MIX 10 – First Impressions

Once of the interesting elements of this year’s MIX is the complete domination of Twitter as a medium for distributing updates. If you have been following me on Twitter (I’m @LACanuck), then you will already have heard a lot about the Windows Phone 7 development announcements. However, as useful as Twitter is, it’s not really a place for opinion. Unless your opinions fit into <140 characters. Mine don’t

Windows Phone

There is no question that there is a lot of buzz around developing apps for the Windows Phone 7. This is completely understandable, as WP7 allows Silverlight developers the ability to create applications for the phone. According to Scott Gu’s keynote, there is only “one Silverlight”. That is to say that applications that run on the browser should also be able to run on WP7.

Now there is going to be a little bit of a reality check for that statement, especially as we hit Silverlight 4. I’m not sure, for example, if Silverlight as running on WP7 has the concept of a trusted application. I suspect that it doesn’t, although I’m open to correction if my assumption is misplaced.

But working solely within the security sandbox is not the only real difference. Specifically, the design of a WP7 application is very different than a Web application. The size of the design surface is, naturally, much smaller on the WP7. And the UI needs to consider that main UI gesture is touching, a paradigm that doesn’t apply to Web applications. All of this is to say that while, theoretically, the same application could run on both platforms, it’s much more likely that different views will be used by the different targets. If nothing else screams that you should be using MVVM as a design pattern for Silverlight, this will.


Once you see what’s possible in the WP7 environment, the excitement regarding creating applications is easy to understand. And not only are the apps exciting, so too is the ability to monetize your application. Microsoft will be making a Marketplace available so that you can sell your apps on-line. Given how well Microsoft has done with community driven marketplaces, I have no doubt this will be successful.

But what about your own personal applications? What if you want to develop a WP7 application that is used by your mobile sales force? At the moment, the answer seems to be that you’re out of luck. This might change before it goes live, but the word that I’m hearing is that the only way to get apps onto your phone is through the Marketplace.

Now, that’s not completely accurate. If you have Visual Studio 2010, you can deploy your application to a physically connected phone. However, the time to live for applications which have been deployed in such a matter is limited, To, approximately, a month. After which the app would need to be redeployed.

I’m not a fan of this. In fact, in my mind ,it drops the collection of Silverlight developers who might write WP7 apps by 50%. At least. I can take guesses at the reason why this limitation is the case, but still, it’s not what I was hoping for. The term for what I’m looking for is ‘siloed’ deployment’ (that is, deployment only for people in a particular silo) and I’m hoping that it becomes part of the released version of WP7 before it goes live with the first version.

While there is more of interest that is being revealed here, this is probably a decent start. And I’ll be both blogging and tweeting as much as I can while I’m here at MIX ‘10

The Benefits of Windows Azure

The age of cloud computing is fast approaching. Or at least that's what the numerous vendors of cloud computing would have you believe. The challenge that you (and all developers) face is to determine just what cloud computing is and how you should take advantage of it. Not to mention whether you even should take advantage of it.

While there is little agreement on exactly what constitutes 'cloud computing', there is a consensus that the technology is a paradigm shift for developers. And like pretty much every paradigm shift there is going to be some hype involved. People will recommend moving immediately to the technology en masse. People will suggest that cloud computing has the ability to solve all that is wrong with your Web site. Not surprisingly, neither of these statements is true.

And, as with many other paradigm shifts, the reality is less impactful and slower to arrive than the hype would have you believe. So before you start down this supposedly obvious ‘path to the future of computing’, it's important to have a good sense of what the gains will be. Let's consider some of the benefits that cloud computing offers.

Instant Scalability

If you are tasked with building a customer-facing Web site, then one of the main concerns is scalability. Regardless of the type of site being created, there will be considerable intellectual energy spent determining how to configure the Web servers to maximize the up-time. And in many cases the infrastructure design must also consider issues not related solely to reliability. The ability to handle peak times, which can be a large multiple of the normal level of activity, must also be designed into the architecture.

These spikes in usage come in a couple of different varieties. Sometimes, the spikes come at predictable times. Think of the holiday season for a retail site or a price sale for a travel site. Sometimes the spikes cannot be predetermined, such as a breaking news event for a current events site. But regardless of the type of spikes, the infrastructure architect must create an infrastructure that is capable of absorbing these variations in stride. The result, especially if the peak is 10 times or higher than the average load, is that extra (and mostly unused) capacity must be built into the design. Capacity that must be paid for, yet remains idle.

