Tuesday, December 09, 2008

PDC2008 - Day 4

My forth day at PDC was dominated by two very interesting sessions regarding RESTful web service design and creating textual domain specific languages with the new "M Grammar" which is part of the "Oslo" project.

RESTful Web Services

REST is a very interesting architectural style to create Web Services based on simple standards like plain HTTP, heavy use of URIs and simple data formats like XML, JSON or ATOM. RESTful services deliberately avoid the more complex WSDL/SOAP world and trust in the power of HTTP. This PDC showed, that Microsoft itself makes heavy use of the REST idea in several areas.

Azure and Live services use REST in combination with the ATOM Pub format in order to hyperlink entities in a uniform and simple way - thus leveraging possibilities for dynamic service clients.

The PDC session "WCF: Developing RESTful Services" by Steve Maine and his colleague Ron was one of the highlights at this PDC, because both speakers made a great job to outline the basic REST ideas and motivate the use of  this approach in combination with WCF. WCF itself supports REST with its WebHttpBinding since version 3.0. But the WCF team has just released an add-on package during PDC in order to further simplify the creation of solid RESTful services with WCF. The speakers showed some great demos on how to

  • use attributes in order to route HTTP verbs to the correct method
  • use newly created exception types to report correct HTTP status codes in a very .NET-friendly way
  • create services that easily expose and clients that consume your data via JSON (for AJAX clients) or ATOM pub for smart clients
  • how to use tools like Fiddler to inspect REST conversations
  • how WCF offers metadata for RESTful services via ATOM Pub

You should be able to find the add-on package in the meantime via http://msdn.microsoft.com/wcf/rest. I would also strongly recommend to watch the video of this great session, if you are interested in this topic.

"Oslo": Building textual DSLs

Chris Anderson and Giovanni Della-Libera gave a demo-focussed talk about "M Grammar" and its use to create your own textual DSL. They showed, what it takes to create a flexible textual DSL for telephone contacts like the following line:

contact: John Doe 2334-2345-222

The demo showed how to build up tokens, syntax trees, white-space handling, recursions etc. Chris and Giovanni revealed the real power of the "M Grammar" with several samples and created their contact language in an incremental fashion. Currently the usage of the DSL still seems in a very early stage - features like LINQ and dynamic types will need to be implemented before a final release.

The audience was very interested - many language gurus had deep questions regarding details of the new language and gave Microsoft lots of interesting ideas for the next months and years.

I'm very curios, where this journey will lead the development on the .NET platform - in my opinion it might have a big impact in how we develop in the future.


In my opinion "Oslo" was _the_ technical innovation at this PDC. I think the language and its tools will undergo heavy refactorings during the next 12 months - but it will be a big leap into the right direction.

Windows Azure and its services will help fast growing companies to host their environment and to avoid heavy investments in on-premise hardware. Azure and its Internet Service Bus are also a great opportunity to build supply-chain solutions or connect enterprises in a very elegant fashion - without  sacrificing security investments - Azure just federates between the custom already-established security systems. Azure also allows event-driven and pub-sub architectures between enterprises behind firewalls - which was hard to establish before without opening security holes.

Windows 7 is again a new Windows OS - and doesn't seem to be a BIG release from the perspective of a software engineer. But it will improve certain common problems like working in different networks etc. It will find its customers and make fewer problems than Vista, because the Vista device driver model isn't changed and Microsoft seems to have learnt some of the Vista lessons...

VSTS 2010 and .NET 4.0 will be very big releases. Microsoft pushes heavily in many different areas. WF is strongly improved and is used in many other products. The C# compiler will be heavily improved in v4. WPF and Silverlight merge stronger together and learn from each other. XAML is further improved and designed to be a solid basis for vast parts of the platform.

Last but not least: Microsoft apparently watches developments in the community and reacts quite fast (regarding the size of the company) to new trends like dynamic languages, REST and cloud or parallel computing - without sacrificing investments of the past. This makes the .NET platform a solid basis for application and service development, which will reach even higher maturity with v4.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

PDC2008 - Day 3

Microsoft Research Keynote

Day 3 of PDC was opened by Rick Rashid - lead of 800 researchers at Microsoft Research. Rick gave some interesting insight into his life and the current work of one of the largest research organizations of the world. Especially demos about world-wide telescope and SecondLight - a new version of the multi-touch Surface computer - were fascinating. But they were all topped by Matt MacLaurin and his Boku project - a graphical programming environment for children. It is designed to enable kids to program impressive little games using a game controller. Details and screen-shots can be found here.

