Friday, October 31, 2008

PDC 2008 was a lot of fun - a big show, with lots of announcements, lots of sessions and some thought-provoking content. I thought I'd through out a few observations. Not really conclusions, as those take time and reflection, so just some observations.

Windows Azure, the operating system for the cloud, is intriguing. For a first run at this, the technology seems surprisingly complete and contains a pretty reasonable set of features. I can easily see how web sites, XML services and both data-centric and compute-centric processing could be built for this platform. For that matter, it looks like it would be perhaps a week's work to get my web site ported over to run completely in Azure.

The real question is whether that would even make sense, and that comes down to the value proposition. One big component of value is price. Like anyone else, I pay a certain amount to run my web site. Electricity, bandwidth, support time, hardware costs, software costs, etc. I've never really sorted out an exact cost, but it isn't real high on a per-month basis. And I could host on any number of .NET-friendly hosting services that have been around for years, and some of them are pretty inexpensive. So the question becomes whether Azure will be priced in such a way that it is attractive to me. If so, I'm excited about Azure!! If not, then I really don't care about Azure.

I suspect most attendees went through a similar thought process. If Microsoft prices Azure for "the enterprise" then 90% of the developers in the world simply don't care about Azure. But if Microsoft prices Azure for small to mid-size businesses, and for the very small players (like me) then 90% of the developers in the world should (I think) really be looking at this technology

Windows 7 looks good to me. After the Tuesday keynote I was ready to install it now. As time goes by the urgency has faded a bit - Vista has stabilized nicely over the past 6-8 months and I really like it now. Windows 7 has some nice-sounding new features though. Probably the single biggest one is reduced system resource requirements. If Microsoft can deliver on that part of the promise I'll be totally thrilled. Though I really do want multi-monitor RDP and the ability to manage, mount (and even boot from) vhd files directly from the host OS.

In talking to friends of mine that work at Microsoft, my level of confidence in W7 is quite high. A couple of them have been running it for some time now, and while it is clearly pre-beta, they have found it to be a very satisfying experience. When I get back from all my travels I do think I'll have to buy a spare HD for my laptop and give it a try myself.

The Oslo modeling tools are also interesting, though they are more future-looking. Realistically this idea of model-driven development will require a major shift in how our industry thinks about and approaches custom software development. Such a massive shift will take many years to occur, regardless of whether the technology is there to enable it. It is admirable that Microsoft is taking such a gamble - building a set of tools and technologies for something that might become acceptable to developers in the murky future. Their gamble will pay off if we collectively decide that the world of 3GL development really is at an end and that we need to move to higher levels of abstraction. Of course we could decide to stick with what has (and hasn't) worked for 30+ years, in which case modeling tools will go the way of CASE.

But even if some of the really forward-looking modeling ideas never become palatable, many of the things Microsoft is doing to support modeling are immediately useful. Enhancements to Windows Workflow are a prime example, as is the M language. I've hard a hard time getting excited about WF, because it has felt like a graphical way to do FORTRAN. But some of the enhancements to WF directly address my primary concerns, and I can see myself getting much more interested in WF in the relatively near future. And the ability of the M language to define other languages (create DSLs), where I can create my own output generator to create whatever I need - now that is really, really cool!

Once I get done with my book and all my fall travel, you can bet I'll be exploring the use of M to create a specialized language to simplify the creation of CSLA .NET business classes :)

There were numerous talks about .NET 4.0 and the future of C# and VB.

Probably the single biggest thing on the language front is that Microsoft has finally decided to sync VB and C# so they have feature parity. Enough of this back-and-forth with different features, the languages will now just move forward together. A few years ago I would have argued against this, because competition breeds innovation. But today I don't think it matters, because the innovation is coming from F#, Ruby, Python and various other languages and initiatives. Both VB and C# have such massive pre-existing code-bases (all the code we've written) that they can't move rapidly or explore radical ideas - while some of these other languages are more free to do just that.

The framework itself has all sorts of changes and improvements. I spent less time looking at this than at Azure and Oslo though, so I honestly just don't have a lot to say on it right now. I look at .NET 4.0 and Visual Studio 2010 as being more tactical - things I'll spend a lot of time on over the next few months anyway - so I didn't see so much need to spend my time on it during PDC.

Finally, there were announcements around Silverlight and WPF. If anyone doubts that XAML is the future of the UI on Windows and (to some degree) the web, now is the time to wake up and smell the coffee. I'm obviously convinced Silverlight is going to rapidly become the default technology for building business apps, with WPF and Ajax as fallback positions, and everything at the PDC simply reinforced this viewpoint.

The new Silverlight and WPF toolkits provide better parity between the two XAML dialects, and show how aggressively Microsoft is working to achieve true parity.

