aspnet, net, conferences comments edit


After some decent beats spun on stage by a DJ, Bill Buxton came on stage to talk about design. Very engaging speaker. Started out talking about designers through history. I had no idea that one guy was responsible for the Hoover, Shell Oil, and Coca Cola logos. The theme: “Return on Experience.” The idea that you’re not just selling a product - an object- you’re selling an experience. I’ve heard this idea before and the example given was Starbucks - they don’t really sell a $5 cup of coffee, but people pay for it because they want the experience.

Interesting idea presented - we can sketch objects with relative ease, we can (with more effort) sketch more complex user interfaces… but we can’t sketch experience. Or, at least, not easily. We need to get to a spot where it is easy. Given the right tools, we might get there. Simple example - post-it notes to add more dimension to a UI design than if you had just one piece of flat paper, and adding arrows between the various states on the post-its can get you to a state diagram, but that’s not enough.

“If you don’t have as much detail in the transitions as you do in the states, you’re going to get it wrong.” – Bill Buxton

And there’s where the gap is. Without taking the transitions into account, the timings, we can’t see the whole picture. The experience is more than just some mockups.

We then got to see some of the design examples Buxton is talking about - the design, the experience. The Zune and a new “arc mouse” that looks kind of neat. Hmm.

The big question: How can we have a unified way to deliver rich interaction techniques over the web without having to do it mulitple times? (That is, develop the app once and have the same rich experience across all channels.) Good question, that. I’d love to see that answer.


ScottGu’s intro video is possibly the best. intro. video. evar.

Talk topic: Standards-based web, media, and RIA.

Expression Web 3 - Standards based web authoring, multi-language targeting, SFTP support, CSS diagnostics, and a new feature called “SuperPreview” that allows you to preview your web site in a broad range of browsers and figure out how to fix issues. SuperPreview is really cool. You can see previews from all the browsers on the system or browsers hosted in the cloud(!) right in the designer… and you can do “onion-skin” overlays so you can see the differences in how things render. A demo was given to show this and it’s hot. You can then use this to diagnose layout problems. Think about that - you can test IE6, IE7, and IE8 all on the same box. A free beta of SuperPreview as a standalone application will be made available starting today (download here).

ASP.NET MVC 1.0 - I expected this one as, I’m sure, did we all. RTM for this is shipping today. (Congrats, Phil!)

ASP.NET 4 and VS2010 - Three are a lot of improvements in ASP.NET 4.0, particularly in web forms, giving you more control over you rmarkup, and they’re integrating the new distributed caching platform. VS will get a big JavaScript tooling support update, lots of code focused improvements, SharePoint support will be built right in. You’ll be able to create different web.config files for your site so you can have different config files for debug vs. release - long overdue. I’ll have to check the sessions on this out. Very cool looking.

Web Server Extensions - They’re adding 8 extension updates for IIS7 starting today including database administration through the IIS admin tool, an applicaiton request routing proxy, a secure FTP server, and a few others.

Microsoft Web Platform Installer - Shipping version 2 of this today. It’s a single download you can put on your system that will install the latest web stack for developer boxes and production servers.

Windows Web App Gallery - They’re launching a new application gallery that lets you easily locate and install .NET-based web applications. (Yay, Subtext! You’re in the gallery!) The cool bit here is it integrates with the Microsoft Web Platform Installer so you can select from these apps and install not only the web stack, but the applications. This is awesome. (Shame on you for not telling us, Phil!)

Commerce Server 2009 - Released, got about a sentence-worth of lip service. That’s about how much interest I have in it, too.

Azure Services Platform - They’re adding features. FastCGI/PHP support, .NET full trust, SQL relational database support (so you can LINQ to SQL to the cloud)

BizSpark - Atwood and Spolsky got up to talk about StackOverflow as an illustration of success with the BizSpark startup assistance program. I’ve always found StackOverflow to be of questionable value (in many cases it could be replaced by Google) but I’m happy for their success. They’re using ASP.NET MVC and the two features they brought up were routing (which can be used with web forms, too) and performance, which… well, I haven’t seen any comparison stats on MVC vs. web forms. Either way, good for them.

