The Name Game

If you're a parent (like me) or even a pet owner (again, like me), you know that a name can mean everything.

My daughter Maggie is a case in point. Named after her energetic maternal great-grandmother, young Maggie is a credit to the name. A real pistol, she earned the nickname "Beast of the East" for her ability to just wear people down. And yet, at 4 years old, she's completely enamored of ponies, unicorns and rainbows.

My point -- I had a point in there somewhere, I know it -- is that once something you've been thinking about for a while gets a name, everything changes. Things lock into focus and you begin to mentally associate the product with the name, and the name with the product.

Which is why I was excited to hear the announcement this week that Visual Studio "Orcas" will officially be called "Visual Studio 2008." It's a serious sign that Microsoft has moved to the next stage of delivering the product. And for us, we can finally get around to packing all the mental baggage that will eventually be associated with this IDE.

Also at the show, Microsoft rolled out a scaled-down version of Visual Studio, called "Visual Studio Shell," which is intended to allow developers to build VS functionality on top of their own vertical tools. VS Shell will also enable integration of languages such as Fortran, Cobol, Ruby and PHP. A beta is due out this summer. The final version will be free for download. Read more here.

Another product earned its official title at Tech-Ed this week -- specifically, the next version of SQL Server. Code-named "Katmai," the new version will be called "SQL Server 2008." The new SQL Server will continue to press business intelligence features, as well as introduce the Entity Framework (EF) data conceptual access technology, which was pulled back from the Visual Studio 2008 release timeframe. Here's more.

The impending arrival of these two products are important milestones in that they prove Microsoft's commitment to deliver more frequent and iterative product updates. Gone are the days of five- or six-year spans between releases, as occurred with SQL Server 2000 and, of course, Windows XP.

What are you most looking forward to with SQL Server and Visual Studio? E-mail me at [email protected]

Posted by Michael Desmond on 06/06/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Tech-Ed 2007 Wrap-Up

This year's spring Microsoft Tech-Ed event in steamy Orlando, Fla. may not have been as product- and news-packed as previous iterations of the show. But representatives for Redmond were able to hit a few high notes over the week.

Certainly, Bob Muglia's opening keynote on service-enabled environments and what Microsoft is calling "Dynamic IT" offers a concrete sense of the direction Microsoft is going -- even if we're still not sure of the final destination.

Microsoft continues to play coy with SOA, borrowing much of the terminology while trying to craft a blended message that incorporates packaged applications, hosted applications and Web services.

More to the point, it seems Muglia and company are determined to deliver a more granular and incremental service-centric vision. The goal: Encourage IT to service-enable development, without marching into the kind of epic corporate trek that can so often wreck careers and obliterate IT budgets.

What do you think? Is Microsoft stalling for time with its vision-in-progress? Or are we looking at an honest attempt to right-size the utopian promises of SOA? E-mail me at [email protected].

Want to learn more? Check out RDN's in-show coverage by Executive Editor Jeffrey Schwartz and News Editor Chris Kanaracus at our Web site at http://reddevnews.com/news/.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 06/06/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Honing Computer Science Education

A few weeks back, Microsoft security expert (and co-author of the book Writing Secure Code) Michael Howard lamented about the quality of young coders coming out of university computer science programs.

In Howard's case, the concern was over the utter lack of security awareness and training among newly minted post-graduate programmers. In fact, the situation is so bad that Howard says Microsoft pulls every new programmer aside for several weeks of security-specific training before they can even begin working on live code.

Security, of course, is an ongoing concern, as reflected in our upcoming cover feature on secure development in the age of Windows Vista (coming in our June 15 print issue). But U.S. colleges face a challenge just getting kids in the door. Since 2000, the Computing Research Association found that enrollment in computer science (CS) programs has dropped 70 percent.

So perhaps it's no surprise that colleges are looking for ways to spice up CS studies, as reported in a recent Associated Press story.

At Georgia Tech, computing professor Tucker Balch heads up a robotics curriculum that includes cheap, Frisbee-sized robots called Scribblers that students program. The story notes that students get to write code to control the behavior of the tiny robots -- a far cry from traditional exercises like cracking prime numbers.

At the University of Southern California, the GamePipe Laboratory offers students a chance to blend coding and creative skills as they study the art and science of computer game design.

