverlight frameworks out there. One of my goals is to accomplish what I want to with as few of them as possible. After all, the more frameworks, the more dlls, the harder it is to manage framework updates, and the size of the Silverlight app grows and grows with all of those dlls. Aside from MEF, which is now part of Silverlight 4, the primary framework that I've leaned on is the MVVM Light Toolkit. Please check out some of my other blog posts, as I've blogged about using it for commands, and will soon be blogging about using it for publishing and subscribing to events (a.k.a. the Observer pattern).

Not entirely Blend-friendly

I'll admit that most of my development is done in VisualStudio, so if you open things in Blend you won't always get the correct appearance (most strings will not show up). A lot of this has to do with the fact that the view model classes that are the brains of the app are created dynamically by the MEF framework. I'm still working on this piece, and hopefully John Papa's View Model Locator pattern will be answer. I'm just trying to figure out how to implement it in the context of an app that includes multiple Silverlight Applications (the Tasks, Settings, Dashboard and Help project are each a separate Silverlight App that are dynamically loaded via MEF).

By the way, I'm not opposed to Blend, I just haven't had much luck with custom styling in it. For some reason I always seem to get a little ways into it, get stuck, and have to jump out to VisualStudio to examine the control template and understand how it is put together. One of these days hopefully I'll have time to really sit down with the latest version of Blend and get to the point where I am as comfortable in it as I am in VisualStudio.

Where are the comments?

One thing you'll find in my code is that there are very few comments. I spent several years working for an architect that is vehemently opposed to comments, so this is a style that I am used to. In his opinion, the code should be 'self-documenting'. The reason being that developers often spend a lot of times writing comments, only to find that they are frequently out of the sense that the code has evolved but the comments have not. I've bought into this approach, where methods should contain very few lines, and have a name that clearly explain what the method is doing. I hope that you'll be able to read the code and make sense of what is going on.

Incomplete functionality

There are some pieces that aren't finished yet. One example would be the Attachments functionality. Another would be the ability to send a message to Facebook from the Tasks grid view. I put some stuff in as placeholders and just haven't had a chance to complete them yet. The app is also not set up for multiple users, it uses one hard-coded user (in the database's TaskItUser table) named John Doe. I did also hard-code the data in the Dashboard's Task Overview widget for now. At one time I was successfully populating this RadChart with data from a WCF RIA Services method call, but this was before I moved from LINQ to SQL to the Entity Framework. I'm still battling how to return the results returned by a stored prodecure (that takes a parameter) with the Entity Framework, and the documentation (and my Google searches) haven't provided the answer yet.

Telerik RadControls

Naturally I made heavy use of the Telerik RadControls in the app. Not just because I work for Telerik, but because I honestly feel that they are the best set of 3rd party controls out there, and that they provide enough functionality above what the Silverlight Toolkit controls have to offer to make them worth it. I've only been a Telerik employee for a little over 3 months, and for almost 4 years prior to joining the team I used RadControls in my applications for the reasons I mentioned above.

Validation and Internationalization

Currently there is some support for form validation and internationalization (or localization, or globalization, or whatever you want to call it) built into the app. For validation I'm not currently using the SL Toolkit DataForm. Although it does some nice functionality, there are some things I don't like about it, so I've implemented a different method of validation. As far as internationalization, I'm currently obtaining strings in the UI via binding to properties in my view model classes that return strings from the .resx files. I'm not sure yet whether I'm happy with either of these implementations (validation and internationalization) as there are some negatives to them, so things may change in the future...but after all, that's what development and refactoring is all about. Continue searching for ways to make things work in a cleaner more effective way!

The database

Unlike my previous posts the database lives in the App_Data folder under the .Web project. The web.config connection string is currently set to use .\SQLEXPRESS, so you may need to update that if your database instance name is different.

DLL security issues?

If by any chance you get warnings about security issues with dll's that were downloaded from another machine, go to the Libs directory under the Task-It project (on your file system, not in VisualStudio), right-click each of the 3 dll's in that directory and click the Unblock button in the bottom right section of the dialog.

More blogs to come...

Please keep an eye on my blog or follow me on Twitter (@rwozniak) as I will continue blogging about techniques and technologies used in Task-It. Please let me know if there are any particular topics you would like me to blog about. Oh, and please let me know what you think of the app and the code (and if you find bugs...I may or may not be aware of them). I'm always open to suggestions for improvement!

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