Silverlight - By the numbers: 350 million Silverlight installs, 300K designers, 200+ sites. They’re releasing the new Virtual Earth SDK and the WorldWide Telescope (so you can look at the stars on any platform through SL). Netflix is using Silverlight to stream their movies over the net. Dude from Netflix got up to talk about the cross-platform awesomeness of Silverlight. Interesting part of this was the installers - 12% of people would come in and just not do the installer for the player, and 8% would fail the installer and never come back. Streaming through Silverlight gets Netflix out of the installer business. (Of course, they also pimped the DRM “PlayReady” scheme in SL.) Silverlight 3 will have GPU hardware acceleration, new codec support (H.264, AAC, MPEG-4), raw bitstream API (you can write your own codecs), and impoved logging for media analytics (for monetization). Perspective 3D, bitmap and pixel API, pixel shader effects, and Deep Zoom improvements.

Lots of improvements in IIS media services… which I suppose would be more interesting to me if I wasn’t in the online banking field. The demo of adaptive streaming was very interesting and I look forward to some of that making it to the Xbox 360 Netflix streaming app. No more buffering! Interesting stat - Beijing Olympics coverage delivered 3.4 petabytes of video content on Maybe my Home Server needs to hold a petabyte.

Oh, just saw a tweet come through - should be some Silverlight 3 bits and a book available after the keynote.

 Some application development improvements - deep linking, navigation, and SEO (so a search engine can index your Silverlight content(?)), ClearType support, multi-touch support, 100+ controls available, and library caching support (several apps can use a common library and the client only downloads it once). Nice demo of some of the new features in a Rolling Stone archive. (They’re also releasing a Playboy archive with 54 free issues.)

Expression Blend 3 - “SketchFlow” (which helps you prototype faster and work more in the way Bill Buxton talked about), Photoshop and Illustrator import, source code control support, and Intellisense for XAML/C#/VB. SketchFlow demo was good - I think it’ll save our UX folks a truckload of time in prototyping and getting feedback (as long as the feedback cycle doesn’t turn into one of those “50 people in a room watching one person mark up the prototype” sorts of things). The big thing I see here is the “sample data” feature - you can have XML sample data that your designers can use while making their prototype. This will be HUGE for us.

Silverlight 3 will have richer data validation controls and templates, Eclipse developer support, data-binding improvements, and multi-tier REST support. The validation thing is key - we’re looking at that on a project in our group right now.

SAP NetWeaver will start supporting Silverlight in a future release.

Silverlight 3 will include support for running applications outside the browser on both Windows and Mac. That’s going to be great. Write little companion applications for your web sites or whatever, write it all in Silverlight, and everything just works. (Adobe AIR style, right?) Built-in auto-update support, offline-aware app support (event you can handle when net status changes), and integration with the underlying OS (like the multi-touch feature mentioned).

There’s one beta of Silverlight 3 planned and it ships today. RTM will ship later this year. Oh, and did I mention it’s 40K smaller download size than Silverlight 2? Huge. Thinking for our project we should skip Silverlight 2 and go straight to 3.


New Control.ViewStateMode property allows you to totally shut down ViewState and selectively enabling it. Differs from the EnableViewState = false, but not totally sure how. Seems to be more effective.

New ControlIdMode so you can take control of your control IDs. You can keep the old way of doing things, or you can set it to “static” and have server controls actually have the IDs you set - no mangling. And you can make that the default! About freaking time.

Routing - this is the same as from MVC. There’s a PageRouteHandler there… But I don’t know if that’s new or if I just don’t remember it. They added an expression builder to build routes in markup. Page class now has the RouteData class so we don’t need our own custom base page class for that anymore.