Into this picture comes cloud computing. Regardless of the cloud platform for which you develop, the ability to scale up and down with the click of a mouse is readily available. For Windows Azure, there are a number of different scalability points, including the number of virtual machines assigned to the application, the number of CPUs in each of the virtual machines, and so on. Within the application itself, you as the designer would have already partitioned the application into the various roles that are then deployed onto the virtual machines.

As the demand on the Web site increases, additional machines, CPUs or roles can be added to ensure a consistency of responsiveness through all of the loads. More importantly, when demand decreases, the resources can be removed. Since these settings form the basis for price paid for the cloud computing service, companies will end up paying only for the capacity that they require.

The price to be paid for this flexibility is that mostly that the application needs to be designed with the necessary roles in mind. As well, there are other constructs (such as the AppFabric and the ServiceBus) and technologies (such as WCF) that need to be mastered and integrated into the application. As a result, it is easier to build a Web application that works with Windows Azure right from the start. This is not to say that existing Web applications can’t be refactored to take advantage of the cloud…they certainly can. But starting from scratch allows you to take full advantage of the benefits offered by Azure.

Expandable Storage

The ability to avoid idle resources is not the only appeal of cloud computing. Another resource that can be virtualized for most applications is the database. Just like the CPU, database usage can rise and fall with the whims and patterns of the user base. And the fact is that the vast majority of business databases do little more that grow in size as time goes one. Again, infrastructure architects need to consider both growth rate and usage patterns as they allocate resources to the database servers. As with the machine-level resources, over-capacity must be designed into the architecture. By using a database hosted in the cloud, the allocation of disk space and processing power can be modified on an as-needed basis. And you, as the consumer, pay only for the space and power that you use.

There are some additional thoughts that need to be given to the use of a cloud database. In order to provide the described flexibility, cloud database providers freely move data from one server to another. As a result, there must be a fairly high level of trust in the provider, particularly if the data is sensitive in nature. For the traditional non-cloud database, the owner of the Web site maintains physical control over the data (by virtue of their physical control over the database servers). Even if the server is hosted at a co-location facility, the Web site owner ‘knows’ where the data is at all times.

When the data is persisted to the cloud, however, this is no longer the case. Now the data is physically in control of the cloud provider. The owner has no idea on which server the data is stored. Or even, when you get right down to it, which city. For some companies, this is a level of trust well beyond what they might have been comfortable with in the past.

As a person who lives abroad, (I’m from Canada), there is one more consideration: privacy. Data privacy laws vary from country to country. When data is stored ‘in the cloud’, there is little weight given to the physical location of the data. After all, the actual location has been virtualized out through the cloud concept. Information can (and does) move across national boundaries based on the requirements of the application. And when data resides in another country, it may very well be subject to the privacy laws of that country. If those laws are significantly different than your own, you might need to modify your corporate policies or the Web application itself to address whichever requirements are more stringent. This sort of situation brings rise to a common approach to cloud storage – data segregation.

In data segregation, the data required by the Web application is stored in multiple locations. Data that is static and/or not particularly sensitive is stored in the cloud. Data that is sensitive is stored in a traditional (and more subject to owner control) location. Naturally, the Web application needs to be structured to combine the data from the different sources. And the traditionally located data needs to be stored in an infrastructure that is reliable and scalable…with all of the problems that the implementation of those features entail.

The functionality offered by cloud computing will be enticing to some, but definitely not all, Web sites. For those who fit the target audience (Web sites that have a wide fluctuation in usage patterns) or just those who want to outsource their Internet infrastructure, cloud computing is definitely appealing. For developers of these sites, platforms such as Windows Azure represents a significant change in the necessary development techniques. And even with the inherent complexity, the shift to cloud computing is beneficial to developers (the resulting applications tend to be more modular, composable and testable), enough to make further exploration of the details worthwhile.

Join ObjectSharp for Silverlight on the Silver Screen – July 9 – Scotiabank Theatre Toronto

Silverlight 3 will soon be released.  And to properly celebrate the excitement of its release, ObjectSharp is teaming up with Microsoft to present an action-packed first look at the UX3 platform, live from the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto. 