Internet Service Bus

My next session was Clemens Vasters talking about Azure Services as an Internet Service Bus. Clemens did a great job in motivating the new cloud services and their technical details.

Central point is a service registry, which can be found at http://servicebus.windows.net/services/.

Services hosted on a local server can be registered in the web under this new domain. Service clients can address their calls to the servicebus directory, but are instantly re-routed to your local service implementation. This happens in a very intelligent fashion and depending on the binding you select. Clemens has some excellent graphics in his slide-deck illustrating the process in detail.

Azure services use the well-known WCF programming model, but are heavily based on web standards - thus enabling interop with Java, which Clemens promised to show in a session tomorrow...

The biggest advantage of the Azure service platform is the possibility to use it as a relay which establishes a direct, bidirectional connection between a client and a service despite firewalls and NAT. This is done via socket forwarding and port probing. Client and server only need to create outbound connections into the cloud in order to start communication. The rest of the job is done by the Azure fabric, which snaps the sockets to match each other and gets out of the way of the normal service communication. This all can and shall be done with message level security. Authentication and authorization features are also provided, their use is strongly recommended.

These features finally enable secure pub-sub solutions between enterprises. Clemens called it "pervasive, secure connectivity for services" and a "DMZ in the sky"...

I recommend watching the video of this excellent presentation as soon as it is available online!

VSTS 2010 Architect Edition

My next topic was an interesting discussion with Peter Provost, Jeff Brown, Christian Binder and my colleague and VSTS-specialist Klaus Liebe regarding the future of VSTS modeling, model merging and other very interesting stuff regarding VSTS project handling in general. It was great fun having direct influence onto an important area of the tool. Peter's presentation later on showed the vast interest of many developers regarding the new modeling features in VSTS 2010 architect edition. Now we got the newest CTP bits and can have a closer look into the newly created functionality.

Offline-enabled Data Services

Another very interesting session today was by Pablo Castro who introduced his project "Astoria offline". The presentation showed some very interesting problems if you want to create an Outlook-like occasionally connected system. The project team wants to create a solution to make services available offline by using technologies like ADO.NET data services (again REST...), Microsoft Sync Framework and the ADO.NET Entity Framework. Nice point is, that the solution is created with certain building blocks and you can replace the different technologies with technologies of your choice as long as you meet certain criteria.

Work on this project is still in a very early stage, but the guys definitely take the right direction to tackle these heavy problems of modern application design.

PDC2008 - Day 2

Keynotes 2 & 3

The second PDC day was again introduced by Ray Ozzie. The main topic of the keynote was to create holistic solutions for PC, Web and phones in order to create synergies and get the best out of the different devices. Ozzie and his colleagues introduced important new technologies as important blocks for this interesting vision on the Microsoft platform.

Demos of Windows 7, Azure Services, Live Mesh and the Web version of Office 14 showed interesting scenarios, how this idea might look like in the future.

Steve Sinofsky presented some fancy new features of Windows 7, most of them regarding the skinning, like a new task bar. But Windows 7 offers some really nice convenience features, we all would have needed since Windows XP:

A feature called "homegroup" distinguishes office and home environments for laptop users. This enables features like automatic swapping of a default printer - depending of the network you are currently working in. But "homegroup" offers more: One nice feature is a mechanisms to synchronize media and documents between all the different connected home devices. Thus it is possible to play music stored on other computers in the "homegroup".

A feature called "libraries" enables the user to create sort of  logical folders, which can be used to represent content from different physical folders at a common location in the explorer. One use case is to create a music library in order to scroll through music which is physically distributed in My music, an USB drive folder and a network folder, but presented in a common "library".

Next was Scott Guthrie showing off some different new technology stuff. Most interesting to me was that VS 2010 will be built with a completely new WPF-based GUI built on the Managed Extensibility Framework. This enables powerful extensions, especially for the code editor. ScottGu showed a small demo, in which he dynamically replaced the code documentation above the C# methods within the new code editor. Instead of the plain old
/// comments
he showed a nice embedded WPF control, which contained the comment text with hyperlinks into work items, that were referenced in the documentation text.