New Page.Description and Page,Keywords properties will add the correct meta tags to your page. They support localization, too, using standard ASP.NET techniques.

New Response.RedirectPermanent method uses a 301 permanent redirect code instead of the usual 302 temporary redirect.

Informal poll of the room showed a lot of folks target XHTML Strict, but more target XHTML Transitional. Lots of folks interested in Section 508 standards, which is good.

The QueryExtender control helps you create search pages easier by interacting with IQueryable data sources. Hook it up to a textbox (or whatever) and have that interact with a LinqDataSource (or whatever).

Core improvements - Cache has been updated to use the provider model and be extensible. Browser capabilities extensibility allows you to create custom browserCaps providers. Out of process session state can now optionally be compressed.

ASP.NET AJAX is all new. Compiled templates, controls, databinding, and cross-browser compatibility. All client side. All entirely disconnected from ASP.NET - the demo was an HTML page using a client-side dataview control. HOT.

Microsoft is going to start offering full product support for jQuery - a new thing for MS, to offer tech support for open source. They’re calling it “Best Effort” support - they will troubleshoot with you and, if you find a defect, they’ll create a patch to submit to jQuery just like a responsible community member. Good for them, good for us.

MVC was mentioned but not covered because there are sessions dedicated to it.

Dynamic Data… Not seeing anything new here.

Out of Browser Experience for Silverlight 3

This is pretty cool Silverlight 3 allows you to run a Silverlight app outside the browser so you can run the same app in the browser and standalone. By setting an option in your app manifest, you can enable a user to install the app. Setup experience is basically two checkboxes - add a shortcut to desktop and/or add a shortcut to start menu - and uninstall is a right-click away. Nice.

Really cool way to dogfood Silverlight 3 and a great demo - the entire presentation was done in a lightweight PowerPoint analog entirely written in Silverlight 3. You’d never know it wasn’t PowerPoint except the transitions between slides were all 3D. Very cool.

Looks very easy to write an app that runs both in and out of the browser. I can envision, for my project, a little online banking widget that sits on your desktop and lets you view your balances or do small money movement operations without launching the browser. Could be a neat proof-of-concept.

The auto-update feature is pretty slick, too. It’s optimized for “instant on,” so if a new version is found, it’s downloaded in the background and the new version takes effect the next time the app is run. It’s done without any notice, so it’s recommended that your app display some sort of message when it’s updated to let folks know. Sort of odd that it doesn’t say anything out of the box, but it’s still slick. You do need to keep all your code in the XAP file to get this to work smoothly.

There’s still IsolatedStorage for Silverlight, but the quota’s increased from 1MB to 25MB. On the other hand, they have new open and save file dialog boxes that allows you to interact with the real filesystem.

Offline apps are basically pulled off by a little launching application hosting a browser, creating a simple HTML page, and loading your Silverlight app. Very interesting. Technically the app is actually still running in a browser. Looks like you have to be careful if you’re using Silverlight to write to the DOM, though - there’s no DOM in an offline app, so you won’t see those things working.

Data-Driven Apps in Silverlight

Primarily a demo using LINQ to SQL to show the old .NET 1.1 “IBuySpy” demo site reimagined in Silverlight. I haven’t done a ton in Silverlight so this was pretty good to see. Only downside is the simplicity of the demo (LINQ to SQL) didn’t help me in figuring out how to do larger-scale apps that use services for data access or use the MVVM pattern. I didn’t stay for the whole thing because there was another presentation starting (a “mini session”) that showed various WPF and Silverlight apps and I wanted to see some examples of stuff out there that aren’t necessarily apps from giant companies (like the Netflix player or NBC and the Olympics) but also weren’t really quick demos.

How’d They Do That?

