Coming Soon: .NET Framework Libraries Source Code

Don't look now, but Microsoft just announced that it's releasing the reference source code for the .NET Framework libraries. Developers will gain the ability to review and debug .NET source code under Visual Studio 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5.

Released under the Microsoft Reference License, developers are able to view, but not modify or distribute, the reference source code. The goal of the release, the company says, is to give .NET developers an opportunity to better understand "the inner workings of the framework's source code."

In a blog posting here, Microsoft Developer Division General Manager Scott Guthrie summarizes the release as follows:

"Having source code access and debugger integration of the .NET Framework libraries is going to be really valuable for .NET developers. Being able to step through and review the source should provide much better insight into how the .NET Framework libraries are implemented, and in turn enable developers to build better applications and make even better use of them."

Do you think the release of reference .NET Framework source code will help your dev shop produce better software? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 10/03/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Stow the Politics: What's Your Take on OOXML and ODF?

We're publishing a feature article on the OOXML and ODF file formats for our next issue of Redmond Developer News, and we want to hear from you about the technical strengths and weaknesses of each. Here's your chance to have a direct voice in the argument.

Have you worked with or examined the OOXML spec? Tell us what you think Microsoft needs to fix or improve in OOXML, and tell us what aspects of the spec have impressed you.

We're looking for the same input on the ODF side of the house. If you're familiar with the OpenDocument Format, e-mail us with your take on what the technology does right and what it does wrong.

Write us at [email protected] and you could be featured in the next issue of Redmond Developer News.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/26/2007 at 1:15 PM19 comments


RDN Innovator Awards

Just another reminder that the RDN Innovator Awards are under way. The RDN Innovator Awards recognize outstanding accomplishments in programming using the Microsoft Windows and .NET stack. Entries are accepted across a range of independent categories.

Do you have a software development project that's worthy of recognition? Download the RDN Innovator Awards entry form here.

Also, check out the ADT Innovator Awards. Now in its 13th consecutive year, the ADT Innovator Awards program recognizes outstanding development on non-Microsoft platforms.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/26/2007 at 1:15 PM2 comments


The OOXML Odyssey: In Defense of Microsoft

Call it "Standardization Theater." Last week, I wondered about the lack of positive takes when it came to Microsoft's proposed Office Open XML (OOXML) standard, currently under review with the International Organization of Standardization (ISO). Having received a flood of decidedly critical opinions about OOXML, I wondered how it was that no one reading the RedDevNews newsletter -- an audience likely to be friendly to Microsoft technologies -- was saying anything good about OOXML.

Well, I heard a couple of responses. The first is from Jan Hansen, a developer out of Copenhagen, Denmark. "Your previous article was linked to from Groklaw," he writes. "Maybe only visitors who came from there bothered to respond to your question in that article."

Good point. Ben, an IT director in Leeds, England, contends that he and other Redmond supporters haven't written in because "[it's] not our job. Microsoft is a big company with a big budget and can look after itself."

He goes on with an interesting theory, which is that the ISO standardization push is simply a grandstanding maneuver. He says the open source community first gets its technology established as an ISO standard, then turns around and lobbies to require ISO ratification as a way to keep competing technologies (read: Microsoft) out of government contracts.

Writes Ben: "Best case for Microsoft, people will see through the tactic, and realize that being blessed by ISO is worth exactly nothing outside of politics. Worst case, MS will have to write a tip-top ODF import/export to get government contracts, and will have to write tip-top DOCX import/export for OpenOffice to ensure DOCX remains the interchange format -- which will basically mean massively improving OpenOffice."

Is ISO ratification just public theater in the ODF/OOXML contest? I spoke with Alexander Falk, CEO of Altova -- the company that makes XML-savvy software like XMLSpy -- and he seems to think so. Falk says that the ISO process is a good thing in that it helps improve the OOXML spec by bringing forward third-party input. But he says he expects Microsoft's XML-based file format implementation to gain widespread adoption with or without ISO sanction.

"At the end of the day, I think it will be in [Microsoft's] best interest to get through it and make those changes," Falk says. "But my gut feeling is they still have sufficient market share to push OOXML through as a de facto standard, even if it doesn't become an ISO standard."

