Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Condensed notes from the Build about where Microsoft technology is going over the next year

Here is a summary of what I learned at the Build. I went to a lot of trouble this year to attend this conference which was not easy considering that the agenda was empty up to the last minute. But it was certainly worth while because Microsoft reveled where it is going with its technology which included a unified user experience from mobile devices through to large television sized devices.

CNN “Microsoft unveils a radically redesigned Windows 8”

This technology will only be available in about a year from now, probably industry will adopt this in perhaps 2 years from now. This conference is important because no strategy would be complete without an idea of where Windows is going because it is our main operating system. It is necessary because our software engineers need to gather the skills needed to take advantage of this technology and it is necessary in order to make informed decisions over if and how to integrate other technology such as iPhone and iPad.

Windows 8 Metro Style

We can expect a shift towards touch base applications over the coming years. Microsoft is of the opinion that all screens will be touched enabled and the ones that are not will feel antiquated when used. To make use of the Windows 8 metro style the user will have to adapt by learning new gestures and become familiar with the concept of having a less cluttered desktop using active Tiles. This means a “Re imagine your application” when making an application in Metro style. It was emphasized that there are a number of applications where the chrome style is simply the most appropriate meaning that this style of UI will continued to be supported. The difference between metro and chrome will go along the lines of the difference between a DOS prompt and Windows ie an expert system that requires training to a intuitive system that requires minimal training. Chrome seems to be based on the philosophy that “Less is more”.

Performance and energy saving has become a key factor in the design of Windows 8. A cold start up takes about 20 seconds. To make this possible the number of running processes has been minimized and that tasks that are not currently in view are suspended. This has an impact on the design and development of applications because they only have a few seconds to persist there state before the task is suspended. It is now possible to boot a Windows 8 client directly from a USB memory stick. Also the first bleeding edge problems with VS are coming to light eg


There are some features that may take more time to be adopted by the industry. Such as location aware applications that can make use of local devices or the touch sensor that perform a kind of electronic hand shake and setup a link between the 2 devices for collaboration or simply to exchange an electronic business card.

The Windows 8 user experience is based on a fast and fluid immersive and full screen user experience. Applications communicate with each other through “charms” that are implemented via shared contracts. The same intuitive interface will be used across all Windows devices from mobile devices through desk tops and televisions.

The result is a non cluttered canvas with controls. Commands that are frequently used go on the canvas, all others are revealed through the edge gestures. The metro style desktop consists of Tiles that provide simple text or images via pre defined templates and come in 2 sizes. Secondary tiles are created by pinning the content of the application and have the same capabilities as the main tile. They provide a deep link within the application. Live tiles keep people connected to your app and male it more likely the application is put on the first page.

Notifications appear via a toaster icon that appears for a short period of time and user must opt onto it. They use Windows Push Notification Service WNS and can update any time your application is running

There is a new layer that sits directly on the Windows Kernal called WinRT. This is a clean API that has no duplication of Runtime API and all obsolete or inapplicable APIs have been removed. Metro style apps for c# and VB.net can interact directly with WinRT APIs or via .Net for Metro style apps via the CLS and Win32 APIs.

To publish a metro app there is a pipeline of checks that guarantee that an application quality. This consists of Pre Processing, Security tests, Technical Compliance, Content compliance, Signing and publishing.

x86, 64, and ARM processors will all be supported. This has a big positive implication that all mobile devices running on ARM processors will support these applications.

No solid time line was given. Some guesses included perhaps it being available about this time next year. The next milestone is Beta, the RC, then RTM and then GA

Windows 8 Server

I did not attend many Windows 8 server sessions. But a lot of progress has been made on performance. I also believe that the HyperV virtualization has been improved by lessons learned in Azure. This is a way to make low cost hard disks available in a SAN. This can perform very fast because it is possible to make use of more than 1 network card through teaming. It is also possible to change a system drive on the fly.
.Net 4.5

In the key note it is really sure that Silverlight is definitely not dead. Microsoft has been working on making it possible to program the UI in languages programmers might choose. This includes the HTML5/Java script as well as C++. Microsoft is in the process of making a metro style implementation of office. From what I could determine this is going to be made using HTML5 for the view part of the presentation layer and Java script as the model art of the view model. All this sits on WinRT APIs which sits directly on Window Kernel Services. At first site this has been misinterpreted last year as a move away from Silverlight. This is not the case because the idea is to allow the programmer to express themselves in any appropriate programming language and this was demonstrated by including demonstrations in C and C++. I asked some experts whether the HTML5/JavaScript implementation would use the MVVM pattern. The answer was that this question had been asked by a lot of people and that it should be possible but there are no examples for this yet.