But more important is the Silverlight intersection with Azure and Live Mesh. The fact that I can build smart client apps that totally host in Azure or the Mesh is compelling, and puts Silverlight a notch above WPF in terms of being the desired start-point for app development. Yes, I really like WPF, but even if it can host in Azure it probably won't host in Mesh, and in neither case will it be as clean or seamless.

So while I fully appreciate that WPF is good for that small percentage of business apps that need access to DirectX or rich client-side resources, I still think most business apps will work just fine with access to the monitor/keyboard/mouse/memory/CPU provided by Silverlight.

A couple people asked why I think Silverlight is better than Ajax. To me this is drop-dead simple. I can write a class in C# or VB that runs on the client in Silverlight. I can write real smart client applications that run in the browser. And I can run that exact same code on the server too. So I can give the user a very interactive experience, and then re-run that same code on the server because I don't trust the client.

To do that in Ajax you'd either have to write your code twice (in C# and in Javascript), or you'd have to do tons of server calls to simulate the interactivity provided by Silverlight - and that obviously won't scale nearly the same as the more correct Silverlight solution.

To me it is a no-brainer - Ajax loses when it comes to building interactive business apps like order entry screens, customer maintenance screens, etc.

That's not to say Ajax has no home. The web and browser world is really good at displaying data, and Ajax makes data display more interesting that simple HTML. I strongly suspect that most "Silverlight" apps will make heavy use of HTML/Ajax for data display, but I just can't see why anyone would willingly choose to create data entry forms or other interactive parts of their app outside of Silverlight.

And that wraps up my on-the-flight-home summary of thoughts about PDC.

Next week I'm speaking at the Patterns and Practices Summit in Redmond, and then I'll be at Tech Ed EMEA in Barcelona. I'm doing a number of sessions at both events, but what's cool is that at each event I'm doing a talk specifically about CSLA .NET for Silverlight. And in December I'll be at VS Live in Dallas, where I'll also give a talk directly on using CSLA .NET.

Friday, October 31, 2008 7:10:16 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Thursday, October 23, 2008

This blog post indicates no, based on a number of good arguments.

It is really true that Silverlight 2.0, out of the box, has a lot of holes or gaps that must be filled in or worked around.

Of course my shameless plug is for CSLA .NET for Silverlight, which fills in most of those gaps. We did encounter the issues listed, and many others. Ultimately CSLA .NET for Silverlight is the result of around 9-10 man-months of effort. That's 9-10 man-months of time finding, researching and solving issues around business application development in Silverlight 2.0.

So while I agree that just picking up Silverlight and running with it will require some serious effort (as compared to WPF, Windows Forms or Web Forms), I don't think that's the whole story. The reality is that frameworks and tools will come into existence (or already have in the case of CSLA .NET) that bring Silverlight's productivity at least up to the level of WPF.

Then the argument becomes that WPF (and Silverlight) lack solid tooling for building the UI. When compared to the designers available for Windows Forms and Web Forms that's absolutely true. However, if you look under the covers, the amount of code and effort required to actually build an app with WPF/Silverlight is absolutely less than Windows Forms or Web Forms - at least when using CSLA .NET.

I say this, because the exact same business objects and data access work in all those environments. So the business and data code is a wash - it is the same in all cases.

But the UI code for WPF/Silverlight is a tiny fraction of the code required for Windows Forms or Web Forms. XAML does require a learning curve, but once you get over that curve it is far more productive, even without good designer tooling.

Yes, I'm totally sold on the Silverlight/WPF/XAML UI future. Yes, there's a learning curve, and yes there's some initial pain. But once you get past that initial hurdle it is sooooo nice. You won't find me going back!

Thursday, October 23, 2008 10:50:46 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
Thursday, October 23, 2008 7:10:47 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dunn Training is offering a CSLA .NET Master Class in November, located in Atlanta.

This is a full 5 day class covering CSLA .NET, and related technologies such as WPF, WCF, Web Forms and much more! Not only will this provide intensive coverage of CSLA .NET 3.6 (the latest version), but you'll learn an amazing amount about the application of important .NET technologies in the context of real-world business application development.

There is still time to register for this class, and you'll have a hard time finding training of this depth and breadth elsewhere!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 11:44:16 AM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I have released Beta 2 of CSLA .NET 3.6, with support for Windows (download) and Silverlight 2.0 (download).

This is an incremental release. Very few issues have been reported or found with Beta 1a, which gives me hope that we're still on track for a final release in the very near future. A lot of hard work by Sergey, Justin, Nermin and other Magenic colleagues have really paid off in the early stability of this version.

