New Update of 'Roslyn' CTP Available

An update of the "Roslyn" Community Technology Preview (CTP) has been released, Microsoft announced.

The September CTP features a host of new language features and a number of API changes. Microsoft warns that there are "known issues" with the CTP, and that only a subset of the C# and VB languages are included. The APIs that have been updated include the Compiler, Services and Editor Services APIs.

This is the third revision of the compiler-as-a-service project; it was previously updated in June, and was first released publicly to developers in October 2011.

Roslyn is a project to rewrite the C# and VB compilers in those languages; currently, they're written in C++. At the same time, the compiler is "opened up," instead of being a closed system, as in the past. As Visual Studio Magazine contributing editor Joe Kunk recently wrote, "Roslyn exposes information regarding source code parsing (what elements are present in code), semantic analysis (what they mean), binding (how they relate to each other), and IL emitting (executable code)."

VB developers may be disappointed to learn that the September CTP still doesn't support the "Interactive window", which is a popup window that allows immediate evaluation and testing of code snippets. Microsoft says, however, that VB support is coming in a future release.

Note that there are several requirements for running Roslyn. The most important is that the September CTP must be run on Visual Studio 2012; it won't work on Visual Studio 2010 or earlier. The supported operating systems are Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012.

Microsoft also states that the June CTP doesn't need to be un-installed before installing the September CTP.


Posted by Keith Ward on 09/19/2012 at 1:15 PM0 comments

Microsoft Developer Division Loses Another Chief

So, Jason Zander is following Scott Guthrie over to Azure. Zander, formerly Corporate Vice President of the Visual Studio engineering team, is moving from DevDiv to partner up with the cool new kid on the block, Windows Azure (as the estimable Mary Jo Foley reports).

Foley received an emailed statement from Microsoft, laying out the changes. It read, in part:

"With Visual Studio 2012 and .NET 4.5 now available and as we begin to work on future versions of Visual Studio and offerings, this is the right time to make organizational changes ... As part of the recent STB (Server and Tools Business) organizational changes, Jason Zander effectively began his transition to a new role leading the Windows Azure development team."

Is this a blow to Microsoft's Developer Division? Two heavyweights on the Visual Studio team leaving within 16 months of each other, for the same new home? The reality is that it remains to be seen what effect this will have on Visual Studio, the product, going forward.

If Zander was going to leave, this was certainly the time to do it. Visual Studio 2012 and the .NET Framework 4.5 were officially launched last week. Those products are the first to really address the move to mobile and Windows 8 which, to use the over-used term, is truly a bet-the-company strategy for Microsoft. No one wants to leave in the middle of the iteration.

And Corporate Vice President S. Somasegar, who still heads DevDiv, is quite capable. More and more lately, he's become the public face of the division, and his enthusiasm and love for development, and the developer community, comes across in interviews.

But Zander, and before him Guthrie, were equally brilliant and creative. Azure's come a long way already, in Guthrie's short tenure. He and Zander are good at understanding what their customers want and need. It's hard to replace that kind of firepower.

I don't see this as any kind of sign, however, that DevDiv's starting to get short shrift from Redmond. If anything, developers have never been more important, and Visual Studio's never been more important. The platform ecosystem has never been broader, and Microsoft's welcoming the open-source community more warmly than any time in its past. Smartphones and tablets give developers opportunities undreamt-of even a decade ago, and software innovation is peaking. Microsoft is desperate, as it should be, to get developers working on Windows 8.

At the same time, the cloud is growing fast, too. And Microsoft's presence is as iffy there as it is in mobile. Azure needs to succeed for Microsoft; adding talent like Jason Zander and Scott Guthrie gives it the best chance to do that. Visual Studio's rolling along like a tank, while Azure's still in its toddler years -- at best. Now it has even more guidance.

Posted by Keith Ward on 09/18/2012 at 1:15 PM3 comments

The Microsoft Logo Makeover

Microsoft has unveiled its first new logo in a quarter-century. It looks like this:

Are you excited by it? To me, it doesn't look much different than the old logo. Sure, there are differences, but you know immediately it's still Microsoft. That's a good thing, I guess. Maybe our art folks will weigh in with a different opinion, but it doesn't cause a thrill up my leg, Chris Matthews-style.

As for the squares, Microsoft had this to say about their meaning: "The symbol's squares of color are intended to express the company's diverse portfolio of products." That's certainly true -- Microsoft is nothing if not diverse. Do four colored squares == diversity? Again, I guess so, but I'm no design guru. (I should add that the old logo didn't have the squares, which had their start as a Windows-specific logo. The old logo was just the word "Microsoft." So in that sense, it is significantly new. But to me, it really just ties together two long-time elements).