Do you think universities are on the right track? Or do alternative approaches like these threaten to undermine core skills and fundamentals that are critical to producing able programmers? E-mail me at [email protected]. If we publish your response in our magazine, you'll receive a free RDN T-shirt.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/30/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


PDC Gets DQ'd

Late last week, Microsoft let slip via MSDN that the 2007 Professional Developer's Conference, scheduled for Oct. 2 to 5 in Los Angeles, would not be taking place. Microsoft called it a case of bad timing, with testable versions of upcoming products like Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio "Orcas" and the "Katmai" update of SQL Server all due in programmers' hands ahead of the forward-looking event.

But frequent RDN contributor Mary Jo Foley thinks the sudden cancellation could be related to an information lockdown around Windows client OS development -- something she noted in a May 15 blog post ahead of the WinHEC conference.

Wrote Foley at the time: "Execs are not talking at all about Windows Vista Service Pack (SP) 1 or 'Fiji,' the Media Center update expected later this year. And don't even think about hearing/seeing anything on Windows Seven, aka Windows 2009."

With PDC off the docket, where should developers look for guidance? How about Barcelona, Spain? The TechEd Developers 2007 conference takes place in Barcelona during Nov. 5 to 9 and should provide a venue for covering at least some of the ground vacated by PDC in October. You can find more information at the Web site here.

How valuable has Microsoft's PDC been for you in the past? Give us your opinion about Microsoft's premier developer conference and shoot us some ideas on what Microsoft might do better going forward. E-mail me at [email protected]. If we publish your response in our print magazine, you'll receive a free RDN T-shirt!

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/30/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Katmai Is Coming

When SQL Server 2005 hit the pavement a couple of years ago, it was a major -- and majorly overdue -- upgrade to Microsoft's flagship database management system. Now, the next version of SQL Server, code-named "Katmai," is gathering steam as it approaches its first Community Technology Preview (CTP). And where SQL Server 2005 focused heavily on scalability and business intelligence, Katmai is attacking the proliferation of data types and structures, offering ways to move unstructured and spatial data from warehouse to devices.

According to Microsoft SQL Server Product Manager Francois Ajenstat, Katmai users will be able to "natively store documents within SQL server. You'll be able to query it and do standard things you do in a database -- select, inserts, updates, deletes -- to documents. It means you'll be able to use our standard management tools. You'll able to use the security policies that you implement in SQL Server directly on those documents."

Currently scheduled to ship some time in 2008, Katmai may also end up debuting Microsoft's ADO.NET Entity Framework (EF), which enables developers to program against data defined in a conceptual fashion instead of directly interacting with traditional table-and-column data. The framework is based on Microsoft's Entity Data Model specification, and was originally slated to launch with the next version of Visual Studio, code-named "Orcas." But delays in the EF Designer prompted Microsoft to pull the functionality. At the moment, it appears EF could debut with Katmai.

Microsoft has been busy on the data access front, what with LINQ, EF and now the Katmai version of SQL Server. What are your thoughts on Microsoft's data efforts? Let me know at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/23/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Stumping for Silverlight

Microsoft is getting busy trying to make its Silverlight rich Internet application platform more attractive for developers and users alike. Last week the company announced an alpha release of Popfly, a vehicle for developing mashups, Web sites and Silverlight-driven rich content through drag-and-drop chunks of code called "blocks." The alpha will be open to about 2,000 testers.

The Popfly effort has two main parts. Popfly Creator is the toolset. Popfly Space is an online "community of creators," in the words of Developer Division head S. "Soma" Somasegar, for hosting and sharing projects built with the technology.

According to Microsoft statements, Popfly is intended to appeal to a broad audience, from nontechnical users pushing together dynamic Web experiences to coders sharing Windows apps. Users write their Popfly blocks in JavaScript and use AJAX, DHTML or Silverlight for the user interface, Microsoft said. A Block Builder SDK includes pre-built blocks and source code, as well as tools for writing custom blocks, according to Microsoft.

Popfly doesn't provide any support for server-side processing, nor does it support Silverlight 1.1, which includes a version of the Common Language Runtime for more robust application delivery. Still, Popfly should help Microsoft counter recent mashup rollouts, such as Yahoo Pipes, while providing a vehicle for promoting Silverlight uptake.