CSLA .NET for Silverlight does include one feature change. The Navigator control is now capable of handling a "cold start" scenario, where the user navigates directly to the Silverlight app, specifying a bookmark on the URL. The Navigator control will now immediately help your app navigate to the correct state so the user effectively returns to the page/control/view they'd bookmarked in the first place.

CSLA .NET for Windows also includes one feature change. Nermin is working hard on integrated Visual Studio file and project templates, and an installer project for the templates (and possibly all of CSLA .NET). This work is not yet complete, but Beta 2 has a much more complete set of behaviors than Beta 1.

We believe that this Beta 2 release is very stable. Please download and use it - on either Windows or Silverlight. If you have questions/comments or find issues, please post in the forum.

Also, check out my DotNet Rocks interview about CSLA .NET for Silverlight.

Finally, for those wondering about the status of the Expert C# 2008 Business Objects book, it is still on track for a December release. Watch www.apress.com, as they tell me that they'll be offering an "alpha release" program where you can pre-purchase the book and get early access to chapters in PDF form, and get the paper book when it comes out.

We are also on track for Expert VB 2008 Business Objects, probably in the February or March timeframe. This is dependent on the 3.6 VB conversion project, which has four volunteers and is moving along pretty well. I feel pretty confident that this will all come together so the framework and book will both be available to the VB community.

Code well, have fun!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 7:29:29 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Thursday, October 02, 2008

My schedule over the next few weeks in pretty busy.

Week of Where Why
Oct 6 San Francisco IASA Connections
Oct 11 Minneapolis (home) Twin Cities Codecamp
Oct 13 Las Vegas VS Live
Oct 27 Los Angeles PDC
Nov 3 Seattle/Redmond PnP Summit
Nov 10 Barcelona Tech Ed EMEA

While doing all this travel, I have to do second revisions on Chapters 9-21 as quickly as possible, still working toward a December release of the Expert C# 2008 Business Objects book. And of course finalizing CSLA .NET 3.6 for Windows and Silverlight.

Not that I'm complaining, I love speaking at (or attending) these conferences and getting a chance to talk to people about cool technology and interesting ideas and concepts!

I hope to see you at one of these events.

Thursday, October 02, 2008 10:36:41 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 

The next release of CSLA .NET for Silverlight will return to using the async WcfProxy in the data portal instead of the SynchronizedWcfProxy that restricts the data portal to allow only one concurrent call at a time. The WcfProxy allows parallel calls from the client to the server through the data portal. The change is already in svn for those that are using live code.

The reason we created SynchronizedWcfProxy originally was due to a bug in Silverlight 2.0 Beta 2, where in some cases you'd get a 404 error with overlapping WCF calls to the same server. This was wreaking havoc with our unit tests, which have a lot of parallel WCF calls.

It appears that the issue is resolved in Silverlight RC0, which is great news.

However, we didn't know right away, because we were still getting sporadic 404 errors. With some research, and help from Eugene Osovetsky and his colleagues at Microsoft, we figured out the remaining issue.

Part of the problem is described by Eugene's post on dealing with faults and exceptions in Silverlight. This was masking the underlying issue we faced.

The underlying issue is that we were testing using the ASP.NET Development Web server (often called Cassini). Cassini has some well-known limitations, among them that it doesn't work well when a custom .NET principal is used in your web server code. This particular issue appears as a SerializationException as Cassini attempts to transfer the principal from one thread to another. This issue doesn't occur with IIS, because IIS doesn't switch threads like Cassini does.

Several of our unit tests for CSLA use custom principals, because we have tests for the various authentication modes supported by CSLA .NET for Silverlight - including the use of a custom principal object. These tests would sporadically fail on Cassini, but only under load. Apparently the problem would only manifest if we were able to get Cassini to recycle an existing thread off the thread pool.

In Eugene's post he suggests that the solution to dealing with faults/exceptions is to wrap your code in a try..catch block and return any exception information as part of your service contract. The CSLA data portal has always done this, and so we were initially puzzled by the continuing 404 errors. However, it turns out that Cassini was failing before any of our code ran. Thanks to this, we couldn't wrap a try..catch around the code, because it wasn't our code...

This gave us another clue though. It turns out that the issue we faced was that a request would put a custom principal on the server thread. That principal was never removed from the thread, and if that thread got recycled (by random chance) we'd get the SerializationException. The solution is to ensure that the thread principal is set to null as each server request completes. That way a recycled thread never has a custom principal.

Again, not an issue that affects IIS, but by figuring this out we're now able to use Cassini too, which is far more convenient.

I post all this, because if you encounter 404 errors in Silverlight 2, you should first follow Eugene's advice and return error details as part of your service contract (which can really alter your service design!). And if you do that and still have trouble, look to deeper issues with the web host or network stack, they can be devious...

Thursday, October 02, 2008 6:16:01 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  |