So there you have it. Microsoft's new look and feel. To end on a slightly cynical note: at least we know that Microsoft won't have any trademark or copyright problems this time, unlike a certain UI that's part of a new operating system being released toward the end of October...

Posted by Keith Ward on 08/23/2012 at 1:15 PM4 comments

Join GitHub, Get a Job

There's a fascinating story on CNET about how software developers are getting hired based on their work on GitHub, the open-source code repository, and how it's replacing LinkedIn as the go-to site for hiring managers.

I'd never considered it, but it makes sense: If you've put a lot of stuff on GitHub, that's real work that potential employers can see. It's one thing to have a great resume, but another entirely to have great software already built (or forked, if you haven't built it yourself.) "A common view is that a developer who has a profile there has an advantage over those who don't," writes Daniel Terdiman.

It works the same for authors who want to write for Visual Studio Magazine: If you can point me to articles you've published, it demonstrates that you're not just a wannabe. You're actually doing it, and have done it. That gives you an advantage -- at least in this editor's eyes.

So now you have another reason to consider contributing to GitHub; not only will you be helping move the field forward, but you might land a job out of it!

By the way, John Papa wrote about other reasons for using GitHub, and describes his experiences with his alert message program toastr.

Posted by Keith Ward on 08/17/2012 at 1:15 PM0 comments

Microsoft's Branding Nightmare

Metro? Modern? Windows 8? What's going on here?

First, word comes that Metro's out as a designation meaning "applications built for the version of Windows 8 that runs on ARM processors". Apparently, there was a partner conflict that Microsoft didn't want to turn ugly. But here's the thing: Metro's been used for years now to refer to the new UI. My question: why didn't anyone discover this potential conflict before? Big, huge, Jupiter-sized epic fail by marketing or someone else at Microsoft. My prediction: heads, more than one, are going to roll over this -- in fact, they may have already.

Since the initial revelation that Metro's gone, several more trial balloons have been floated. The first was simply replacing Metro with "Windows 8". That's a tough one, however, since Windows 8 is an operating system, and not a UI. Can you see the potential confusion coming? Windows 8 apps on Windows 9? Windows 10? One shudders at the thought.

The latest rumors floating around the Web, from Mary Jo Foley and others, is that "Windows 8" may be out, and "Modern" may be in as the UI designation. This makes more sense, since it would once again be referring specifically to a UI, and not an OS. I have to say, however, that Modern doesn't exactly thrill my toes as a name. Sorta bland, blah, un-memorable.

I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft's not done. It seems the company isn't sure what to do now, so they're flailing about, throwing name spaghetti at the wall and seeing what's likely to stick. Given the name-game musical chairs now being played, it seems that this is a pretty big deal in Redmond. And indeed, it should be. Windows 8 is a critical product, acting as the first bridge between the traditional software/OS combo and the mobile era that demands new software and nimble OSes. Getting the branding right is important, since those products will be competing with the dominant brands of Apple and Android.

In other words, I'd be surprised if the name ends up being Modern or Windows 8. This may not be settled until Build.

Posted by Keith Ward on 08/10/2012 at 1:15 PM10 comments

Build Conference Goes from Zero to Sold Out in an Hour

If you blinked, you missed it. If you were on the phone, or out on a run, at the store or in a meeting, and you didn't sign up for Microsoft's upcoming Build conference, you're out of luck.

It appears that the show sold out in an hour. That's One. Single. Hour. Sixty little minutes.

Wow. Fortunately for us press types, things don't work quite the same way. I was in the middle of a press briefing -- with Microsoft, ironically enough -- when Build registration came and went in the time it takes to watch a Star Trek episode. So I'm set for Build, but many, many others aren't.

That bites, as does the timing of the show: Oct. 30 - Nov. 2. Doesn't anyone in Redmond have a calendar? None of those people noticed that Oct. 31 is Halloween? That's a pretty big holiday for lots of folks. I'm wondering if Microsoft is planning a massive party for that night, seeing as how they're keeping us from tricking and treating. I assume, of course, that the timing is much more due to the release of Windows 8 than anything else, but still...

I doubt there will be many earth-shattering announcements; most of those -- Windows 8, Visual Studio 2012, .NET 4.5 -- have been made. I'll be very interested in seeing how Microsoft positions its Surface tablet, given the growing unease by some OEM partners about hardware competition from Redmond. I'll also be watching closely for announcements related to Windows Phone 8, which could be the big deal in terms of news.

So there will be a lot going on; we'll try to keep those of you who had something else to do that hour informed.

