11 Jul 2011

Yalla - do it now!

Update 26 July 2011: Note that once you have done this you must move off of YallaApps to AppHub by 20 August 2011 or you will not get refunded. See this post for details on how to do that

yalla appsThe single reason I don’t tell people to buy Windows Phone 7 devices in South Africa – no market place. This issue for users means a 3rd rate experience on the device compared to other smart phones. For developers this was an issue, because it meant we couldn’t get our phones unlocked and we couldn’t publish… this WAS an issue for developers.

Now we developers have YallaApps, a service to allow developers where Microsoft doesn’t have a marketplace to develop and publish apps. It is a good but slow service, but today is not about Yalla, today is about you.

As a South African, you can signup for YallaApps (no phone needed) and get

  • $100 (about R800) worth of credits for free
  • Your phone unlocked (if/when you get one)
  • A free developer account (value $100) when the marketplace arrives

All you need to do is signup – it takes 5 minutes. My suggestion, regardless if you have a phone now or not or if you plan to develop an app – DO IT NOW! Get those free benefits banked for later so that if you do decide one day it costs you nothing!

27 Jun 2011

Mercurial + Lightswitch : .hgignore file bliss

Clipboard02Lightswitch is a fantastic tool but has a MAJOR downside to it – it eats disk space like no-ones business. A simple test project with 1 table, 1 screen & some code on the client side and server side is over 90Mb of space!

If you are a developer you will have some sort of version control system in place and you should be following some best practices in version control. For this post, the one I want to look at is to only check into the repo what actually needs to be in the repo. A polluted and huge repo is not only hard to work with, it puts people off and lowers adoption Sad smile

I have been using Mercurial a lot recently and part of a new LS project I took the time to look at how much of the LS project needs to go into the repo – and you know what… it is VERY VERY LITTLE, in fact it is about 0.4%!

Mercurial, for those new to it, has a .hgignore file which uses a regular expression like language to tell it what files to ignore, i.e. don’t commit those files to the repo. Below is what my .hgignore file looks like. That first 4 line group is the LS specific lines while the rest is for general Visual Studio projects:

syntax: glob



It is important to note that when you pull from the repo (or checkout for TFS/VSS/SVN folk) you’ll get the disk saving, until you open it up that is. Once opened LS will regenerate everything and the size on your machine will be back to the massive 90Mb+, however the repo will remain small, commits will remain small, network traffic will remain small and performance improved – just what we wanted from following those version control best practises.

21 Jun 2011

Mercurial Cheat Sheet

I am a fan of ALM (application lifecycle management) and an awesome source control tool is Mercurial. It has plugins for VS, Windows (Tortoise HG) and a command line. I use the command line a lot but can’t remember all the commands so below you can find an easy cheat sheet for all the Mercurial commands:

Mercurial Cheat Sheet

HIGH resolution XPS & PDF below.

File Mercurial Cheat Sheet.xps1.14 MB
PDF icon Mercurial Cheat Sheet.pdf828.01 KB
15 Jun 2011

You do what at your job?

imageI tweeted yesterday that my job can be a little weird because I had to sit in the kitchen at the BBD office and watch a TV for a while. This generated some confused discussion, so what was I doing?

Our team is experimenting with the idea of putting screens around the company to share content and information and I had to sit in the kitchen to make sure it worked by watching loop the content for a bit Smile


This is also a great opportunity to share some learning's from this with you:

TightVNC is still the best VNC option

Remote Desktop from Microsoft is THE best way to remote onto another machine but it has one downside, it locks other user out. For out screen we can’t have the login shown, and I don’t even know where it is to login manually – we need to see the content on the machine so we dropped to an older technology: VNC.

There is a lot of options in the VNC space, but ended on TightVNC as it actually runs as a service on a Windows 7 machine where other VNC clients run in the user space.

Auto Login to Windows

The login screen is also an issue with the machine when it boots and I don’t want to remote in every time to login – so we configured Windows to auto login to a specific account. This is thanks to the folks at Channel9 in particular Sarah Perez & Bradley Ward:

  1. Change the following registry key to 1: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\AutoAdminLogon
  2. This enables the feature to be surfaced in Windows.
  3. Then run the following command: control userpasswords2
  4. In this UI you can UNTICK the option Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer and click OK
  5. It will then prompt you for the username & password to use and done! Note this is a bad security and so not recommended, but sometimes it is needed.

Open & Play slideshow

We are using Microsoft PowerPoint for the content and needed to auto run a slideshow at login, so we created a shortcut to run PowerPoint with the /S switch (see this for info on switches) and the filename: PowerPnt.exe /S c:\demo.pptx

That opens PowerPoint and starts the presentation!

Insert web content into PowerPoint

Lastly we wanted include some live web pages in it, which PowerPoint doesn’t support out of the box. MVP’s to the rescue! Some MVP’s created an add-in that allows it: http://skp.mvps.org/liveweb.htm

Really awesome!

