14 Jun 2012

Lightswitch & the HTML Client - what does this mean?

Lightswitch Recap

For you to understand the rest of this post it is vital you have a high level understanding of Lightswitch and how it works. Lightswitch is a RAPID development platform from Microsoft that makes development of line of business (LOB) apps really easy. The team at Microsoft often talk about citizen developers – i.e. people who are not full time developers, but are the “IT guy” in the department or company that need to put together a great looking solution. The team also talk about no-code solutions – where you can build great systems without code.

imageBoth statements from the team are true and false at the same time. Sure your accountant can build a CRM system with no code in Lightswitch, but Lightswitches true value is that it is a professional development tool, and in reality unless it is a really simple solution you will need a touch of code.

What is great is that Lightswitch allows the citizen developer to write a system that can be matured by professional developers later on – it’s power is that it does not lock you into being too simple or too complex a development system.

For me the value proposition is that you get REAL rapid development, that citizen developers can put together and extend solutions that are well architected and that when the need is there a professional developer can extend that solution and hand it back over to the citizen developer – it is the circle of Lightswitch.

Architecture

When you craft a (avoiding the development term here on purpose) Lightswitch create a multi-tier architecture, that is either two tier (client & database) or three tier (client, server & database). Two tier is really three tier but the server & client are just one package.

The database can be any support by Lightswitch, the middle tier is OData and the front end is Silverlight. The choice of front end has recently hurt Lightswitch because Silverlight is dying. However if you step back for a second and think about it Lightswitch provides the easiest and fastest way to build a complete (and I mean complete, authentication, methods, proper designed) OData solution… you could always ignore the client portion and build on top of the OData server.

Making a HTML Client

The HTML client mode for Lightswitch is a recently announced new feature that allows you to build a client that runs in a browser, and not just Internet Explorer on Windows (Dynamics CRM I am looking at your shameful behaviour) but pretty much any browser, say on an iPad:

Deployed app on ipad -1

This is possible because of two things, the OData server which allows really any technology to connect to it, and the second piece of the Lightswitch system the LSML file.

I hope you have never heard of the LSML file, as it is not a nice place to go to – it is a MASSIVE (even simple demo’s I build are thousands of lines) XML file that stores ALL of the Lightswitch system in a “Lightswitch domain language”. This enables the team to take that information, parse it and produce output based on it. So the concept of producing a parser that creates HTML rather than Silverlight is really simple… just build the parser.

What do we know about this HTML client so far?

It is early days, in fact there are no bits available yet, but we do know some things from the demo’s and screen shots that are available.

  • Multiple themes will be supported (their is a dark & a light at least) – thanks to the jQuery Mobile that powers it.
  • It is a separate client – so you will have a Silverlight experience and then also have the HTML experience added in.
  • It follows the true Lightswitch model of being easy to build with no code, but if you need that little extra, the JavaScript can be edited.

Light theme - 2Dark theme -  2imageCustomizing UI with JavaScript

The Important Two Issues

To wrap this up it is a very exciting point in time for the Lightswitch world with so much happening that I think it is important to take a step back and find a few key aspects about this amazing feature that will help position it. There are two that really stand out to me from all the announcements:

Separate Client

This is not a Silverlight to HTML generator – it is separate. This means that awesome Silverlight chart you use today will not magically work in the HTML client. This has both advantages and disadvantages, but if you think about the dying of Silverlight I am very glad that they have a whole new growth path.

It also allows for the real scenario of supporting a rich experience in Silverlight in a company (where we control all the machines and know we can run Silverlight for a long time still) and having a mobile or companion experience in HTML for those people on the road. Sure they do not get the great sales forecast chart but they can still capture their sales on their iPad.

Web Developers

A recent did an survey of app developers looked at what they are building today, what they were building and what they intend to build in the future (future = one year in this survey). Interestingly there are only TWO platforms that are getting growth in the future? HTML & Windows Phone. Android, iPhone and many others are all expected to decline.