Do you plan to get on the Silverlight bandwagon? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/23/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Sturm und Drang: Open Source Edition

Microsoft's war with Linux and open source software has run hot and cold for years. The company has see-sawed between outright hostility and warm-minded cooperation. Whether it's Steve Ballmer threatening to crack kneecaps or Ray Ozzie offering olive branches, the signals coming out of Redmond have been decidedly mixed.

Well, they're not so mixed any more. On Monday, Fortune magazine reported that Microsoft claims 235 software patent violations by open source software products and that companies using Linux could face the prospect of paying up for their use of infringing technologies. See our coverage here. Given that Linux accounts for a sizable percent of enterprise servers, the statement was a nuclear FUD strike that seemed designed to chill any corporate interest in Linux in specific and open source solutions in general.

Microsoft's tough stance is hardly a slam dunk -- far from it. The company seems to be on shaky ground, at least legally, when it comes to the stage of actually enforcing its claims. For one thing, the U.S. Supreme Court recently weakened the case for software patents -- a recognition that many software patents are absurdly broad or based on flawed premise. Experts say that the vast majority of patent claims Microsoft might make will simply prove unactionable. More telling is the fact that Microsoft isn't revealing the specific cases of infringement or even the patents being infringed. Instead, it's throwing impressive-looking numbers into the media and leaving well-intentioned OSS developers to guess at the problem.

Why? It's a good question. On the one hand, perception is definitely reality when it comes to corporate software acquisition, and Microsoft's statements could chill Linux uptake. Just days after leveling a legal threat at companies using Linux, Microsoft promised not to sue them. But the threat is now out there. The analogy I'd use is a masked man with a gun pointing the weapon at your head and then saying earnestly: "I promise not to shoot you with this gun." Can you afford to take him at his word? A lot of large corporations will no doubt say no.

On the other hand, Microsoft faces a pinch from the open source General Public License 3 (GPLv3) currently in the works, and this could simply be an effort to fight back. GPLv3 would essentially prohibit deals like the Microsoft mixed marriage with SuSE Linux distributor Novell, in which Microsoft indemnified Novell of any patent infringement while taking a cut of Novell's revenue. With GPLv3 in effect, such an agreement would be impossible.

Most experts think there's little chance of a RIAA-like scorched-earth, sue-and-screw campaign against Linux customers (many of whom, after all, are profligate users of Microsoft products). But after this latest broadside, it's clear that we are now entering a period of business as unusual. In short: A lot can happen.

What do you think Microsoft is trying to accomplish with its broad threats? And what should open source developers and customers be doing in response? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/16/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Longhorn Gets a Name

Looks like the long-awaited Longhorn Server is starting the long roll down the runway. One telltale sign: The new product has an official name. And no surprise, it's Windows Server 2008.

As reported by Executive Online Editor Becky Nagel here, Bill Gates announced the name during his keynote speech at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Los Angeles. News of the new name had actually leaked the week before, after Microsoft accidentally published it in press materials on its Web site.

Windows Server 2008 is a radically retooled version of Windows Server that employs a modularized architecture to let IT shops enable role-specific servers around the Windows Server core. The new OS may require developers to do some retooling of their own, since Windows Server 2008 presents significant changes to the driver model and kernel OS. Beta 3 of Windows Server 2008 was released in April and the final version of the OS is expected to be released to manufacturing late this year.

Have you worked with the Windows Server 2008 beta? Let us know your thoughts, at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/16/2007 at 1:15 PM3 comments


BlackBerry Software Push

Research In Motion's BlackBerry has captured a huge market of corporate users determined to stay connected. Now, RIM is in the middle of a software push that it hopes will extend the world's addiction to its e-mail- and 'Net-friendly devices and smart phones.

In April, RIM announced a software suite that would enable a "virtual" BlackBerry experience on phones running Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 (WM6). The move would do more than simply provide a consistent UI to users across the BlackBerry and WM6 platforms; it would also enable the growing fleet of WM6-enabled phones to tap RIM services, including the push e-mail service at the heart of BlackBerry's success.

Then, just yesterday, RIM announced that it was releasing a Visual Studio plug-in that would enable developers to build BlackBerry apps in Microsoft's flagship IDE. As reported by RDN's Chris Kanaracus, RIM says the plug-in lets developers build "rich client applications with a flexible user interface, offline data storage, asynchronous push and secure data access."

More important, it opens the floodgates for thousands of .NET developers to become active writing applications for the BlackBerry platform.

