Pictures from Techdays and FailCamp in Toronto

After getting my camera back from Mitch Garvis after Techdays and FailCamp in Toronto, I decided to upload photos from the events, and to my surprise there were some pretty good shots.  Here is what I came back with:














ASP.NET WebForms are NOT Being Overthrown by MVC

It’s always a fun day when the man himself, ScottGu responds to my email.  Basically it all started last week at Techdays in Toronto (pictures to follow, I promise). 

Quite a few people asked me about MVC, and whether or not it will replace Web Forms.  My response was that it wouldn’t, but I didn’t have any tangible proof.  I discussed new features in .NET 4.0, and how the development is still going strong for future releases.  Some didn’t buy it.

So, earlier today I emailed Scott and asked him for proof.  This was his response:

Hi Steve,

Web Forms is definitely not going away – we are making substantial improvements to it with ASP.NET 4.0 (I’m doing a blog series on some of the improvements now).  ASP.NET MVC provides another option people can use for their UI layer – but it is simply an option, not a replacement.

In terms of the dev team size, the number of people on the ASP.NET team working on WebForms and MVC is actually about equal.  All of the core infrastructure investments (security, caching, config, deployment, etc) also apply equally to both.

Now, MVC is new.  MVC is powerful.  MVC is pretty freakin cool in what it can do.  But it won’t replace WebForms.  Frankly, I like WebForms.  MVC does have it’s place though.  I can see a lot benefits to using it.  It alleviates a lot of boilerplate code in certain development architectures, and that is never a bad thing.

Long Live WebForms!

ASP.NET Application Deployment Best Practices – Part 2

In my previous post I started a list of best practices that should be followed for deploying applications to production systems.  This is continuation of that post.

  • Create new Virtual Application in IIS

Right-click [website app will live in] > Create Application

Creating a new application provides each ASP.NET application its own sandbox environment. The benefit to this is that site resources do not get shared between applications. It is a requirement for all new web applications written in ASP.NET.

  • Create a new application pool for Virtual App
    • Right click on Application Pools and select Add Application Pool
    • Define name: “apAppName” - ‘ap’ followed by the Application Name
    • Set Framework version to 2.0
    • Set the Managed Pipeline mode: Most applications should use the default setting

An application pool is a distinct process running on the web server. It segregates processes and system resources in an attempt to prevent errant web applications from allocating all system resources. It also prevents any nasty application crashes from taking the entire website down. It is also necessary for creating distinct security contexts for applications. Setting this up is essential for high availability.

  • Set the memory limit for application pool

There is a finite amount of available resources on the web servers. We do not want any one application to allocate them all. Setting a reasonable max per application lets the core website run comfortably and allows for many applications to run at any given time. If it is a small lightweight application, the max limit could be set lower.

  • Create and appropriately use an app_Offline.htm file

Friendlier than an ASP.NET exception screen (aka the Yellow Screen of Death)

If this file exists it will automatically stop all traffic into a web application. Aptly named, it is best used when server updates occur that might take the application down for an extended period of time. It should be stylized to conform to the application style. Best practice is to keep the file in the root directory of the application renamed to app_Online.htm, that way it can easily be found if an emergency update were to occur.

  • Don’t use the Default Website instance
    • This should be disabled by default
    • Either create a new website instance or create a Virtual Application under existing website instance

Numerous vulnerabilities in the wild make certain assumptions that the default website instance is used, which creates reasonably predictable attack vectors given that default properties exist. If we disable this instance and create new instances it will mitigate a number of attacks immediately.

  • Create two Build Profiles
    • One for development/testing
    • One for production

Using two build profiles is very handy for managing configuration settings such as connection strings and application keys. It lessens the manageability issues associated with developing web applications remotely. This is not a necessity, though it does make development easier.

  • Don’t use the wwwroot folder to host web apps

Define a root folder for all web applications other than wwwroot

As with the previous comment, there are vulnerabilities that use the default wwwroot folder as an attack vector. A simple mitigation to this is to move the root folders for websites to another location, preferably on a different disk than the Operating System.

These two lists sum up what I believe to be a substantial set of best practices for application deployments.  The intent was not to create a list of best development best practices, or which development model to follow, but as an aid in strictly deployment.  It should be left to you or your department to define development models.

