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Try Your Own OData Feed In The Cloud--Or Not!

So, being a good Data Driver, I was all pumped up to tackle a project exploring OData in the cloud and Microsoft's new PHP drivers for SQL Server, the latest embodiments of its "We Are The World" open-source technology sing-along.

I was going to throw some other things in, too, if I could, like the Pivot data visualization tool. I literally spent days boning up on the technologies and trying different tutorials (by the way, if someone finds on the Web a tutorial on anything that actually works, please let me know about it; you wouldn't believe all the outdated, broken crap out there--some of it even coming from good ol' Redmond).

So part of the project was going to use my very own Odata feed in the cloud, hosted on SQL Azure. The boys at SQL Azure Labs worked up a portal that lets you turn your Azure-hosted database into an OData feed with a couple of clicks. It also lets you try out the Project Houston CTP 1 and SQL Azure Data Sync.

The portal states:

SQL Azure Labs provides a place where you can access incubations and early preview bits for products and enhancements to SQL Azure. The goal is to gather feedback to ensure we are providing the features you want to see in the product.

Well, I provided some feedback: It doesn't work.

Every time I clicked on the "SQL Azure OData Service" tab and checked the "Enable OData" checkbox, I got the error in Fig. 1.

Enable SQL Azure OData begets an error
Figure 1. Problems on my end when I try to get to enable the SQL Azure OData Service. [Click image for larger view.]

I figured the problem was on my end. It always is. I have an uncanny knack of failing where others succeed in anything technology-related. It's always some missed configuration or incorrect setting or wrong version or outdated software or … you get the idea. Sometimes the cause of my failure is unknown. Sometimes it's just the tech gods punishing me for something, it seems. Check out what just now happened as I was searching for some links for this blog. This is a screenshot of the search results:

Garbled message
Figure 2. Stephen Forte's blog can be difficult to read at times. But it's absolutely not his fault. [Click image for larger view.]

I mean, does this stuff happen to anyone else?

Basically, though, I'm just not that good. But hey, there are other tech dilettantes out there or beginners who like to muck around where they don't belong, so I keep trying in the hopes of learning and sharing knowledge. And, truthfully, 99 percent of the time, I persevere through sheer, stubborn, blunt force trial-and-error doggedness. But it usually takes insane amounts of time--you've no idea.

So I took my usual approach and started trying different things. Different databases to upload to Azure. Different scripts to upload these different databases. Different servers to host these different databases uploaded with different scripts. I tried combination after combination, and nothing worked. I combed forums and search engines. I found no help.

(By the way, try searching for that error message above. I can almost always find a solution to problems like this by Googling the error message. But in this case, nothing comes up except for one similar entry--but not an exact match. That is absolutely incredible. I didn't even think there were any combinations of words that didn't come up as hits in today's search engines.)

Usually, a call to tech support or a forum post is my last resort. They don't usually work, and worse, they often just serve to highlight how ignorant I am.

But, after days of trying different things, I sent a message to the Lab guys. That, after all, is the purpose for the Lab, as they stated above: feedback.

So things went something like this in my exchange with the Labs feedback machine:

Me: When I check box to enable Odata on any database, I get error:

SQL Azure Labs - OData Incubation Error Report
Error: Data at the root level is invalid. Line 1, position 1.
Time: 8/9/2010 2:56:16 PM

D., at SQL Azure Labs: Adding a couple others..
Anything change guys?

J., at SQL Azure Labs: None from me.

M., at SQL Azure Labs: I'm seeing the same error, though I haven't changed anything either.
J., can you look at the change log of the sources to see if anything changed?
D., have you published any changes in the past week?

J., at SQL Azure Labs: OK. Will have to wait until this afternoon, however.

M., at SQL Azure Labs: J.; might something have changed on the ACS side?
The error is coming from an xml reader somewhere, and occurs when the "Enable OData" checkbox is selected...

So that was a couple days ago and I'm still waiting for a fix. But at least I know it wasn't me, for a change. That's a blessed relief.

But that made me wonder: Just how many people are tinkering around with OData if this issue went unreported for some unknown amount of time, and hasn't been fixed for several days? Is it not catching on? Is no one besides me interested in this stuff? That's scary.

I'm not complaining, mind you. I was gratified to get a response, and a rapid one at that--not a common occurence with big companies. I think Microsoft in general and the Lab guys specifically are doing some great stuff. I was enthusiastic about the possibilities of OData and open government/public/private data feeds being accessible to all. And the new ways coming out to visualize data and manipulate it are cool. And a few others out there agree with me, judging from various blog entries. But now I wonder. Maybe I'm in the tiny minority.

Anyway, today I found myself at Data Driver deadline with no OData project to write about, as I had planned to. So I had to come up with something, quick. Hmmm... what to write about?

What do you think of OData? Have you messed around with it? Do you plan to? Have you ever seen a Web tutorial that works? Comment here or drop me a line.

Posted by David Ramel on 08/12/2010

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