Posted by Lee Pender on 05/09/2007 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Opera Inbound and Shooting for the Moonlight

Impressed as I am by the Silverlight story Microsoft is telling, I've been disappointed by two things. One has been the lack of support for the excellent Opera Web browser. Well, it seems Microsoft has addressed that blind spot. Check out the Microsoft Silverlight 1.1 Developer Reference graphic here.

Looks like Opera users can look forward to running Silverlight apps and content. You can read more about this in Chris Kanaracus' report.

The other issue is lack of Linux support. Microsoft's response to pointed questions on Silverlight supporting Linux has been consistent: "We listen to our customers and if our customers say they want Linux support..."

That's code for "Don't hold your breath."

Or maybe you can. Because Miguel de Icaza, the man behind the open source Mono project for running .NET apps on Linux, plans to produce a Linux version of Silverlight by the end of 2007.

Known for the time being as "Moonlight," the effort will build atop the existing Mono infrastructure, adding the components needed to make Silverlight apps and content playable on Moonlight-enabled systems.

What do you think? Is Microsoft hurting itself by passing on Linux and leaving the platform to Adobe? Let me know your thoughts on this and de Icaza's efforts at [email protected].

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


Post-MIX Thoughts

I can sum up the results of the MIX07 Web development conference in two words: Game On.

Microsoft protests consistently that Silverlight is not just a Flash competitor. After all, the company wired Silverlight to leapfrog the mass-market concept of a multimedia runtime engine to deliver a rich Internet application platform in progress. And while today's working version of Silverlight won't pay off on these promises, the upcoming Silverlight 1.1, currently in alpha, almost certainly will.

Yet, for all the synergies being baked into Silverlight by way of XAML, Expression Studio and Visual Studio, a simple fact remains: Microsoft has committed itself to the Web development space in the biggest possible way. Witness the way Redmond pushed the ASP.NET AJAX toolkit (formerly code-named "Atlas") out the door ahead of the Orcas wave, or the way XAML has become a common theme across Silverlight, Visual Studio, Expression Blend and Windows Presentation Foundation.

The pieces and tooling are snapping into place. Now the question becomes: Can Microsoft lure a critical mass of Web content developers to its freshly minted platforms?

I'm betting it can. Wooing developers is a game Microsoft knows well. Many of the company's greatest victories -- including that over Netscape -- were the result of doing more for the customers at the root of Microsoft's success: developers.

What do you think? Can Microsoft wrest the attention of developers and designers away from Adobe? And will Adobe have to change its game plan if it hopes to keep Microsoft at bay? E-mail me at [email protected].

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


Missing the Orcas Bus

It's barely spring, at least up here in the Northeast, and yet it seems like we've been talking about the next version of Visual Studio, code-named "Orcas," forever. That's why we're running a cover story on the first Visual Studio "Orcas" beta in our May 15 issue of Redmond Developer News, and it's why we've been keeping close tabs on the highly anticipated update to Microsoft's flagship IDE since the day we launched.

As we draw closer to ship (some time late this year or early next), we're starting to play the timeless game of Name That Missing Feature. You probably remember all the madcap hijinks around Windows Vista, as the development team tossed one function after the next off the floundering Vista boat in an effort to make shore. Now, I'm not saying Orcas is in anything approaching the rough shape Vista found itself in, but a few features may not make the final version of the IDE.

Foremost among them is the .NET Entity Framework, the advanced data-access technology built atop ADO.NET 2.0 that will enable programmers to develop against a conceptual domain model, rather than work against the relational database layer. As Senior Editor Kathleen Richards reports here the Entity Framework was baked into Orcas beta 1, but the Entity Data Model Designer that's needed to take full advantage of it wasn't ready. Microsoft says it plans to introduce the EDMD as a Visual Studio extension in the first half of 2008.

Microsoft contends that all is well and that we'll see the .NET Entity Framework fully implemented and accessible within Visual Studio Orcas. But a lot of folks are probably thinking...ObjectSpaces. The technology was supposed to bring object-relational mapping (OR/M) to the .NET Framework as part of Visual Studio 2005, but got scuttled along with the demise of WinFS.

Personally, I think it's too early to rush for the exits. Microsoft has a determined and strategic data access effort afoot in the LINQ Project, and other key LINQ components are in place. What do you think? Is your faith in Entity Frameworks shaken? Write me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/02/2007 at 1:15 PM2 comments


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