As one of the first companies to be featured on Microsoft’s Silverlight gallery, our consultants will share with you their deep knowledge of the next generation of tools.  Whether you are a designer, developer, or purely a marketing geek, you will not want to miss this blockbuster event.  You will see feature-rich demonstrations of Silverlight, Expression Blend, SketchFlow, and  Windows 7 touch technology.  You will also see how these tools can be used to dazzle your customers and gain attention for your brand.







For Developers and Designers:

  • See in-depth demonstrations of Silverlight 3, Expression Blend, and Windows 7 touch technology.
  • Learn how to quickly design user interactions with Microsoft SketchFlow
  • Take Designer/Developer work flow to the next level with Visual Studio Team System
  • Learn how to cut off your bosses head off and paste it on other people’s bodies with Expression Studio


For CTOs and Marketing Managers

  • Understand the benefits of creating line-of-business applications with Silverlight and .NET RIA Services
  • Learn how to integrate Rich Media and Advertising with the Microsoft Platform
  • See Touch technology and natural user interfaces bring kiosk applications to life with Windows 7 and WPF

Technologies You Will See:

  • Silverlight 3 featuring WPF & XAML
  • Expression Blend 3 featuring SketchFlow
  • Windows 7 featuring Touch
  • Microsoft Office SharePoint System 2007 (MOSS) for external facing web sites
  • Visual Studio 2010 Team System

Register Online   |   Watch the Movie Trailer

Getting Trained in an Economic Downturn

I’m sure that, for the vast majority of the readers of my blog, becoming more productive with your programming tools is a desirable goal. Not all developers go out of their way to advance their skills, but the very fact that you read blogs means that getting better is of interest to you. And, for most companies, they would also like you to make better use of your existing tools. It’s certainly obvious that it’s in your company’s best interest for this to happen, even if they don’t go out of their way to explicitly advance your skills.

And this is the ugly truth for most companies. In the best of times, a large number of companies don’t provide any significant budget for formal training. Usually developers are expected to pick up any new skills on their own time. Or, worse, they are expected to apply new technologies without spending any ‘exploratory’ time with them. As most of your are aware, the first time you try a new technology, the result is usually only partially successful. Only after you have worked with it a few times does it become possible to take full advantage of it. And yet, management is reluctant to pay for training classes, tech conferences, or even a programming book that will help you get ‘into the zone’ for the stuff that would make a difference in your day-to-day efforts. Here's a few suggestions that might, possibly get your manager to approve educational expenses, even in the economic conditions that exist today.

Working with Books

Over the years, I have worked with a number of different companies. Each of them takes a slightly different view of what appropriate training costs are. For companies that have a large number of developers and a small educational budget, sometimes books are all that fit. For some companies, creating a library of programming books is a viable books. Your company could purchase well-reviewed (reviews are easy to find on Amazon) programming books on the relevant topics. Employees could then ‘borrow’ books that were appropriate to their current tasks. The books end up being purchased just once, but can be shared between developers as the need arises.

A more high-tech solution to the problem can be achieved with a solution to the on-line technology book site Safari. Safari allows for books to be searched electronically and even be downloaded (in a PDF format) or even printed on an as needed basis. This is a decent mix between the need to search for a specific answer and still being able to read a book cover-to-cover when called for.

However, a corporate library is not always the best solution. Finding answers in a book requires, in many cases, that you have some inkling of the solution beforehand. At a minimum, you need to frame your query appropriately, something that is as much art as science. And the pace of technology advances means that books are almost always going to lag new technology and best practices by a period of months, if not years.

Selling Management on Training: Speak Their Language

When you want to convince your boss to let you go to a conference or attend a course, the first thing to do is look at the expenditure from their perspective. After all, the cost of the training is an expense to them. If there is no corresponding benefit, it becomes difficult to justify spending the monies. And, ultimately, you need to convince management that the benefits that they will gain are more than the money that they will spend.

In general, you will find that the attitude that a company has towards the training of developers is dictated by how the company makes money and who is responsible for helping to making that money. Usually, companies whose product is technology-based tend to be better at providing and paying for skill improvements for their employees. When developers productivity is closely aligned with corporate revenues, it is easier to get the boss’ attention. However, if you work on an application that has no direct correlation with how the company makes money, you’re much more likely to face an uphill battle.