Hanselman showed a demo of an app my friend John did for Adidas using WPF and Dynamic Data. Good stuff. Really showing quick concept-to-production work using some of the new tools out.

conferences comments edit

I’ve got some work to do this morning, but come noon, I’m off to the MIX09 conference. I don’t travel much, and rarely alone, but I do love me some Las Vegas, so I’m looking forward to it. There are a lot of folks I’m looking forward to meeting up with when I get there that I’ve corresponded with online a lot. Should be good times. I will, of course, tweetand blog the experience.

downloads, vs, windows comments edit

I found that being able to right-click a .sln file and open it as Administrator in Visual Studio is a huge help because I always open solutions by finding the solution file and opening from there, not opening Visual Studio first. Anyway, based on the Elevation Power Toys stuff, I write an “Elevate VS Solution” Power Toy that lets you right-click a .sln file and open it as Administrator.

Download the zip file, extract the .inf file, right-click, install. Standard disclaimers (“works on my box!”) apply.


downloads, vs, windows comments edit

NOTE: I’m no longer maintaining the Command Prompt Round-Up. Instead, visit the Command Prompt Here Generator.

I won’t lie - I’ve been doing most of my development up until now in Windows XP (not by choice) and as I move into Windows Server 2008 territory, there are little gotchas I’m finding as I work as a non-admin user. The one I ran into today is that our build script runs regsvr32 to register and unregister NCover during the build (so different products/projects can use different versions of NCover without having to actually install them). That’s only something an admin user can do.

The problem comes in when I right-click on a folder and choose “VS.NET 2008 CMD Prompt Here” - it’s running as me, not an administrator. Even if I do a runas /user:Administrator "msbuild default.msbuild" from there it’s not doing what I want it to because the environment’s not set up or whatever. Point is, I needed “VS.NET 2008 Admin CMD Prompt Here” so that’s what I made.

I updated my “Command Prompt Here” Round-Up to include “VS.NET 2008 Admin CMD Prompt Here” so you can download that and away you go. It basically just does the runas /user:Administrator before running vsvarsall.bat, but it works great from what I can tell. YMMV.

Something else I found while I was searching to see if someone else had already done this - the Elevation Power Toys over on TechNet. This is a gargantuan array of scripts and installers for everything from “Command Prompt Here (as Administrator)” to “PowerShell Prompt Here (as SYSTEM)” and more. It’s well worth the time to check out - enough so that I’m not replicating all of that in my own roundup. Go ahead and grab those Power Toys. You’ll be glad you did.

I’ve been working on a few projects lately that have a very time-sensitive aspect to them. That time-sensitivity is accompanied by an overly-short planning cycle, so things are being handled in a more “reactive” manner than I like. I’m a “proactive” person, I like a good plan (though it doesn’t have to be a 500 page doorstop, a plan is a good thing).

Every time one of these “reactive” projects gets going, these included, I always re-discover the importance of keeping a cool head. Rather than lighting your hair on fire to run around with the rest of the folks, stop for a second. Step back, assess the situation, and take your time in solving the problem. Don’t waste time, but take enough time to consider all of the angles of the problem in the context of your proposed solution.

When executing on a solution, work fast, but don’t work quick. The difference is important - fast work will get you done while respecting the time-sensitivity; quick work will find you cutting corners and making errors that you wouldn’t normally make.

That’s the crux of this one - take enough time so you’re not making those stupid mistakes that you wouldn’t otherwise make in a less time-critical project. We all know what happens when you do make those mistakes, right? In software, the solution will get sent back from QA (or doc, or - worse - the customer) as insufficient, incomplete, or incorrect. That’s bad news that will actually put you further behind schedule than had you not cut those corners, not made those mistakes.

One of the positive side effects of keeping a cool head in solving the problem is that it’ll reduce some of the stress you might be prone to due to things being “out of control,” which, in turn, will ease some of the interpersonal communication issues that inevitably arise in these situations.

I think it’s time for me to put the fire in my hair out, step back, take a breath, and solve some problems.