What do you think? Does it even matter if Microsoft ends up providing an ISO-approved XML file format specification? Or will the mere existence of XML-based default file formats in Office be enough for most IT and dev shops to get behind? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/26/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Visual Studio Gets New Management

RDN Executive Editor Jeffrey Schwartz reported this week that Jason Zander (formerly GM for the .NET Framework) has taken over as general manager of the Visual Studio Team at Microsoft. Schwartz caught up with Zander at the VSLive New York conference. Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

RDN: How do you feel about this change?
Zander: I am excited about this. The developer division on the framework and tool sides has always worked closely and that will not change. I have worked with a bunch of folks on the Visual Studio team for years so I know everyone over there. There's a whole bunch of stuff we can do.

What's first on your agenda?
My first task, given [Visual Studio] 2008 is almost done, is to work on the next version of Visual Studio. We are already working on product planning and features, that also includes language features -- languages are now under me, as well. That includes the next version of C#, VB and all the dynamic languages, as well.

Moving forward, what will be the key areas of focus for Visual Studio?
To me there's a few things. One, just like we did factoring with the .NET CLR for Silverlight, we made it more compact, and we made it really easy to deploy on a machine. I'd like to see those same kind of attributes showing up in the full .NET Framework as well as Visual Studio, so it gets easier and easier to use the tools. It needs to be easier and more friction-free across the board.

Are you anticipating quick uptake to Visual Studio 2008, or will it be phased?
I think people will be interested. It solves some concrete problems, such as JavaScript integration. If you're a JavaScript developer writing hundreds of thousands of lines of codes, it's a painful proposition today.

Read the entire Q&A at the Redmond Developer News Web site here.

Where would you like to see Zander take Visual Studio next? Tell us at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/19/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


The OOXML Odyssey: Reader Outrage Edition

I like to think of myself as a fair-minded guy who's open to both sides of an argument. So when I wrote about the recent no-vote for the Microsoft Office Open XML (OOXML) spec by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), I was a bit astonished by the nature of the response.

To wit: Not one person wrote in to say they supported Microsoft or the OOXML specification. Not one.

Instead, what I read was a parade of impassioned protest. Readers railed against what they found to be a sloppy, complex and potentially dangerous XML-based technical specification. Several wrote to express concern about Microsoft strong-arming the ISO process, stacking national ISO voting bodies in an effort to win approval. And to a man (or woman), the writers condemned OOXML on its technical merits.

What surprises me about this response is that these are people reading Redmond Developer News -- you know, a publication for developers and managers working with the Microsoft technology stack. You'd think this audience would have a lot invested in Microsoft tools and skill sets, and that they'd be at least somewhat likely to have a favorable opinion of OOXML.

But they don't.

What does it say about Microsoft and its current OOXML push that our readers -- essentially, the home field for Microsoft in this contest -- are so clearly opposed to the Redmond-sponsored technology?

You tell me. Because I really want to hear it. E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/19/2007 at 1:15 PM12 comments


Forrester Gives Design Advice

Forrester Research has been cranking out a lot of useful research and insight for the dev community lately. Now it's talking big picture, with its "Design for People, Build for Change" forum, scheduled for Sept. 25 and 26 in Carlsbad, Calif.

I'm always leery of grandly themed forums and initiatives, since they tend to trip up on mundane stuff like the specifics of implementation, integration and technology. And yes, some of the advance work on this event engages in suspicious verbiage. Like this gem:

"As the 'design for people, build for change' concept gains momentum, Forrester is seeing a much more holistic, transformational picture emerging from the synthesis of the many business trends and new technologies that are swirling around IT."

Oof.

The funny thing is, this forum actually makes a good point. That being: Too often, sophisticated, forward-looking systems are created in a way that makes them very difficult to use and to adapt to changing needs. This is a challenge Microsoft has been attacking directly for a couple years now, with its effort to turn MS Office (via Office Business Applications) into the friendly user interface for industrial-strength CRM, ERP and other back-end systems.

You can read more about the forum and find an executive summary here.

So my question is: Are busy dev shops able to take in any of this big-picture wonkery and turn it into anything useful? Is it possible to craft user-centric, future-adaptable applications without completely crushing budgets or turning application development into an endless task? You tell me. My e-mail is [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/12/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


RDN Innovator Awards Kick Off

Developing software, especially inside the enterprise, can be thankless work. There are no shiny, shrink-wrapped boxes in store shelves, no market buzz or feedback from the media, and most such projects only get real attention when things go wrong.

We want to put the spotlight on dev projects that went right.

To help recognize the best efforts of corporate software developers and management working for the Windows and .NET platforms, Redmond Developer News in September launched the first annual Innovator Awards.