Posted by Keith Ward on 08/08/2012 at 1:15 PM3 comments

5 Surface Questions for Microsoft

Well, it's certainly a new day for Microsoft, isn't it? Yesterday's announcement of the Surface tablets signals a major shift. Microsoft has decided that being more like Apple isn't a bad thing: making its own hardware to go along with software means complete control of the pipeline.

That also means, of course, additional risk: Microsoft doesn't have a history of rolling its own, so there will undoubtedly be hiccups along the way, as the hard lessons will have to be learned -- lessons Apple has long ago internalized.

Still, I'm impressed by what I've seen. Making both an ARM and Intel version of the tablets is clever, and opens up opportunities that don't exist on the Apple side: the only touchscreen tablet coming out of Cupertino is ARM-based. There are likely to be advantages to having a more desktop-like tablet in addition to a traditional tablet. I like my iPad lots, but there are many times I would like the portability of that with the ability to get more serious work done like I do with a laptop/desktop. The Windows 8 Pro version (which runs the Intel processors) may be just the ticket for me.

One other thing: three huge cheers for the cover/keyboards, both the Touch and Type styles. Not having to buy one means more usefulness and lower cost out of the box.

So, although I'm encouraged by the announcement, the execution is another matter entirely. To that end, I've got some Surface questions for Microsoft:

  1. How backwards-compatible will Windows 8 Pro be? I don't expect Windows RT to work with traditional Windows 7/XP apps. But the Intel version had better work with them -- and well. One of the key failings of Windows Vista out of the gate was the lack of compatibility. Microsoft can't afford to suffer that kind of catastrophe again.
  2. How will they be priced? The iPad (v.3) starts at $499, the Kindle Fire at $199. Both of those tablets are market leaders, by a wide swath. And all indications are that Apple's developing a smaller, cheaper iPad version to compete more directly with the Fire. For Microsoft to gain traction, picking the right price point will be beyond crucial -- it could be everything. There could be even be multiple price points: one for RT and another for Windows 8 Pro, which would give customers more options, but not too many options so as to get confused.
  3. How much time and effort will be spent on the App Hub and Windows Marketplace? More and more, it's becoming clear that good navigation and app discovery technologies, along with reporting ease and timeliness, are crucial in getting developers on board. Google has had lots of issues with its Android Market, and Apple has suffered some slings and arrows in regard to its policy of disallowing apps for competitive or simply incoherent reasons. If any company knows the importance of the ecosystem, it's Microsoft. But Redmond is still getting its legs under it when it comes to this kind of sales channel.
  4. How will Microsoft market the versions? Will Windows 8 Pro (as I suspect) be touted as the business tablet and Windows RT as the consumer device? Defining the segments will ensure that the waters aren't muddied in the sales channel. Customers should know exactly which tablet they want, and exactly why.
  5. Will they definitely be out for the holidays? Microsoft says that Windows RT will be out the same time as Windows 8 general availability, with Windows 8 Pro "about 90 days later". So the priority is Windows RT and the consumer market. But no firm date for Windows 8 has been released yet. If it's October, for example, that pushes off Windows 8 Pro until the very end of 2012 or into the early part of next year, when sales typically lag. Will that get it off to a slow start, which is sometimes death in a market often unforgiving of latecomers?

There's a long way to go, and these questions will need to be answered in the positive for Microsoft to pick up some mobile mojo.

[Click on image for larger view.]

Posted by Keith Ward on 06/19/2012 at 1:15 PM2 comments

Microsoft's Bold Choice of Lumia Invisibility

I've seen that commercial for the Nokia Lumia 900 smartphone a few times now, and noticed something interesting about it: Nowhere in the ad are the names "Microsoft" or "Windows" mentioned. That's odd, of course, since the Lumia runs Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 OS.

This lack of identification differentiates it from the Top Dogs, Android and iPhone. Their commercials explicitly promote the OS, in Android's case, and Apple, in iPhone's case. Not so for the Lumia. It's a bold choice by both companies -- Nokia and Microsoft -- and says a lot about the smartphone market.

What it says to me is that "consumers don't think Microsoft can build cool phones, so we'll drop that name." Rather than fight this perception, Microsoft and Nokia have decided to live with it, fair or not. Smart move: with the built-in bias against Microsoft in the phone realm, it makes sense to conform to this belief and work around it, rather than try to alter it by saying "Hey, look, Microsoft is hip after all!" That would only reinforce the negative stereotype that Microsoft is a stodgy, boring company that makes great spreadsheets and desktop OSes, and should leave the cool stuff to others. It would look insecure and defensive, like Microsoft is trying too hard. That's not a winning strategy.