Entity framework EF 4.5 now includes Enums, SQL Server and Azure features such as spatial functions
In .Net 4 data manipulation was made by first starting with the data and then setting up the computation. TPL Dataflow allows the computation to be first setup and then the data

Other Parallel Computing Additions

Combinators Task.WhenAll, Task.WhenAny
Timer integration Task.Delay(TimeSpan), CancellationTokenSource.CancelAfter(TimeSpan)
Task schedulingConcurrentExclusiveSchedulerPair
Fine-grained control DenyChildAttach, HideScheduler, LazyCancellation, EnumerablePartitionerOptions
PERFORMANCE (“it’s just faster”)
The garbage collector has been improved. A multi-cored JIT with pre-fetch options makes ASP.Net start 35% faster.

.Net 4.5 is an in place upgrade from .Net 4.0


Firstly VS2011 can open VS2010 project without changing the format.

There is a 3D editor that has the capability of breaking down each transformation that is made to a 3D object. It is not designed for creating these objects but can manipulate them. Improvements have been made on the IDE experience for C++ programmers. This includes unit tests, and color intellisence pickers etc.

Visual Studio 11 is the tool for Windows 8 and supports VB.NET, C#, C++ & HTML5/JS. There is a new designer Available today built on shared architecture with Expression Blend. When shelving changes information over which windows are open are saved together with the shelf set and are re established when opening the shelve set the windows are reopened in their original position. There is also a document well that avoids each time a file is clicked upon that a new document window is created. There is a XAML editor with IntelliSense. It is now possible to use C# code directly in Jscript and have changes in the generated HTML fed back into the code behind files.

There is a static code analysis feature that allows you to look and replace chunks of repeated code.
PowerPoint templates enable the mocking of an interactive UI.

Asynchronous programming is necessary for creating responsive fast and fluent applications. Here are some new features coming with .Net 4.5

Asynchronous programming models
Windows Runtime: IAsyncOperation
.NET Framework: Task
JavaScript: Promises
All are objects representing “ongoing operations”
All use callbacks to signal completion of operation
Challenge: Callbacks turn your code inside out
Insight: Automatic transformation to callbacks is possible

Asynchronous methods automatically transform normal code into a callback state machine eg

public async Task GetXmlAsync(string url) {
var client = new HttpClient();
var response = await client.GetAsync(url);
var text = response.Content.ReadAsString();
return XElement.Parse(text);

.Net 5.0 aka Project Roslyn

The .Net 5.0 JIT will be written in C#. This means that it will be possible to call APIs to the pipeline used to compile code. This pipeline comprises of 4 steps

1. Parser
2. Symbols / Meta data export
3. Binder
4. Emitter

Here’s an example

ScriptEngine engine = new ScriptEngine();
Session session = Session.Create();
Engine.Execute(“using System;, session);
Engine.Execute(“for(int I = 0; I < 10; i++) Console.WriteLine(i*i);”,session); Var f = (funcengine.Execute(“new Func(Sqr)”);
For (int i=0; i<10 i++) Console.WriteLine(f(i)); This might look strange but it could be used in allowing users to use a macro style interface to your application. In my case I doubt that I would use this but it is very interesting. I could imagine that this will allow mixing of languages that could be useful in creating fast code. There is also a command line Roslyn C# Compiler that runs in a similar style as for F# and includes intellisence and code tips. To create a reference to another assembly “er” is used, eg: Er “PresentationCore” Here’s an example of translating c# into VB Public VB.SytaxNode Covert( CS.SyntaxTree syntaxTree, IDictionary identifierMap = null,
Bool convertStrings =false)
Var text = syntaxTree.Text;
Var mode = syntaxTree.Root;
Var vbText = Convert(text, node, identifierMap, convertStrings);
Return VB.SyntaxTree.ParseCompilationUnit(vbText).Root;

There is also a feature for .Net 3.5 on demand that I believe means that we don’t need to install the .Net 3.5 framework when certain obsolete functions are required.

.Net 5 will be a fresh installation


I have met up with some HPC / Azure MVPs and discussed some of the problems that I encountered when making my cat model in the cloud. The problem was that I was not able to transfer a 60 GB VM into the cloud including a local SQL Server. The suggestion was to use SQL Azure and transfer data via blob storage. In the next couple of months there will be a release of HPC Server that runs of a standard worker role meaning that we don’t need to construct and maintain our own VM. For very large quantities of data we could consider speeding up the queries by using TriadLinq aka Linq to HPC. This works by producing a sealed data block that is replicated between multiple nodes and is then queried upon in parallel. In addition to the Windows server based HPC Scheduler there is an Azure based HPC Scheduler. These are useful because it means that we don’t need to write our own schedulers.

There was a demo of a PC with 4 water cooled graphics cards that had 2500 times the processing power of a Cray. The HPC team uses these machines for numerical tasks. Currently it takes a crack programmer to correctly program such an algorithm, the hope is that this will become abstracted away at some point in the future.