The contest is going on right now. We've issued a formal call for entries spanning seven different software development categories. Criteria for winning entries will be those that show an innovative approach to application development, while delivering a compelling business outcome.

Want to see your hard work recognized and even featured in Redmond Developer News? Innovator Award winners and runners up will be profiled in our Dec. 1 issue. This is a great chance for your dev shop to be recognized for its creative effort and technical acumen. Here's a quick rundown of the seven categories:

  • Pure Windows: A look at applications that were built and designed using pure Windows-based development tools and designed to be run on Windows-based back-office applications such as, but not limited to, Microsoft's SQL Server, BizTalk and SharePoint.
  • SOA: Emphasizes how applications were developed to take advantage of Web services available through BizTalk, in addition to other middleware and/or application servers it may be linked to.
  • Collaboration: Applications that make use of Microsoft's SharePoint services or similar application-sharing platforms, which are designed to run with Windows-based client and server-based applications.
  • Business Intelligence/Digital Dashboards: Focuses on applications that use BI platforms that are hosted using Windows-based applications such as SQL Server or BizTalk, and/or were developed with tools that take advantage of Windows-based APIs. These should be applications that provide business analysts and high level executives real time views of how a business is performing.
  • Only Office: These are applications either built using the development capabilities of Office or to use the Office suite in a unique and innovative way (providing noteworthy business impact).
  • Rich Internet (RIA): Web-based applications that employ rich user interfaces and provide a sophisticated user experience beyond what is possible using simple HTML. Entries should be built on AJAX, Flash, Silverlight or other RIA-enabling platforms, and should deliver significant programmatic interaction.
  • Roadworthy: Applications designed specifically for mobile users and other non-traditional client devices including Windows-mobile-based PDAs, Windows Tablet Edition or traditional laptops, making use of wireless networks or for scenarios where the user is rarely, if ever connected directly to a corporate network, yet utilizing the services of the enterprise.

Entrants must be custom applications developed by or for corporate, non-profit or public-sector enterprises. And yes, applicants are welcome to enter multiple projects in various categories.

Finally, a note about the Innovator Awards, which were actually founded 13 years ago by Application Development Trends, a sister Web site to RDN. If you have a cross-platform or non-Microsoft development effort you think is worthy of consideration, definitely look over the ADT Innovator Awards. The winners of those awards will be published on ADTmag.com.

Entrants can download an application form for the RDN awards here or, for the ADT Innovator Awards, here. Good luck!

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/12/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Mobile Platforms A-Go-Go

How is it that a decade after cell phones have come into widespread use, mobile business apps still aren't ready for prime time, unless enterprise IT hands out the exact same handset to every employee? In our Oct. 1 issue, we look into mobile application development and the upcoming platforms that enable it.

RDN is looking for your input. We'd like to interview developers and dev managers who have migrated their applications to smartphones and PDAs, or who are evaluating platforms for doing so. If you're interested, please contact our senior writer, Thomas Caywood, at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/05/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Microsoft's Office Open XML Spec Deep-Sixed -- For Now

It's official. The Microsoft Office Open XML (OOXML) file format won't earn recognition from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as a formally recognized international file format standard.

In the Byzantine process of ISO approval, Microsoft needed to win a two-thirds majority among ISO P-members (national standards bodies that participated in forming the proposal), as well as a three-quarters majority among all voting members.

OOXML failed to earn a passing grade by either metric, though it was close. According to a Microsoft statement, 51 ISO members -- or 74 percent, just shy of the required majority -- supported ratification. That leaves the OpenDocument Format (ODF) all alone as an ISO-ratified standard for file formats.

Microsoft, oddly, sounds positively giddy about the losing result.

"This preliminary vote is a milestone for the widespread adoption of the Open XML formats around the world for the benefit of millions of customers. Given how encouraging today's results were, we believe that the final tally in early 2008 will result in the ratification of Open XML as an ISO standard," said Tom Robertson, general manager for Interoperability and Standards at Microsoft Corp, in a statement.

That's right: Every good bit of theater these days inspires a sequel, and the taut OOXML vote is no exception. Many "no" votes and abstentions included comments that provide technical guidance as to what Microsoft must do to sway votes. And that means OOXML could get another run at ratification early in 2008.

Speaking of theater, the IT industry got an eyeful when Microsoft admitted that one of its Swedish employees had offered monetary compensation to Microsoft partners in Sweden if they engaged in the proposal process and voted for the OOXML spec. Sweden invalidated its "yes" vote for OOXML and essentially abstained from the final voting.

