Friday, 03 July 2009
At Tech Ed this year, a whole pile of my friends (and me too) were invited to pontificate a little on fairly light weight technical topics like "what technology have you enjoyed lately?" and "how do you keep up with everything that's changing all the time?". The result is a fun series featuring luminaries inside and outside Microsoft: Scott Hanselman, Billy Hollis, me, Richard Campbell, Stephen Forte, Clemens Vasters, Tim Huckaby, Michele Leroux Bustamente, Jim Wilt, Brian Noyes, Loke Uei Tan, Matt Hessinger, Don Box, Juval Lowy, Jeffrey Palermo, and Tim Heuer. They're being uploaded one a week or so - you can get started now and enjoy more later.
Here's a direct link to mine if you need it: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/dd776253.aspx
Wednesday, 01 July 2009
So I guess I am totally having a "get off my lawn" moment here. I read, on a blog I generally enjoy reading, the following rant about "bad customer service":
- Why am I still required to fill out my personal details (city, birth date, job title) while registering on web sites, when all they need to do is fetch that data from my LinkedIn page?
- Why does my new Internet provider give me a new email address (which I won't use), requiring me to read that mailbox regularly for service updates? Why not send me tweets?
- Why do I have to go to the web site of my vendor of contact lenses to re-order my monthly set of lenses? Why not enable me to send a "reorder" message through Facebook?
- Why does the agile 2009 conference require that I upload my presentation to their site, in PDF form with maximum size of 5 MB? Why not integrate with the much more advanced SlideShare where I already have an account?
- Why do I get offers for products that I clearly don't want or that I already own, which can be easily deduced from my reviews, ratings, and rantings on various social sites?
Prior to this bulleted list was a complaint that an ISP hadn't magically noticed that some emails weren't reaching the ranter, and didn't email about it, or didn't go figure out what @tag to use in a Tweet so that their customer would know there was a problem with some emails. I mean really, "send me a tweet"? Tweets are broadcast messages, not one-on-one communication, aren't they?
Good heaven. If I went to a random web site and on the registration page entered "Kate Gregory" (or "Barack Obama") and it trundled off to LinkedIn and filled in where I live, what I do, my birthday etc I would be majorly creeped out and want nothing to do with that web site. Maybe, just maybe, I would be ok with a button that said "go find this out on the public web" but I doubt it. I think OpenID is a better way to go, and I do appreciate that most Microsoft sites now just let me use my Live ID, but for sites with no business relationship to share what they know about me just creeps me right out. Reorder contact lenses on Facebook? What does Facebook have to do with buying stuff from completely unrelated third parties? Why would it be a good thing to put intermediaries (Facebook, Twitter etc) in all my transactions? The big excitement of Web 1.0 was that it took intermediaries out of the picture and let me interact directly with the producers of the things I wanted to buy. One of the major inconveniences of Web 2.0 is excited under-30's (sorry to generalize, a handful of over-30's are excited like this too) making me sign up for yet another account on yet another Social Networking Silver Bullet that they are going to use to manage their event/project/party/virtual team.
I disagree with the fourth bullet, too. I would much rather just be told where to upload my stuff and be done with it. I also have some empathy for folks who want to use the same way to communicate with everyone on a reasonably large list. Can you imagine the job (probably unpaid in his or her free time) of the conference organizer who says "everybody please put your slides somewhere, anywhere on the web that works for you, and send me the link, and here are links to free places you can put your slides in case you're not on SlideShare." And this organizer probably still has to run the upload-your-slides here site for everyone who doesn't have an account somewhere else. And has to accept and send not just emails about it (with or without links) but also tweets, blog posts, and comments on one speaker's YouTube channel and another speaker's CodePlex project home page, because why should they be obliged to look in more than one place for attempts to communicate? And then this poor organizer needs to know how to download from 10 or 20 different document sharing sites, and register for notifications if they're changed, because the speaker figures uploading new docs and not telling anyone will be fine, since after all the site sends notifications if they're changed.
The last bullet is hilarious. Dude, I get offers for things that I clearly don't want. The spammers can't be bothered to check my gender or what country I live in. You really think they're going to check your MySpace to see you already tried acai berry and whether it worked for you or not?