06 Jun 2011

Pepper: Issue causing crashes

Update 6 June 2011 15h30 (GMT +0200): All is working now, post left for archival purposes.

Pepper, everyone's favourite Visual Studio add-in for synchronisation of Visual Studio settings, is currently DOWN Sad smile and trying to use Pepper will cause it to crash Visual Studio Sad smile

Something has gone seriously wrong in the SQL Azure database that powers it and I’ve logged a call with Microsoft to have it investigated and repaired.

As soon as I have any updates, I will update this page. Thanks for your patience.


Update 6 June 2011 13h45 (GMT +0200): Testing is showing the database issue is resolved however I am awaiting confirmation from Microsoft Support before I sound the all clear.
Update 6 June 2011 15h30 (GMT +0200): All clear. The cause was the database disappeared! Seriously, just gone. Couldn't see it in SQL management studio or in the Azure management portal and the web services Pepper uses couldn't talk to it either. During the Microsoft investigation the database reappeared and unfortunately support has been unable to identify what happened (or they not telling me... but I'm paranoid).
31 May 2011

Convert VirtualBox (vmi) to real disk?

It is often the case I need to setup training machines and a sometimes I get VirtualBox images which I need to deploy to the machines. I tend to avoid virtualisation on the training machines because of driver related issues, especially with graphic cards and things like WPF (which powers Visual Studio). If you have a good graphics card & good drivers then you can get a decent perf improvement with WPF apps, but unfortunately some virtualisation drivers are too poor.

So how can I take an virtual hard disk created in VirtualBox and easily convert it to physical disk so it can just run?


It is possible but it is not easy to a real disk but it is not easy.

  • Step 1: You need to use a tool from Microsoft called SysPrep to unload the drivers. Basically this means that it strips all the driver info out, and puts the image in a clean state so that the next time it boots Windows searches for the hardware again. If you do not do that Windows will freak out because the hardware it expects does not exist.
  • Step 2: Then you use a tool designed for disk imaging to create an image. Tools like Norton Ghost (paid) or CloneZilla (free) are designed for this purpose and the image they create is portable unlike the vmi (VirtualBox hard drive) format which can't do this well.
  • Step 3: You then restore that image to the real disk using the same tool and you are done.

Slightly more work than you would expect, but that is a solution which always works.


I have not tried this with Hyper-V or VirtualPC disks (vhd) yet, but I suspect VirtualPC will work fine. Hyper-V has an additional Hypervisor layer and I suspect that SysPrep will not remove that and the restoring process will fail.

Finally you also want to be careful with SysPrep as it can have some undesired effects with certain software, for example SQL Server. There are specific steps to go through if you want to use SysPrep & SQL Server: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee210754.aspx

So make the time to have the first few attempts fail and learn the nuances of the software you work with.

26 May 2011

DevDays South Africa 2011: My Talks

WOW! Microsoft DevDays 2011 in Cape Town & Johannesburg was fantastic, my fellow speakers rocked, the venues were brilliant and most importantly YOU, the audience was amazing!

Thank you to everyone who attended my talks, especially since they were at the end of a very tiring day. I hope I delivered value to you and if you have any questions or comments on them, please feel free to get in touch with me.

I promise the slides & demos would be made available so here they are:

Let’s get ready for the cloud: Building your applications so they are cloud ready

Lightswitch basics: Building your first Lightswitch Application

All the files again (my blog does this)

19 May 2011

A follow up to my NDepend pro tip...

I posted in March that despite using NDepend for over a year I had missed an awesome feature of the product. Not even a day later I received an email from Patrick (creator of NDepend) about it and we discussed over a few emails about that post, why I had never found it and what could be done to improve it.

Recently Patrick released NDepend 3.8 and took specific notice of that discussion, and many other discussions with “enthusiast users” (as he calls us) into the design so it is significantly better Smile


Check out the new landing page in the app! Note the option I “found” is front and centre and even has a helpful arrow to point it out!

In addition to that there is many new features which I cannot wait to try out:

    • New menu in Start Page 'Select VS Solution(s) to Analyze'
    • Ergonomy of 'New NDepend Project' dialog enhanced.
    • In Build Comparison Setting form, there is a new button 'Browse VS solutions' to fill easily the assemblies list.
    • On multi-monitor machines, all NDepend dialogs and forms shown, now appear on the screen that currently contains the mouse cursor
    • The Dependency Matrix and Graph now support the mouse extra-buttons back/forward.
    • Support for Reflector v7.X
    • The default rule 'Fields should be marked as ReadOnly when possible' now discards fields generated for events (i.e fields where 'IsEventDelegateObject').
    • The flag Concurrent is now implemented by the MSBuild and NAnt tasks.
    • In CQL Explorer panel, it is now possible to export a group of queries to XML.

I just wanted to post this to share this excellent news and also point out how awesome Patrick is at incorporating feedback from everyone and really this is why NDepend is such an awesome product.