If you think about those numbers and add in the MASSIVE investments in HTML development that are in Windows 8, it should not surprise you that web development is a MAJOR area in the future of all developers. It also means that web developers can start to have way more opportunities in the market outside of building websites & portals, and that is very exciting as that little garage web designer company today could be a major line of business developer in a few years.

25 May 2012

Windows 8 Boot Camp: Johannesburg 24 May

imageYesterday Rudi Grobler & I had awesome fun with a full room of amazing people who took time off work to attend a full day of free Windows 8 training. The audience was amazing, breaking a lot of my expectations of how audiences react at free events, which really honoured Rudi & I to have most people stay to the very end of the day.

5b

For those people who attended the training, or those who didn’t but want the content too:

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Package icon Windows 8 Demos551.64 KB
07 May 2012

JSinSA 2012

jsinsa

AsHoIrXCEAA2s1YThis past weekend was the ever fantastic JavaScript in South Africa (JSinSA) conference. This year focus was on HTML 5, JavaScript & CSS 3 – easily some of the MOST important topics for developers regardless of platform to know about.

It was it’s second year and while I was very lucky to go to it as an attendee in the first year, this year I was even more lucky to be a presenter at the conference. I was also very lucky to present on a topic I am passionate about: Windows 8.

The talk provided an introduction to Windows 8 & how development works, and in the 45mins I was done, we built an application which could take a photo from a web cam and send it to Twitter (the actual photo is to the right).

You can get the slides and bits from the talk below.

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Package icon Completed Demo660.07 KB
04 Apr 2012

Why the harder you work to prove to Microsoft you know better, the less chance it will ever happen

Disclaimer: I do not work for Microsoft and these are my views based on discussions with multiple people at Microsoft which I have stitched together – maybe I misunderstood everyone and this is all wrong too. All examples I use are my own. I am no lawyer – check with a lawyer for legal & license advice.

tl;dr: Microsoft is really worried about being sued and thus is risk adverse to “stuff from the internet”. It is better to tell Microsoft what you dislike, not how to fix it. Learn about licensing content.

Paper Work

A few years ago I went on an amazing trip to work with Microsoft but before I could do that I needed to sign not only a NDA, but also waivers for the work I would do – which makes sense. I did it for free and Microsoft didn’t want me to sue them for money later for my work. Not only that I had to sign them, my employer had to do the exact same thing. Once again because I work for someone else who could claim money from Microsoft and Microsoft lawyers had deemed that a risk and needed to be protected.

This involved a lot of time and money, it is VERY expensive to have lawyers review documents from other lawyers and the DHL the originals half way round the world, but it is far cheaper than being sued.

I know that neither myself of BBD would sue Microsoft for the work I did, but that doesn’t still the hearts of those lawyers who live in a world of ugly mean liars that will cheat the system if it was easy and good. I wish it wasn’t this way but some wishes don’t happen.

The Users Voice

A while back Microsoft started spinning up loads of uservoice.com (UV) sites to collect feedback and I believe they are successful in getting some things changed. There is an odd issue I see on UV especially with how Microsoft deals with it, that being as technology advanced users & developers we are taught to give the most detail as possible – really there is nothing like too much detail… however in UV, it seems that Microsoft ignores them and favours those who do and give very little. A great example of this, is in Visual Studio land where we can compare the current top two ideas: this short idea which is “under review”

image

versus to this guy who has pages of details and even as taking the design and proving a lot of it could work – for all his hard work, nothing.

image

WTF?! Microsoft doesn’t listen to me

If you read both suggestions they seem to say the same thing except the lazy guys one got the reward, right? No – it is more fundamental than that. The first one is really just discussing the what & why the VS colour change that is an issue, the second piece of feedback though is discussing how to fix it. The problem for Microsoft is if they take the second guys stuff, a person who hasn’t signed a waiver, the how guy has a legal ability to sue Microsoft for the money they owe him for work/royalties etc… And Microsoft legal won’t allow that to happen because that is their job, to protect Microsoft legal issues.