The Boston Tea Party has gone Batty

This morning I saw an interesting post on Twitter.  Which in-and-of-itself is kinda amazing, but that’s not the point.  The post was on something called the Windows 7 Sins site.  It is a campaign created by the Free Software Foundation to highlight everything that is wrong philosophically with Windows 7.  Now, I’m all for philosophical debates, but this is just plain batty.  So what did I do?  I acted!  I emailed the FSF people at the following email:

Ya know, if you sold software, you wouldn’t need to keep asking people for money. Basic principle of economics. Just sayin.

Also, a widget provides functionality and interaction. An image doesn’t. See the Windows 7 Sins “widget”.

Now, what I don’t get is this whole Boston Common thing. Is this an attempt at recreating the Boston Tea Party, except with (what I hope is) more regard for the environment and not tea, but software, as the “widget” proposes? If this were the case, in order to get a hold of said software, legally, you would need to buy it. Sounds counterintuitive.

Unless you are proposing people illegally obtain, as per license agreements define, the software and do what they will with it. Which is pretty much just plain ol’ illegal. “So was the Boston Tea Party” is an excellent counter argument. However, the Tea Party was about rebellion from a Government, not a company. The government makes laws, a company does not. The rebellion was against unfair taxation, something the Government controls. Unless of course you are rebelling against the government too. Which I guess is ok, except the government has already ruled against Microsoft in many cases regarding such topics as anti-trust, anti-competitive nature, etc. They don’t like ‘em either. Well, the justice department doesn’t anyway.

I just don’t get it.


Steve Syfuhs
Software Developer and/or Architect Guy

I wonder how many people I annoyed with it.  We shall see.

Move Their Cheese! (and Change the Design)

I tend to complain a lot.  Which frankly, doesn't do much for what I'm complaining about.  In most cases, it comes down to "okay, here is a problem, now someone else go and fix it."  There is a direct correlation to how many people I annoy too.  The number of people I annoy increases as the magnitude of my complaining-ness (hey, a new word) increases:


If I wanted to change something, obviously I’m going about it the wrong way.  However, there is a direct correlation between how often I do something wrong and the likelihood I will get it right.  See previous image.  What that means is if I keep screwing something up, eventually I am bound to get it right.  However, what is not necessarily apparent in the chart is that if I do nothing, I won’t improve upon my actions.  Maybe it is apparent, I don’t know – I’m still working on it.

The reason I bring this up is because I keep hearing people bash/complain/hate the Office Ribbon and application Ribbons through Windows 7:

ribbon2007 The major complaint has been that people couldn’t find what they are looking for anymore.  There aren’t any menus, so they can’t figure out how to set [insert obscure property].  It doesn’t make sense to them.  They now have to change the way they think about the application.  What is unfortunate about this is that menus are a horrible interface.  You shouldn’t have to dig through 6 layers of menus to change a single property, and that’s what Office 2003 became.  The Ribbon has it’s own problems, but it also increases user productivity greatly when the user knows how to use the Ribbon effectively.  Which in lies a major problem.

Most end-users don’t like when you move their cheese.

Well now we have a problem because people also want improved systems.  Improve the system, but don’t change it.  This paradox is why fundamentally different – game changing – designs aren’t seen all that often.  We stick with what we already know because if we deviate people will complain.  It’s a very tough way to create a better interface.

So how do you create a better interface?  You keep changing it.  Guaranteed the first couple of designs are going to annoy people: i.e. the Ribbon.

This is good.

If you keep failing at designs, that means eventually you are bound to figure out what kind of interface works best.  You will never figure it out if you never change.  Without MicroBating MasterSoft’s (hey look, two new words) ego, I must say that Microsoft is doing well in this area.  They keep making lousy design decisions.  See Expression Blend UI, and listen to most non-technical office workers using Office 2007.  I’m sure there are quite a few instances in other applications as well.  However, and I must make this clear, Microsoft is doing the right thing.  They are actively trying to create better interfaces.  Yes, it will piss people off (it’s pissed me off quite a few times), but at least they are making the effort.  And that’s what counts.

EDIT: P.S. I do like the Ribbon.

Stop Complaining About Software Expenses

It’s been a long week, and it’s only Monday.  It all started with an off-the-cuff comment.  It was of the petty nature, and it certainly wasn’t accurate.  It seems that is usually the case with petty comments.