No surprise, broader accusations of ballot stuffing -- by way of getting dozens of companies to suddenly join the ISO voting bodies of individual nations -- abound.

I asked Bjarne Stroustrup, the creator of the C++ programming language and a guy who has wended his way through the ISO ratification maze a few times himself, if he's ever seen this kind of chicanery in previous ISO votes.

"I have never heard of money changing hands in exchange for votes or anything equivalent," Stroustrup writes back. "I guess every process is vulnerable to political and economic pressures, but I have not personally seen or suspected anything like that in relation to C++."

Despite the acrimony and accusations surrounding the OOXML ratification push, Stroustrup thinks in this case the process may have done what it was designed to do: Put the brakes on fast-moving technologies.

"The elaborate ISO process and its emphasis on consensus ensures a more conservative approach to standardization. Whether that is good or bad depends on your views on how fast technology should move, what risks you consider acceptable and how important compatibility is to you," writes Stroustrup.

Over at the ODF Alliance, meanwhile, Managing Director Marino Marcich is upbeat. In a statement, he says:

"ODF remains the document format of choice for governments, as it is now being considered for use by countries in every major region of the globe. Microsoft has every right to seek the ISO label for OOXML, but, as the ballot results show, it has a long way to go before it earns it and can be considered a truly open, interoperable document format."

I give it six months.

As developers, what do you think of the ongoing OOXML standards push? Is your dev shop looking at OOXML, ODF or both going forward? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/05/2007 at 1:15 PM7 comments


Windows Genuine Meltdown

When the servers behind the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation software stumbled last weekend, users suddenly found their legitimate copies of Windows XP and Vista flagged as invalid and pirated. For Vista owners, that dropped their copies of the operating system into reduced functionality mode.

It took Microsoft until about mid-afternoon on Sunday to get WGA running correctly again. Microsoft Program Manager Phil Liu blogged about the issue and its resolution here.

The cause of the problem? You guessed it. Simple human error.

"Pre-production code was sent to production servers," Liu writes. "The production servers had not yet been upgraded with a recent change to enable stronger encryption/decryption of product keys during the activation and validation processes. The result of this is that the production servers declined activation and validation requests that should have passed."

Let this be a lesson. Even the largest, most well-funded software development efforts can fall victim to something as trivial as deploying non-production code. What's interesting is that Microsoft had designed its WGA service so that if the servers were down or inaccessible, Windows continues to run in validated mode. In this case, however, the servers were running, albeit improperly.

Liu says changes have already occurred in the aftermath of this embarrassing gaffe: "We have implemented several changes to address the specific issues that took place over the weekend -- for example we are improving our monitoring capabilities to alert us much sooner should anything like this happen again. We're also working through a list of additional changes such as increasing the speed of escalations and adding checkpoints before changes can be made to production servers."

What do you think of Microsoft's genuine faux pas? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 08/29/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Four Steps To Save a Dying Dev Project

If you've been reading Redmond Developer News lately, you've probably seen the new DevDisasters page written by Worse Than Failure publisher Alex Papadimoulis. His accounts, submitted by readers, illustrate the high price of botched development. There's no doubt that "train wreck" projects can destroy budgets, crater business plans and ultimately ruin promising careers.

Now, Forrester Research has just released a report that aims to help developers dig their way out of trouble. The research firm interviewed more than 20 application development professionals and came up with a four-step plan to help dev shops recover wounded programming projects. The steps provided in the Forrester report are:

  • Halt all work and declare a reset
  • Fix the root cause of the problem
  • Re-plan the project
  • Execute against the new project plan

This doesn't seem like rocket science, but Forrester does a nice job of digging into each of these steps to help dev managers effectively redirect project efforts. One theme I noticed: focus. In the first stage, Forrester recommends that shops "paint a target" on the root cause of the failure, while in the next stage it calls for a single person (a "fixer") to lead the effort while also increasing the clarity and depth of fuzzy project requirements. Across each stage, dev managers need to focus, streamline and componentize aspects of the project.

Ultimately, the research itself notes that the toughest challenge may be deciding to stop work and start over. Too often, projects that desperately need to be reset are allowed to roll forward even as dev managers futilely apply minor course corrections or changes.

You can read an excerpt of the Forrester Research summary here.

Do you think Forrester is on to something? What secrets have you discovered that can help save a dying project? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 08/29/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


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