Introducing Pontoon – A flexible bridge to the Universal Windows Platform

I first created the “Charming” libraries for Windows Phone in order to add some APIs which were added to Windows 8 but not available on phone. Many of the early ones replicated the “Charms” related functionality (Sharing/Search/Settings) hence the silly name.

When I created version 9 about a year ago I consolidated lots of separate libraries into just two – InTheHand and InTheHand.UI. The latter contained UI specific functionality such as MessageDialog, ToastNotification and ApplicationSettings. Following this I extended the library with support for iOS and Android using Xamarin and exposing the same UWP style API.

As I’ve been doing Xamarin development recently I’m constantly having to look for or write wrappers for native APIs to use across platforms. You sometimes find libraries which claim to provide a cross-platform API but actually only support iOS and Android. I looked at the large codebase I already had and thought about other areas which could be implemented across all the Windows and Xamarin platforms. Among the Windows platforms I added Win32 support so you can use these same APIs from Console, WinForms or WPF applications on versions prior to Windows 10. Since a lot of desktop apps still support Windows Vista and 7 this was very important to provide future code compatibility with Windows 10.

I’d toyed with changing the name before because it’s now irrelevant in an OS which no longer has the concept of Charms. I thought about the Windows 10 “bridges” – to take Desktop Apps, iOS and Silverlight to UWP and thought what I have here is effectively another bridge. It’s a flexible one though and it also works in both directions. You can code C# on numerous platforms and that code will be instantly portable to UWP. You can also use your UWP knowledge to easily target some of the more fiddly aspects of Xamarin platforms consistently. If you consider a Xamarin Forms application which might target iOS, Android and Windows once you step beyond laying out forms with the built in controls and basic page navigation there is no common API to work with Settings, Files, Geolocation, Network connectivity and more. If you are able to find a NuGet library which supports all the platforms you need you’ll have to learn a whole new API too. One word which kept springing to mind with the concept of a flexible bridge is Pontoon and so this is what I chose. Wikipedia says “A pontoon bridge, also known as a floating bridge, uses floats or shallow-draft boats to support a continuous deck for pedestrian and vehicle travel”. Although I renamed the GitHub repository this is a direct continuation of the Charming codebase but there will be a few breaking changes hence the new NuGet package and major version change.

If you are interesting in contributing to the library please do get in touch. There are a number of open issues which are still to be addressed and many more API areas which would make sense to implement in this way. I’ve consciously avoided most UI areas because this is something you’ll need to approach differently for each platform (unless you use Xamarin Forms) and I didn’t want introduce any additional dependencies. There are some UI elements such as StatusBar, MessageDialog, Toast/Badge notifications, CameraCaptureUI etc. I consider these to be part of the “Chrome” rather than your app UI – they will all have a very different look and feel depending on the platform but perform the same functions.

I’m still working on a sample application. I’ll probably use Xamarin Forms in order to create a simple UI to surface as much of this functionality as possible.

As always I welcome all constructive feedback – please use GitHub to raise any issues.






Desktop ActiveSync Registry Settings

In March I showed how to get the version of a connected device from the desktop. This post documents the rest of the registry settings used to store device information. There are two registry locations, the first at HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindows CE Services contains information about the currently connected device. The second, HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindows CE ServicesPartners contains information for each of the partnerships established on the desktop PC.

When the device is docked, regardless of whether a partnership is established, the following keys are populated in HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindows CE Services:-

  • DeviceHardwareId -String containing a unique Guid for the device

  • DeviceOemInfo – OEM specific string (as returned by SystemParametersInfo using SPI_GETOEMINFO) e.g. WIZA200 (HTC Wizard)

  • DeviceProcessorType – DWORD value – 2577 (ARM) for all Windows Mobile devices

  • DeviceType – string containing platform type (as returned by SystemParamtersInfo using SPI_GETPLATFORMTYPE) e.g. PocketPC or SmartPhone

  • DeviceVersion – DWORD value – see my previous post.

The partnerships are stored with a unique DWORD partnership id e.g.

HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindows CE ServicesPartners12345678

There are additional values to describe sync behaviour and some Windows Mobile Device Center specific values e.g. to specify the display icon for a device. Otherwise all of the above values are duplicated here for the partner device, except with some naming differences:-

  • DeviceHardwareId

  • OemInfo

  • ProcessorType

  • DeviceType

  • Version

Each partnership has a directory containing any resources used, this includes the icon etc. The path is retrieved from the DataFolder value. This is a path beneath the users roaming application data folder which you would get using System.Environment.GetFolder(System.Environment.SpecialFolder.ApplicationData)

The icon is specified in DeviceIconFile and if you append this to the path you’ll have the full filename of the icon.

Bluetooth Remote Control

Mike Hall posted a link on his blog to a channel9 interview with Anil Dhawan from the Windows Mobile team discussing Bluetooth programming, which I recommend you check out. Anil gave a demo of a native code application to remote control PowerPoint on a desktop PC. This inspired me to put some finishing touches to a test application I built for the Bluetooth .NETCF library – It is by no means finished but it works (with the wind blowing in the right direction!).

There are two components, on the Smartphone an application which you first select Search from the menu and it will do a lookup of local discoverable devices, then select one and select the Connect menu option. Once connected any d-pad or number keys are captured and sent over bluetooth. As I said it was an unfinished project, key items missing are:-

  • Store desktop address in the registry so we only have to search once

  • More intuitive interface 🙂

  • Support for key mapping – map the device keys to application specific commands e.g. for media player etc

On the desktop a simple listener which listens on a custom service, incoming data is received as keycodes which are broadcast on the system using the SendKeys.Send method.

On an unrelated note, thanks to Sergey Bogdanov who has contributed an implementation of the SendKeys class to be included in the upcoming SDF v1.3 release.

With the listener application running and the Smartphone client connected you can automate (within reason) whatever app has the focus. It works great for Powerpoint browsing between slides using the d-pad on the phone. The usual disclaimer applies – this works only with the Microsoft Bluetooth stack on both device and desktop, I tested with an Orange SPV C500.

The two projects are available to download here.

System.Net.IrDA for the desktop (Part 2)

Following my previous post, I did some further development to the code to make it fully match the .NETCF assembly (yes, in my haste I’d missed a few properties and cut a couple of corners). So now I have compiled a System.Net.IrDA.dll assembly which has exactly the same classes and methods as is available in device projects. So you can easily move device code over to Tablet and laptop PCs.

Download the DLL here (zip 7kb)

The package includes just the dll and xml documentation. The next task for the project is to build an installer for both the source and binaries…

This was a useful learning experience since I’ve based the Bluetooth code on the existing model of the IrDA library, so it was useful to spend some time studying this particular library and the classes it contains.

The functionality is now part of 32feet.NET a library for personal area networking for .NET. The downloads are here:-