But regardless of where you fit in this spectrum, focus your arguments on what they get out of sending you across town or across the country. Make the conversation about their Return on Investment. Show that the training will have concrete and immediate value to the company and you’re a lot closer to getting approval.

One way that you might be able to do this is to offer to share materials and experiences with your team upon return. At ObjectSharp, we call these sessions ‘Lunch & Learns”. You many know them as “Brown Bag Training”. By offering to present such a session after your conference or course, your company gets to spread some of the benefits of sending one person on training across multiple people. And your team benefits from having the new technologies couched in terms that are directly relevant to your environment.

In some cases, it’s also possible to get the trainer to offer to help with these sessions. This is something that ObjectSharp offers to attendees of our courses. We’re more than happy to have one of our instructors speak to your company about the newest technologies. While any course is on-going, instructors work hard to make the content relevant to you. To accomplish this, we ask about the kinds of projects that are being worked on and where the technology will be applied. So by having an ObjectSharp instructor give the Lunch & Learn, you get a person who is well-versed in the technology, but who also has a basic understanding of how it will fit into your corporate development plans.

You might consider shouldering some of the burden of training yourself. I don’t necessarily mean to pay for it directly. But if you take your time to attend user group meetings and Code Camps (both of which take place in non-work hours), you show a dedication to improving your skills that might make a difference. At a minimum, you will get some insight into the latest technologies, even if it’s not quite the same personalized and intensive hand-on experience that going on a course might be.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with one final, and surprisingly creative, argument. One of the most common questions we get from potential training clients is 'What if I train our developers and they leave?'" Our answer is invariably 'What if you don’t train them and they stay?' This usually gets an 'Aha' moment from management, followed by a realization that perhaps investing more in staff development might not be quite the pure expense that they think.

Data Bondage in WPF presentation at Toronto Code Camp

My final presentation in my April World Speaking tour was at the Toronto Code Camp this afternoon. As always, the code camp was a huge success. The efforts of many people went into making it so, but the organization was top notch.

As part of the lead-up to my presentation, Joey de Villa made good on a promise to wear Microsoft branded assless chaps. And he even regaled the crowd with his version of Hit Me With Your Best Shot, a choice completely in character with the theme of the presentation.

As for the presentation, it went very well. Something like 70-80 people where there and I was pleased by the questions that were asked. I have always preferred an interactive audience because it means that they are probably listening. :)

As I promised at the end of the presentation, here are links to the slides and demos. Any questions are most welcome.

Slides: here

Demos: Download

Update: For those who want a more complete story surrounding the title of the presentation and the assless chaps references, check out Joey's blog post here.

Never Test Alone – Presentation at KWSQA Testing Conference

I finished presentation four of my April World Tour of the GTA earlier today. It was actually a co-presentation with Deb Forsyth and I was basically code-monkey and the 'developer’ that she could point to with here ‘bad developer’ stories. This was an unusual conference for me, in that I was a lone developer in a room full of testers. Daniel never had it so bad with the lions. :)

Anyway, as I mentioned in the presentation, the slides are now available for download at the following link. As always, questions are welcomed.

Slides – Download

Dropping Cookies in IE7

I was asked an unusual question yesterday about cookies, Silverlight and WCF. The scenario was that a Silverlight application was being used in a consumer-facing situation. The application itself communicates with the server using WCF. The service which is the target of the communication uses ASP.NET Authentication to authenticate the user. It’s an implementation detail (but critical to this post) that the method of storing the authentication token is a cookie called .ASPXAUTH.

In a normal (that is, working) scenario with Silverlight, the credentials are sent to the server and an .ASPXAUTH cookie is returned. The browser strips off the cookie and stores it. On any subsequent requests, Silverlight creates a request and sends it the the server through the browser’s networking API. The browser is responsible for determining which, if any, cookies should be send with the request and adding them to the outgoing header. In other words, the Silverlight application has no specific knowledge of or interaction with the .ASPXAUTH cookie.