This is not a complaint about legal, I am sure they are nice people that are just doing their job and it is annoying their job and my wishes do not align...

The thing about taking the what feedback is Microsoft is pretty safe in taking and improving VS in anyway they see fit and that is why the what & why is under review and not the how.

Licensing & Public Domain

The next that will be brought up is that this is work in the public domain and thus “free”… wrong. Public domain work is more a legal trap than anything, and there is so many steps that you need to jump through to get access to using that “free” work that often it is easier to redo it yourself. This is why ANYTHING you do should have a license, even if you want to just give it away and never see it again or if you want someone like Microsoft to be able to use it.

For software check out a good open source license, such as BSD 3-clause which basically says do what you like with my work and I promise I won't sue you except if you use me as an endorsement for your product which contains my work. For non-code items,  like art, music or blog posts have a look at the creative commons licenses.

Microsoft can fix this too

Microsoft could reach out to people with good ideas and get them to sign waivers (WAY too much work and also maybe risky after the work is provided), but better would be to adopt an approach like StackExchange (SE) does. SE states if you provide feedback on their sites it is creative commons.

Microsoft could do the same and even put in a waiver clause on UV, I don’t know if UV allows for this, but Microsoft is big enough to get it done. It doesn’t solve great ideas that are posted elsewhere, those still required YOU to take the time to learn a little about licensing, public domain and so on and take the right steps so we can ALL benefit… not just the lawyers who get paid to say no.

30 Mar 2012

IntelliTrace vs. PreEmptive Analytics

IntelliTrace

Visual Studio 2010 introduced an amazing feature: IntelliTrace which allows for deep debugging experiences inside Visual Studio by collecting an AMAZING amount of information (basically a stack trace for every call in your code + meta data) and allowing you to use it later to replay the way the application was used. With this feature you could eliminate those “No Repro” bugs! The catch in 2010 was it was NOT allowed to be used in production. In Visual Studio 11 that has changed and we can use it in production: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh398365(v=vs.110).aspx & http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/hh440472

PreEmptive Analytics

This change in licensing may seem to put IntelliTrace in direct competition with another great tool, PreEmptive Analytics (PA). I have mentioned this amazing tool before and with Visual Studio 11 it is included “in the box” so there seems to be a conflict brewing – but there isn’t.

Two sides of the same coin

These two tools are both part of the collect information so you can react to it later and fix bugs set of tools, but they have very different use cases. IntelliTrace is specific to the scenario of replaying an application for diagnosis and debugging purposes. It is not meant to be an always on tool and it is a tool that writes to a local file that needs to be collected some how.

PA on the other hand is a tool to always have on, it does capture error information but nothing more than the simple Exception + Stack which is not as useful, detailed or integrated into VS when compared to IntelliTrace. In addition PA allows me to do a lot of a lot of analytics on my application that are not possible in IntelliTrace:

  • what features are people using
  • where in the world are they
  • when are they using it
  • what are their machines like

In addition the PA reports get automatically sent to a server (that they run or that you can run if you have privacy/security concerns) so there is not need to waddle around collecting files.

I can also see scenarios that these two work hand in hand – PreEmptive getting higher level info that shows a lot of users having issue X, then the support guys contact some users and do a more detailed capture of the issue with IntelliTrace.

28 Mar 2012

.NET 4.5 and how it sits in the .NET ecosystem

tl;dr

  • .NET 4.5 – 8th major release.
  • .NET 4.5 is an in place replacement of .NET 4.0.
    • Installing it could cause issues for .NET 4.0, but is very unlikely and likely shows your app is using undocumented features or using features incorrectly.
  • .NET vesions, CLR versions & language versions are not in sync.
  • There is an awesome chart below which makes it easy to see the relationships in the ecosystem.