Azure is a very cheap, elastic and quickly configurable source of compute power and one that we really should take advantage of. I saw some presentations on debugging and branch caching.

ALM Application Life Cycle Management

Attendees of Build where given a golden ticket to an evaluation version of the SaaS version of Team Foundation Server 2010. This contains a many of Application Lifecyle Management features that are all a part of professional software engineering. The Application life cycle is based on 2 parts . The Development cycle where a product backlog is worked upon during sprints to create a working software asset. The Operations which consists of an Ops back log and monitoring. When a bug is discovered a corresponding requirement is made that is sent back to the development backlog. In addition to the existing ALM functions a Code review function was demonstrated in the context of a development team with inline or side by side code comparison

Currently both TFS Server and TFS SaaS are capable of:
Work items, Source Control and Build
Agile Product/Project Management
Test Case Management
Heterogeneous Development

TFS SaaS has the advantage when:
Near Zero setup and administration
Collaborate with anyone from anywhere

TFS Server has the advantage when
Virtual Test Lab Management
SharePoint Integration
Data Warehouse and Reporting

Thursday, 22 September 2011

User experience in an L39 Jet

This has got to be the ultimate user experience. I am sitting behind the pilot in this Russian designed L39 Jet. If anyone would like to try it is quite expensive but is something you will never forget. Here are some links:

My pilot was Dave Riggs who is a hollywood stunt pilot for films like XXX, Iron Man, Lord of War. We flew together with David LaFaille and did some combat flying and some low level flight avoiding radar in canion, by low level I mean we flew 4m of the ground. My stomach had a problem digesting this new user experience so we finished the day with some formation flying.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

First Impression of the Build

Just before the build started I had a chance to talk to a user experience MVP and to a company that has made some compelling applications for Health care and emergency services. This was quite fortunate because the majority of this conference is all about a revamp of the way that the user experiences Windows. Basically over the coming years there will be a shift towards touch based applications. The vision is that all screens will be touched enabled and the ones that are not will feel antiquated when used.

It was very interesting talking to Christian Moser before the conference. He is writing a book on User Experience where controls are represented by a kind of design pattern. For a control to be successful it’s use must be intuitive which means that it’s use should be common knowledge. This means that you should think twice before inventing a new way of interaction. In the context of Windows 8 this is going to be interesting because there are a new gestures that have been invented. Also the concept of having a less cluttered desktop with active tiles has an impact on the design of applications. I heard a lot the buzz word of “Re imagine your application”. There are a lot of sessions around this Metro style. It was also emphasized that for some applications the chrome style is simply the most appropriate UI and that this will be continued to be supported. While I was talking to Christian he mentioned that in his book he will be describing some aspects of expert users. Before the build the example on an expert user was the airline booking system which is a command line interface that requires a lot of training but is super efficient. I could imagine that the difference between metro and chrome would go down the same lines. Chrome seems to be based on the philosophy that “Less is more”, according to my friends at BlackMarble most users really appreciate something like this.

In the key note it is really sure that Silverlight is definitely not dead. In fact MS has been working on making it possible to program the UI in languages programmers might choose. This includes the HTML5/Java script as well as C++. Performance and energy saving has become a key factor in the design of Windows 8.

Before the conference I was talking to some friends at Black Marble about how an application can determine where it is. For example in a hospital application your device should know what other devices are nearby. This can be done in several ways. One way is to use the SID of the wireless network. This works quite well but there can be problems of leakage of signal from one zone to another. Another method that could be used is GPS repeaters. This is essentially like setting up a GPS satellite within your building. This could be particularly interesting for emergency services in conjunction with some mapping on a Surface 2 system to keep track of where there fire fighters are etc.

Part of the Windows 8 slate included a touch sensor. The concept is that two people are using an application and what to collaborate. So they physically touch there slates and an electronic handshake occurs that enables further communication over Bluetooth etc. This also works with sensors which I believe work by induction and need no battery. Another example is a business card that when touched opens a web browser to a website. Another example starts an application that if not present will install it first then run it.

There is really a lot going on. I have met up with some HPC / Azure MVPs and discussed some of the problems that I encounted when making my cat model in the cload. Basically my problem was that I was not able to transfer a 60 GB VM into the cloud including a local SQL Server. The suggestion was to use SQL Azure and transfer data via blob storage. Also to think about TriadLinq which is a way to spread out queries onto multiple VMs. The thing is Azure is simply way cheaper than using in house servers. So I will attend some sessions that will look at these in a little more detail. On the Slate PC is a pre beta version of Windows 8 and Visual Studio 2011. I have also got an evaluation version of the SaaS version of Team Foundation Server 2010 which contains a lot of Application Lifecyle Management features that are all a part of professional software engineering.