I was berated for suggesting SharePoint Services as a replacement for our ageing intranet, and the commenter responded with a quick “SharePoint?  Microsoft makes that, it’ll cost too much.  Our current java site works just fine, and it’s free.”  Or something of that nature. 

How do you respond to a petty comment?  It’s pretty damn hard:

  1. While Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 does cost money for licensing, Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (which MOSS is built on) is free.  Not free as in speech, but free as in beer.  Always has been. 
  2. Java is a terrible language for websites.  It’s slow, and none of the developers in the company know Java.  We all program with .NET languages.
  3. The current intranet is running on an AS/400.
  4. The bulk of the stuff we do on our current intranet could very easily be done in SharePoint, without any development.  And, we can also increase productivity with the added features of team workspaces and free templates for other departments.
  5. The only cost will be in man-hours setting the server up, and migrating content.

Those have been my main arguments since I started working here.  We are a Microsoft shop, but very often choose non-Microsoft products.  Hmm…

The main reason we don’t use Microsoft products is cost.  Plain and simple.  Ironically, that is also the same reason WHY we use Microsoft products.

We use SQL Server, Windows Server 2008, Active Directory (finally!), IIS, MOSS (soon), and program in C#.  We don’t use office 2007, only Office 2003, some computers are still on Windows 2000 and XP.  Only one computer is running Vista, and two are running Windows 7.  But then again, we are a Not-For-Profit company.  Budgets are tight.

This post is NOT a comment on our current state of technology, because like I said in a previous post, we do a pretty good job of staying on the cutting edge in a few cases.

This post IS a comment on the people out there who think cost is the only thing to look at when evaluating a product.  For the love of god, STOP bitching about price.  START bitching about quality.

I can’t stand bad software.  People don’t pay for good software, but then complain about its quality.  Come on!  There is a formula out there that calculates the cost of a piece of software over time.  It takes into account initial cost, and the cost of the updates that follow.  It’s a simple y = mx+b formula.

Now, when you have a higher initial cost, you tend to assume it’s of higher quality.  Put this into the equation, and the number of updates, and the cost to implement these updates goes down.  Over the life of the product, it’s cheaper to go with the software that is initially more expensive.  This is basic business.

What this basic business formula doesn’t show you is the added headaches you get with crappy software.  You tend to end up with silos of systems, and silos of data.  You don’t get integration.  This is where the cost sky rockets.  Or more accurately, this is where productivity decreases.


SharePoint Services 3.0 is free.  It doesn’t cost anything to use.  It’s easy to use, and integrates with most of our internal systems.  I just ruined my entire argument.  Sorta.  SharePoint is a quality piece of software, and over time, it will cost less to use and maintain than any of the other intranet/middleware applications out there.  Most people don’t realize this.

I’ll probably get flack for this one:  Most people don’t complain about software expenses.  They complain about Microsoft expenses.

  • “We give Microsoft too much money, and don’t get enough in return.”
  • “There must be better software vendors out there than Microsoft that are cheaper.”
  • “Why bother upgrading; XP Works fine.”

Have you seen the cost of a friggen Oracle license?  What about IBM’s iSeries?  Novell’s Groupwise?  My jaw dropped when I saw the cost of these things.  I can’t say a single nice thing about Groupwise.  It’s a terrible product.  IBM’s iSeries is pretty good, but it’s limited what you can do with it.  Oracle knows databases, but has a higher license cost than a good chunk of a department’s salary.

Microsoft gets most of our money because it has quality products, at a good price.  Look at a few competing vendors products and compare cost and quality as well as the ability to integrate across platforms.  Revelation is a wonderful thing.  You might think twice before settling on cost.

Presenting at Techdays 2009!

Still working out session details, but it looks like I will be presenting in Ottawa and Montreal for Techdays 2009.  I will be loitering around at the Toronto event soaking up all the techie-goodness, so come find me at any of the three events.  We can talk shop, shoot the breeze, or just mill about having a good time.

I promise I won’t embarrass anyone.  Except maybe myself.  But that’s a warning for all occasions.

Here are the dates of the events across Canada.  Buy your tickets before the early-bird deal runs out!