Another demo of Live Services and Live Mesh showed that Microsoft put also a lot of effort in these services in order to share data between devices, again through synchronization features.

BBC gave an impressive show-case demo of their  iPlayer v2, which is based on Silverlight technology and enables media consumption "on demand" and sharing of playlists and favorites between you and your friends in a very comfortable way.

Office 14 finally contains a Web edition. Demos for Office OneNote, Word and Excel showed that different users can work simultaneously on the same documents- regardless wether the use the desktop or web version of Office. Changed parts of the document are highlighted in the other user's application with the name of the other user. Changes are synchronized in an asynchronous fashion.

The third keynote of this PDC was given by Chris Anderson and Don Box. The session was extremely code-centric and showed the RESTful API experience if you want to address the new Windows Azure Services. Don and Chris generally are great presenters, but this time lost their audience several times, because they didn't motivate their quite entertaining show...

A modeling framework called "Oslo"

The remainder of my day was focused with the new modeling framework "Oslo". Oslo wasn't really mentioned in any of the keynotes, but might be one of the "big things" in the next years.

This new framework can be used to design textual and graphical Domain Specific Languages. New tools code-named "IntelliPad" and "Quadrant" help developers to design their own language and its graphical representation. The languages and their schema are defined using a new structural language called "M" which looks similar to JSON. "M" is compiled into a relational representation using the M compiler. The result is stored in a database in order to enable powerful queries against the models.

Oslo is still in a pre-alpha version - yet Microsoft starts to use it heavily in order to create its own DSLs for certain key areas. Prominent examples are MService to create a very short definition of service endpoints and MEntity - a very compact form of expressing object-relational mappings for the Microsoft Entity Framework.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

PDC2008 - Day 1


The first PDC conference day was opened with a key note by Ray Ozzie et. al. revealing Windows Azure - the new MS cloud  OS.
Windows Azure will serve as a third tier complementing the first (desktop & mobile clients) and second (enterprise servers) tiers. The presentation finally clarified Microsoft's Software+Service strategy - .NET developers will be enabled to enrich their applications with cloud services - either written by themselves and hosted on Microsoft's data centers or using Microsoft's Azure Service offerings. Identity federation might be one of the most interesting services leveraging enterprises' local Active Directory infrastructure as part of a claim-based, globally federated identity management system used "in the cloud". All in all the key-note was very focused on infrastructure aspects - thus it wasn't as thrilling to most attendees as other PDC keynotes in the past. Nevertheless it shows the big shift in Microsoft's business from product to service offerings - as I already expected in my post yesterday.

VSTS 2010

Cameron Skinner gave several nice demos regarding some key scenarios, VSTS 2010 is built to solve. We heard about these "Rosario" features now for some time, but it was quite interesting to see them running live. Main focus of VSTS 2010 lies in testing and architecture capabilities. One of the coolest features is to reproduce a bug found during a tester session on the developer machine. The developer is supported by the bug work item containing several attachments - containing screen shots and a video showing what the tester was doing and experiencing during the test session. The developer can jump into the video at every test step. Historical debugging information with call stack and context information is supplied - the developer can see visually and code-wise what was happening during the test session. This feature obviously still needs some some tuning - but one could see clearly the path that is chosen.

I think architects will love VSTS 2010. It supports UML 2.1 diagrams and makes heavy use of modeling in several places. There are code-centric features like generating sequence diagrams from code  - a great basis for re-engineering tasks. VSTS also supports model-centric design - e,g. by providing layer diagrams which can formulate your intended dependency graph between your different software layers - these can now be enforced via  build strategies. As soon as a developer violates your architecture rules by using a reference to an assembly residing in a forbidden layer you can let the build break. Great feature for pro-active quality management.

C# 4.0

Anders Hejlsberg was once again my personal highlight of the PDC day. He's one of the few speakers being very profound in his message and equally smart in his presentation technique and motivation for his topics. Anders spoke about multi-paradigm requirements for programming languages and how C# 4.0 will cope with modern aspects like dynamic typing, declarative programming and concurrent computing. Especially the demos regarding the new dynamic keyword in C# 4.0 impressed the audience. This simplifies interoperability with dynamic languages like Ruby or Python, but also tremendously improves COM inter-op scenarios. I strongly recommend watching the recorded video of this PDC session!