As you would expect, this mechanism works the vast majority of the time. If it didn’t, I think it would have been a significant story long before now. But my questioner was running into a situation where the Silverlight application was unable to communicate with the server even after authentication was performed. What’s worse, this behavior was only happening on IE7. When Silverlight was run through Firefox, it worked exactly as it was supposed to.

The diagnostic step in a situation like this is to use Fiddler (or whatever your favorite TCP trace application is) to view the raw messages. And what was seen is that although the authentication response had the .ASPXAUTH cookie in it, any requests sent back to the server after authentication did not. Given when I’ve already explained about the processing of cookies with Silverlight requests, this eliminates the Silverlight application as the most likely culprit. But it also makes one scratch your head, as we can be pretty certain it’s not a widespread failure of IE7 to process cookies.

The answer likes in a strange bug in IE7. It turns out that if a domain name has a underscore in it, IE7 doesn’t persist the cookies. Let me repeat that, because it’s such a bizarre sounding problem. In IE7, if the domain name has an underscore (‘_’) in it, then any cookies returned from the domain will not be persisted. Which also means that subsequent requests will be ‘cookie-free’.

I’m guessing that most domain names don’t have an underscore, which is why this bug didn’t get widespread notice. In this particular case, the domain was one used for development, which would keep the problem from being a production issue. But I have no reason to believe that the bug would be restricted to a local problem. Deploy a ‘underscored’ domain name to the public internet and no authentication, shopping carts or other state information can be saved.

Fortunately, the solution was a simple one. If the domain name in the endpoint configuration is replaced with the raw IP address, IE7 is more than happy to save the cookie. I wouldn’t be surprise if an entry in your local hosts file would have the same effect. And the final solution would be to have your domain administrator create a DNS Alias entry…one that doesn’t have an underscore, of course.

Code Contracts at Toronto VB User Group

On Wednesday past, I did a Code Contracts presentation to the Toronto Visual Basic User Group. It was a continuation of my whirlwind ‘April Presentation Tour’, in that it was my third presentation in a week and the third of five that I’m doing in April. Tee shirts for the April Presentation Tour were available for sale from vendors as you left the arena

I have posted the slides and the source code to the following links:

Slides: Here

Source Code: Here

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a comment or an email message.

What’s New in Silverlight 3 at the Toronto Silverlight User Group

This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to present on Silverlight 3 to the Toronto Silverlight User Group. It was my first time presenting to the group and I was impressed by the number of attendees (I would say 30-40) who managed to hang around on the Thursday evening before a long weekend.

As promised, I have posted the slides and the source code to the following links:

Slides: Here

Source Code: Here

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a comment or an email message.

Design 101 – The Color Wheel

One of the most common comments from Silverlight and WPF developers is their lack of design sense. Over the next little while, I’ll be posting (interspersed with other topics) on some of the basics of color theory and how they can be applied to WPF and Silverlight.

To start with, let’s talk about one of the fundamental artifacts of color theory – the color wheel.

Color WheelOriginally conceived by Sir Isaac Newton, color wheel is a representation of the colors in the visual spectrum. In the representation, the three primary colors are placed equidistant from one another. The gaps between the the primary colors is then filled with with secondary and tertiary colors.

Now, already I’ve used three terms, only one of which I would expect you to be familiar with. Primary colors (red, blue and yellow) are something that we learned about in elementary school. Secondary colors (orange, green and violet) are created by combining the primary colors. Tertiary colors are those that are formed by combining primary colors with secondary colors.

So now that we have a color wheel, what good is it? Well, it helps identify harmonious colors. When selecting colors to use in a user interface, it is important so select colors that are, in combination, pleasing to the eye. Personally, I understand the challenge to this. As a person born without the color sense gene, I think that pink and lime green go well together. But apparently, I’m in the minority. :)

There are numerous theories about the combinations of colors that promote harmony. We’ll look at some of them in more detail in upcoming blog entries, but to give you a second, two of the most commonly used ones are complimentary and analogous. Complimentary colors are found opposite one another on the wheel. For example, red-green, yellow-violet, and blue-orange are all complimentary. These colors promote stability and contrast in the image.

Analogous colors are sets of three colors that are adjacent to one another on the color wheel. In images using analogous colors, one of the colors tends to be the dominant one. The result is an image that appears to be saturated in the dominant color with the other colors offering a subtle nuances of difference.