Inside the HP TouchSmart PC software: HP SmartCenter – Part 1

April 4, 2008 10:23 pm

I thought some people might enjoy reading a little “behind the scenes” story about the most high-profile piece of software I’ve been involved with so far. I feel pretty lucky to have had the chance to work on a unique product and to have what I helped work on be so central to the user experience as it is on the HP TouchSmart PC. You may interpret this post as highly egotistical and self-centered, and I suppose it is. But I feel like telling a story. My story. I will go over most of the non-confidential details of the events as I remember them. Since there’s a lot to talk about, I’ve decided to split the story into a mini-series. This is part one. Here we go.

My involvement with the HP TouchSmart PC began in about December of 2005. The decision was made to invest in software that would be best suited for the touchscreen that the unit would have. One of the results is HP SmartCenter as seen here (screenshot from my developer machine, not necessarily representative of the final product):

We had tight deadlines. Our final bits would be due in about six months, around June / July 2006. Our product marketing folks decided they wanted the touch application to provide quick access to TV and music as primary features. Windows Media Center was our software of choice for delivering TV and music experiences, and so we made HP SmartCenter run within Windows Media Center. This helped to avoid waiting for Media Center to start up when the user wants to watch TV or listen to music. In other areas the choice created lots of challenges. The initial one was picking a software development technology.

I had just attended PDC05 and was pretty excited about Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and the speed I could sense it would give developers and designers for rapidly creating exciting software. I had learned that Media Center in Windows Vista would support WPF, and my recommendation to use it for our apps to make the deadlines while delivering a polished user interface was accepted.

An interface developed in HTML would not have had the same quality (read: look-and-feel). Using the Media Center Markup Language (MCML / SplashFX) was not an option, since that was not going to be revealed in any useful detail until about March 2006, way too late for us to learn how to use it and produce a product.

At PDC05, it had been mentioned that a well-know design company had worked on some XAML styles for the show. We approached them to help out with the application design and asked them to deliver their stuff as working XAML / WPF code. They were pretty excited about the idea and signed on.

That’s it for now. Check back soon for the next installment of this mini-series, where I’ll show you a few screenshots of very early prototypes.

Update (2008-04-30): Parts two, three and four are now posted.

9 Responses to “Inside the HP TouchSmart PC software: HP SmartCenter – Part 1”

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Michael wrote a comment on April 11, 2008

Dear sir,

From the start i had eyes on your smartcenter software, i love it! I’m glad that i found the source. In my home i have hung a touchscreen and i use it witch MCE, works fine. But SmartCenter should boost my functionality, it’s perfect. Is it possible to buy or download SmartCenter?

Will you repley?

Met vriendelijke groet, (greeting)
Michiel Mertens
The Netherlands

GeekTieGuy wrote a comment on April 11, 2008

Unfortunately, the software is only available with the purchase of an HP TouchSmart PC. It is not available for standalone download or purchase.

[…] the Engadget leak and the launch plans at CES 2007. If you missed the first three parts, they are here, here and […]

[…] event in Berlin, Germany where some of the stuff I’ve been working on (since the HP TouchSmart) will be shown to the public for the first time. I hear it’s going to have top billing on […]

Michael wrote a comment on February 27, 2009

He guys, i am still streaking the internet. I can’t find smartcenter. Is there sombody who can help me?

GeekTieGuy wrote a comment on February 28, 2009

Sorry, it’s not available for download standalone. Since the functionality is tightly linked to the TouchSmart PC, you can only get it with the PC.

bmo wrote a comment on August 2, 2009

sorry geektieguy,

This is the most useless set of utilities i have ever seen. You cant even use dual touch…. meh… and it is probably the source of numerous crashes and hangs i am experiencing…

GeekTieGuy wrote a comment on August 2, 2009

Which version of the TouchSmart PC do you have? This series of articles (written in April 2008) is based on the IQ770 software.

Are you commenting on the current version of the software (on the IQ500/IQ800 series)? What exactly makes it useless? Just the fact that it doesn’t have dual touch? No piece of software can meet everybody’s requirements 100%. There are always design goals, and those goals may not be useful to you or me, but they are to some subset of customers.

If you’re seeing crashes and hangs with the current version of the HP TouchSmart shell (2.8) and programs, you can always uninstall it (and the other HP TouchSmart programs), and you’ll soon find out if it caused issues or not.

Care to comment?

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