City Date Venue
VANCOUVER SEPTEMBER 14-15 Vancouver Convention Centre
TORONTO SEPTEMBER 29-30 Metro Toronto Convention Centre
HALIFAX NOVEMBER 2-3 World Trade & Convention Centre
CALGARY NOVEMBER 17-18 Calgary Stampede
MONTREAL DECEMBER 2-3 Mont-Royal Centre
OTTAWA DECEMBER 9-10 Hampton Inn & Convention Centre
WINNIPEG DECEMBER 15-16 Winnipeg Convention Centre

The Early Bird price is $299.  The regular Price is $599.

I will post more on the sessions I will be presenting at a later date when I get the full details.

See you there!

Apple Lowered Their Prices

I was listening to Kevin Turner give his keynote at the World Partner Conference earlier and I overheard this:

And so we've been running these PC value ads. Just giving people saying, hey, what are you looking to spend? “Oh, I'm looking to spend less than $1,000.” Well we'll give you $1,000. Go in and look and see what you can buy. And they come out and they just show them. Those are completely unscripted commercials.

And you know why I know they're working? Because two weeks ago we got a call from the Apple legal department saying, hey -- this is a true story -- saying, "Hey, you need to stop running those ads, we lowered our prices." They took like $100 off or something. It was the greatest single phone call in the history that I've ever taken in business. (Applause.)


Kevin Turner

I hope this is more than just executive hyperbole.  Not because it’s so hard to believe, but because it’s just damn funny.

Poor Quebec, This is Terrible


Microsoft certainly isn’t to blame here, it’s a law in Quebec that prevents contests from happening.  Better chance for me to win it though!

Silverlight 3.0 and Why Flash Still (unfortunately) Won

Last week Silverlight 3.0 was released.  In Toronto, ObjectSharp put on a very cool launch event, with lots of great demos and compelling reasons to start using Silverlight immediately.  I was impressed, but I’m a Microsoft fan-boy (fan-boi?), so that doesn’t count.  It was certainly fitting that ObjectSharp propose using Silverlight for some parts of our new website, seeing as they won the bid to build the new site.  I saw the potential; as did a few others on the team.  However, some executives did not see the benefit.  I respect their opinion, somewhat because I have to – they can fire me after all, and mostly because they have business sense on their side.

The company is very much on the cutting edge of technology in a few respects, but very conservative in the way we choose technology.  For instance, our new site will be built on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.  I’d wager there are less than a hundred publically facing websites on the internet that use MOSS (probably due to complexity and cost), yet we chose to use it because of the potential in further developing it in future iterations.

Silverlight on the other hand is a different story.  Recent reports peg Silverlight penetration at around 25-30% of all browsers.  Whether or not this is accurate, who knows.  It’s the only data available.  Flash penetration is at 96%.  Now, in my opinion 25% growth in 2 years on Silverlight’s part is impressive.  Flash has been around for nearly 2 decades.  There is definitely a correlation to be made in there somewhere.

At this point, I was sold on using Silverlight.  The exec’s still weren’t.  Seeing as Silverlight is a browser plug-in, it must be installed in some way, shape, or form.  At 25%, that means our customer demographic would have around 10% penetration.  That is terrible.  Getting them to install a plug-in to view site content is a tough sell.  The executives didn’t want to scare away customers by making them install the plug-in.  SharePoint doesn’t need a browser plug-in.

And here in lies the Catch-22

To expand our marketed audience, we build on Silverlight to give them more content that is better authored to their needs.  In doing so, we lose customers because they need to install the plug-in.  There is no metric at this point in time to help us extrapolate the difference.  There is a reasonable risk involved with using such cutting-edge technology.  We will use it when browser penetration is high enough, yet browser penetration won’t grow if sites like ours don’t use Silverlight.

Ah Well

I’m a technology risk taker.  I live on the bleeding edge.  I run Exchange 2010 beta, on Server 2008 virtualized on Hyper-V, with IIS7 running this site, browsed by IE8 on Windows 7 RC, and authored in Office 2007 (2010 if Microsoft would give me the flippin bits!).  The company, not so much.  Risk is good – as long as you can mitigate it properly.  I can manage my risk, as it’s not the end of the world is something here crashes.  I don’t lose an audience.  If the company can’t market to it’s customers because the tools in use are too new, it will lose audience.  Period.  And that means lost revenue.

Maybe we can convince the exec’s in Phase II.