Nokia, on the other hand, has a reputation for building phones that folks want. Yeah, it hasn't happened yet in the smartphone arena, but there is a long, positive history there; many of those seeing the commercials have owned Nokia phones in the past. Because of that, the desire to try the new Nokia smartphone -- the one that looks so different from the iPhone and Android -- could be strong; stronger than telling a potential buyer "Look at the new Windows phone," and fighting the anti-Microsoft (at least when it comes to phones) feelings that may be stirred up.

So these commercials are highlighting the Lumia's strengths -- an appealing OS look and feel, and a company famous for selling phones -- while minimizing its weaknesses by eliminating any negative associations consumers might toward Microsoft and Windows when it comes to phones. In this case, Microsoft sees the value in fading into the background. Its brand recognition in the smartphone market may suffer, but I imagine the tradeoff will be well worth it if sales take off.

Will the stealth marketing campaign work? That's another question entirely. Certainly, both companies have to be nervous about Nokia's Q1 2012 losses. But we're right at the beginning of this phone push, and I'm much more bullish on Windows Phone's prospects than some others. With Microsoft's effective new efforts to promote its phones at the point of sale, and a nod to the reality that its name could be a drag on those sales (after all, you never say "The Microsoft Xbox", do you?), a little more time may be just what's needed.


Posted by Keith Ward on 05/07/2012 at 1:15 PM6 comments

A Windows Phone Sea Change?

Things appear to be changing with Windows Phone at the most important current level: sales awareness (I say current level because the most important factor, of course, is building a great product. That mission has been accomplished.) This is great news for Microsoft.

Here's the background: I live in a rural area of Maryland, the kind of slow-pace-of-life backwater that takes time for technology to filter down to. I buy my phones from a local AT&T dealer, so it's a store I know well. I've been checking on the store's Windows Phone collection ever since the first one was released. What I've found in the past is the same kind of thing you read about in other reports: almost no Windows Phones; relegated to a corner in the back; salespeople with little knowledge, who look at you strangely when you ask about Windows Phones. In other words, nothing to interest a potential customer.

Microsoft has worked hard recently to change that; especially so in its partnership with Nokia to introduce the flagship Lumia 900 and better train the frontline sales folks. But how soon would those changes show up here in the sticks? The answer: Now.

I visited the store last Friday. First, and maybe most importantly, was the location of the Windows Phone display: it was at the front of the store, rather than in the back. Yup, even in front of the Android section (iPhones were on the opposite wall). There were three Lumia 900s on display, and one HTC (a Titan, if memory serves).

Next up: I called over a sales rep and asked him about Windows Phone. He was very knowledgeable about its strengths and weaknesses. He didn't immediately try to steer me toward an iPhone or Android, as happened in the past.

And he discussed the phone in depth, which included details like the integration of Microsoft Office (and Office 365. Yes! The Cloud!) and Xbox and Exchange. In other words, he knew what the phone was and for whom it would be a good fit.

More than that, he had a Lumia 900 attached to his side, and showed it to me. I think this is a subtle, but powerful selling point: if a mobile device sales pro was using it, it must have some redeeming value. It's like knowing what kind of toothpaste your dentist uses: he should know what works well, right?

We talked for at least 10 minutes about various aspects related to the phone, and I used my knowledge to grill him on some of the finer points that the ordinary customer might not; things like quality of apps and the app ecosystem, tethering possibilities, and so on. He answered these questions beautifully, demonstrating a full grasp of Windows Phone. The training he'd had was obvious, and adding to that his real-world knowledge from using it day-to-day made for a compelling presentation.

I came away impressed with this salesperson, but even more by the job that Microsoft is now doing in getting Windows Phones in the hands of customers. Really, what the phone needs is simply a chance to compete with the Google and Apple duopoly. If my experience is any indication, the playing field is substantially more level than it was even three months ago. People will be able to judge Windows Phone on its merits -- or lack thereof -- and make informed decisions not based on hype or perception, but on the reality of whether or not the phone meets their needs.

At least this way, if Windows Phone ultimately fails, it'll be based more on real factors, rather than spin and perceived "coolness". But my sense is that it won't fail, and is poised to finally start making some inroads.

Posted by Keith Ward on 05/01/2012 at 1:58 PM16 comments

Microsoft Coding Languages Continue to be Popular

Working in Microsoft programming languages puts you in good company, according to an organization that tracks such things.

In the last year, C# overtook C++ as the third-most popular language in use right now, says the TIOBE Programming Community Index, and other Microsoft-created languages are either holding steady or gaining in popularity. The index, which is generated monthly, shows Java and C holding steady in the top two spots, as they have for years. Tiobe calls itself a company that specializes in assessing and tracking software.