Introduction

.NET 4.5 is the next release and it is important to take a look how it fits in the .NET ecosystem. This is the 8th major release of .NET! What do I mean by major release? I mean any release that is not a patch/support only release, or put another way a major release it included major new features in the CLR and/or a new language options.

SxS vs. Replacement

In .NET we are lucky that many versions can run side by side (SxS) provided they have different versions of the CLR, however if a new major release shares the same CLR it is a replacement/additive version. For example: .NET 3.0 used the same CLR as .NET 2.0 (the CLR 2.0) and when installed replaced many of the files in .NET 2.0 with new versions and it is only via compiler directives that some things are turned on and off. The advantage of the SxS model is installing a new version doesn’t influence apps on the previous version in any way (i.e. if the app is 1.1 and works fine before .NET 2.0 was installed, it will keep working fine after .NET 2.0 is installed).

The problem with replacement model is that there is a chance that installing a new version breaks apps on the original version – however Microsoft does a RIDICULOUS number of testing to make sure this doesn’t happen, so that chance is very small. In fact if you happen to hit one, the chance is higher you are using undocumented features or using features incorrectly.

The reason for this explanation of SxS vs. replacement is that .NET 4.5 is an in place replacement for .NET 4.

Version Naming

Part of the confusion I suspect around me saying that .NET 4.5 is the eighth release is because Microsoft naming of versions is about as far from logic as you can get – the worst examples are the .NET Version 3.5 SP 1 is a major release labelled a Service Pack 1?! and the fact we do not have a version 3 of the CLR, it was just skipped?!

The other aspect is that versions of the CLR, versions of the Framework and versions of the languages are completely out of sync, so .NET 4.5 runs on the CLR version 4 and we write code in C# version 5.0 or VB version 11.0 – cause that makes sense :S

Awesome Poster

Here is an awesome poster to help remind you of all the above!

image

20 Mar 2012

Windows 8 Bootcamp

windows8logo_large_verge_medium_landscapeLast week (14th March 2012, to be exact) I had a great opportunity to travel to Cape Town and present the first ever Windows 8 Bootcamp there! (I missed the first in South Africa by two days, that was presented in Jo’burg by Rudi Grobler).

It was a small event, but it was a great day of learning and sharing and what a lovely place it was to present, as you can see from the photos below!

One of the requests from those who attended the event was the demos & slides – however there is a snag, Microsoft owns the slides and they are not ready for them to be publically shared Sad smile  That said the demo bits are below, so hopefully that will keep you sorted until the slides arrive.

WP_000655WP_000656

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29 Feb 2012

Important changes to Express Editions of Visual Studio "11"

manualtrafficexchangetipNote: The source of this is the Visual Studio “11” beta Product Guide (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?linkid=243994) so this may change by release.

Today we have five Express products: C++, C#, Visual Basic, Web and Phone however with the launch of Visual Studio “11” we will only have TWO!

These two editions of Express we will have are Web & Windows. I do not believe we will only ever have two editions, as the 2010 Express editions grew during the product so I would expect a few new ones coming along post launch.

So how does the old Express editions map to the new Express editions?

  • C++ maps to NOTHING
  • C# for WinForm/WPF/Silverlight maps to NOTHING
  • VB for WinForm/WPF/Silverlight maps to NOTHING
  • Phone maps to NOTHING
  • Web maps to Web

Let me reiterate this, if you want to build non-Metro applications (unless they are web) there is NO Express edition anymore for this! The Windows Express edition ONLY allows the building of Metro apps (including ARM). Web dev using Express editions still continue to work as before.

Both Express editions have a new enhancements too, which is a fantastic thing: The ability Version Control & Work Item Tracking with TFS is included out of the box.

For the Windows express edition it has even more enhancements

  • A subset of static analysis (fxCop) for helping developers pass Win Store evaluation
  • Performance Profiling has been added: CPU Sampling for C#/VB/C++ Metro apps and Instrumentation for HTML/JS Metro Apps

Stop/Important image from http://sitechoppers.com/why-it-is-important-to-build-your-downline/

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