My next session was about ASP.NET MVC. I didn't learn anything tremendously new, but all my feelings about these bits were supported - this is cool stuff, which has to be watched closely. It is built by a small team in an incremental fashion and heavy community support and reviewing. ASP.NET MVC will be released end of year 2008 as an ASP.NET add-on. All the interesting aspects of Rails are ported to the .NET world leveraging the REST-approach, DRY and Convention over configuration. ASP.NET MVC is going into the right direction - the only problem is: forget about your well-known ASP.NET controls - this is a different world. Instead Microsoft trusts heavily in jQuery - an open-source  JavaScript library which now seems to become very important and can be used to implement some of the Web 2.0 glitter...

WF 4.0

This was my last session for today. It started quite high-level, but revealed some important news: My bad feelings about the current and - in my opinion - overloaded and complex WF design aspects in .NET 3.0 and 3.5 were supported. The team has decided to completely re-write the WF runtime for v4! It is now built on "Oslo" and the new modeling language "M", which will be revealed in greater detail in the keynote tomorrow morning.

Even the workflow designers now look completely different - they are built with WPF  technology. Workflows can now be expressed either graphically or textually be a specific DSL. Custom Activity design is claimed to be extremely simplified in comparison with the previous WF versions. Performance of the runtime is said to be increased by a factor of 10 to 100 - depending on the workflow scenario. Let's see how these promises behave in development reality...

Monday, October 27, 2008

PDC 2008 opened: "Think way outside the box!"

PDC 2008 was opened today with its pre-conference. The agenda looks pretty "cloudy" and even the posters show clouds - see below.


What a shift for a company like Microsoft - the cloud and verbs like [scale], [interoperate] and [extend] might be more important than the announcement of Windows 7?!

I was attending the WPF pre-conference session held by Windows GUI guru Charles Petzold.


Petzold gave the audience detailed and completely powerpoint-free demonstrations about his experiences with the WPF object model, best practices in control and template design, talked a lot about dependency properties and showed the enormous power of XAML scripting. It was quite fun watching him showing the basic concepts using his XAML Cruncher - even if he didn't mention any groundbreaking new stuff for WPF experts...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

REST versus WS* - a wonderful parable!

Have a look at this wonderful parable. There is much truth in it...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Software Factories in practice...

My (German) talk at the "Microsoft Launch 2008" about my experiences with software factories during the last years has been published as a video by Microsoft. You will find it here.

Finally arRESTed...

It took me some time to understand the real benefits of RESTful architectures, but a combination of good books about Rails and RESTful WebServices, current project issues and this podcast filled the final gap to understand the benefits...

The idea of resource-centered, URI-based design alone brings real power to many kinds of applications. I'm just considering the possibility to address every important entity in our system by a simple URI - and my project mates seem to be pleased by this idea... 

PDC 2008 - see you in L.A.

I just registered for PDC 2008...  This will be my second visit to this great conference after 5 years of waiting for and finally using technologies Microsoft promised at PDC 2003.

Last time they told us about Windows "Longhorn", technologies like Avalon or Indigo. Vista, WPF and WCF became reality, WinFS and ObjectSpaces didn't make it ;-)

It was great fun to see guys like Don Box or Aaron Skonnard in several sessions and discuss with Andres Heilsberg about inheritence mechanisms of C# attributes.

This time we'll hear a lot about services in "the cloud" - it will be fun!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Ruby on Rails was the hot topic @ OOP 2008

Rails was one of the hot topics @ OOP 2008 conference in Munich. It was amazing. .NET and Java guys alike were fascinated by different success stories about Rails and its "convention over configuration" paradigm.

Escpecially Dan North from Thoughtworks gave an impressing talk (without Powerpoint slides) about Rails being ready for the enterprise - or vice versa. He didn't forget to point out critical aspects of "hype technologies" like rails for long-term applications. What will happen in two years with this kind of framework, when famous front-runners like the pragmatic programmers Andy and Dave have detected more interesting technology?

This interesting aspect was further pushed in a follow-up discussion I had with one of our Ruby guys at Zühlke: Vassilis pointed out, that currently several new Ruby frameworks are created to cope with the faults built into Rails...

In the meantime convention over configuration has also reached the "big players". It will be very interesting to watch, how the success of Rails will affect future versions of .NET and JEE...

Microsofts DLR will be the first step into that direction.