Visual Basic has held steady in seventh place over the past year, while VB.NET has seen a jump from 22nd place overall to 16th place in the same timeframe. The Top 10:

1 Java
2 C
3 C#
4 C++
5 Objective-C
7 Visual Basic
8 JavaScript
9 Python
10 Perl

The biggest riser, not surprisingly, was Objective-C, as Apple's iPhone and iPad threaten to take over the world. JavaScript was the other top-10 language to see a large bump; this shouldn't be surprising either, given the explosion of mobile computing. In the top-20, Python, Ruby and Ada suffered the biggest drops. All these numbers are relative, however; given the fragmentation of this space, a small increase or decrease in popularity can have a substantial impact on rankings.

What does it all mean to the .NET developer? Not much, probably; this information, to me, is more interesting than significant. It is good news for Microsoft that its army of developers continue to soldier on, and don't appear to be jumping ship. With Windows 8 driving the increasing importance of C++ and JavaScript inside Visual Studio 11, I'll be curious to see the trends in those languages a year from now.

Posted by Keith Ward on 03/16/2012 at 1:15 PM7 comments

Learning Resource: Codecademy

Promoting software development education is something I'm keenly interested in; it seems in some ways that young people are getting less, rather than more, interested in learning how to program. It's a shame, because opportunies are exploding, and it's hard to think of a more recession-proof career.

The good news is that it's getting easier all the time to learn how to code. The resources available are getting better than ever, and I love to highlight them and recommend to others that they do the same.

The one I stumbled across recently was Codecademy. Just for fun, I've gone through a number of the lessons, so I can see for myself how well the courses are put together. Thus far, I'm extremely impressed. The key is that it's very, very easy to get into. You start coding immediately, rather than learning about the history of the language, frameworks and other details that might get in the way of getting your hands dirty. Heck, you don't even learn about adding <script> tags; the entire focus is on writing JavaScript.

I found the lessons easy to follow and didn't spot errors. They build in proper sequential order, and the explanations are clear, if a bit brief on detail. For instance, "for" loops are given a very brief description, and I wonder if total newbies might get a bit stymied. On the whole, though, I think most folks with a little persistence will be able to get through the exercises. Each multi-part lesson also has projects to apply what's learned, and a lab window to build your own JavaScript programs. It's very well done.

On the other hand, things on Codecademy seem to be stagnating a bit, which concerns me. According to the best information I can find, the Website went live last August, with a JavaScript course. The site promises that courses are also coming in Ruby and Python; thus far, however, they're still not available. I've also found some 404 errors. That shouldn't be a big deal; all sites have a few of those -- except that the site is pretty small, and shouldn't be that difficult to maintain. The blog is also not updated frequently.

But for what it offers right now -- JavaScript learning, absolutely free -- Codecademy does very well, and should be an early stop on the road for any non-programmer wanting to learn how to write good JavaScript code.

What are some of your favorite JavaScript resources? Let me know via email or in the comments.

Posted by Keith Ward on 03/15/2012 at 1:58 PM1 comments

The .NET Framework 4.5 Beta is Exciting, Too

We're all excited, and rightly so, over the release of the Visual Studio 11 beta. (See our March cover story for more on VS11's powerful new features). But that's really only part of the story. The next-generation .NET Framework -- version 4.5 -- is out in beta, too. I think in all the hype and hoopla over VS11 and the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the news about .NET has been mostly lost. That's a shame.

.NET 4.5 is pretty exciting in its own right, and has its own subset of tools for building Metro-style apps: the .NET APIs for Metro-style apps. Microsoft has a very nice guide in its Dev Center for understanding the differences between developing for Metro apps and traditional Windows apps, including one biggie: the difference in namespaces.

Beyond Metro, there are a host of other upgrades as well. Some of the more prominent ones include:

  • Background just-in-time (JIT) compilation, to improve application performance on multi-core processor machines

  • New features for the Managed Extensibility Framework (MEF), including support for generic types and multiple scopes

  • New asynchronous features for C# and Visual Basic which add a task-based model for performing asynchronous operations

  • More HTML5 and JavaScript support

  • Big upgrades to WPF, including better data validation and a new Ribbon control

  • Similar enhancements to WCF and WF

In reality, the list of changes is much to large to summarize here. Suffice it to say, though, that the .NET Framework has improvements for every Microsoft developer, whether or not you work on traditional apps or develop on ASP.NET, Windows Phone or other mobile devices. Once you get over your thrill at the huge changes in VS11, spend some time with .NET Framework 4.5. You may find yourself just as excited.

Posted by Keith Ward on 03/01/2012 at 1:15 PM0 comments

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