But under all that rankling and disagreeing is the germ of a really important truth. Just as David Platt likes to say "Know your Customer, for he is not you", I can see that I might not offer enough options to the millennials, and they might not offer enough options to my and my fellow post-boomers. It's an interesting culture clash considering we write software for each other, and one that's worth thinking about. If a customer service department doesn't offer service the way you want it, if the conference speaker wrangler doesn't wrangle speakers the way they want to be wrangled, if my software doesn't let you talk back to me the way you want to talk back to me and if I don't listen when you talk the way you want to, then that's a problem. Hmmm.
Monday, 29 June 2009
I'm a big Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares fan. I wildly prefer the English series (also true for The Apprentice and several other "reality" shows) because he cares more on those than on the US-edited ones. I'm also a big Steve Clayton fan. So when Steve says "It was like watching an episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (minus swearing). I watched the first episode start to finish…I can’t remember the last time I watched such a long video on the web" that is endorsement enough for me.
I watched it and it was indeed both entertaining and instructive. How could a big company launch a whole new initiative, commission a ton of software for their customers to use, and not have software for the back office to use to manage it all? Why does it take an outside consultant to say to one guy "how much of your time goes to this?" and to another guy "is that enough?" and then present the result to the CEO, who (no surprise) promptly authorizes some hiring? I may never launch a global initiative in Paris, New York, and London and spend a few million in each city before setting to work to make it profitable, but I'm still glad I watched the video. And as the person who sometimes asks the two questions that were never asked in the same room before, it is nice to know the demand for simple questions at the heart of the matter will never fade.
Saturday, 27 June 2009
I sure do love using the Windows 7 taskbar. (I might have blogged a few times about it already.) I have completely internalized the habit of right-clicking on a running app (or a pinned icon for a non-running one) to open a recent document - whether that app is Word, Notepad, PowerPoint, or whatever. I right-click any Messenger conversation to change my status, and I close instances right from the taskbar preview window. I wish Outlook would give me 5 or 6 jumplist items, like New Message and New Appointment, and I really wish Visual Studio would give me some options too. I am looking forward to new releases that will harness this intuitive way of getting users closer to the files they want to open or the things they want to do.
If you want to put taskbar support into your application, and you're not really a video kind of person, perhaps an MSDN Magazine article will do the trick? Yochay and Sasha should be familiar to my readers - you know these guys know their stuff. The article covers both native and managed development, and concludes with this summary:
In this article, we have explored some features of the Windows 7 taskbar, such as application IDs, thumbnail toolbars, overlay icons, progress bars and jump lists. The Windows 7 taskbar provides a clean, sleek launch surface that strongly benefits users. Integrating into this surface will be a primary goal for any application developer for Windows 7.
Using the native Win32 APIs or the managed Windows API Code Pack provides you with a differentiating opportunity to light up your applications on Windows 7. Bear in mind that the taskbar is the first thing users see after logging on to Windows, and you'll want your application to be pinned to their taskbar.
I completely agree. Give it a read.
Thursday, 25 June 2009
The Build a Better App site is all about applications. They've gathered tutorials, videos, and useful libraries for folks who are building client applications. You'll see some old friends of mine on the main page - Code Pack, Tim Huckaby's recent guidance paper, and so on - along with plenty of things I haven't linked to from this blog. But there's more, like profiles of some of the people whose work is on the site (love the fish, Tim) or videos showing the Windows Forms to WPF converter in action, Code Pack demos, and so on. Speaking of videos, Build a Better App has their own channel on YouTube, as well. Jono Wells is twittering on behalf of the site, and blogging too.
If you were at Tech Ed USA, you probably saw the Build a Better App team - they had a colourful presence and fun stickers and clings. There's a slideshow of some of the "better app requests" from attendees and while I doubt anyone will be coding a cloak of invisibility any time soon, there were some pretty cool requests in there.
Take a look around, and if you want to submit some content for the site, let me know and I'll connect you to the right people.
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
WPF uses XAML. Silverlight uses XAML. WPF is mostly for writing client (Windows) apps, but XBAPs run in a browser. Silverlight is for the web, but an offline story is planned. It's easy to get confused. Worse, people often feel there is a "vs" aspect to it - Silverlight vs WPF. Mike Taulty puts it like this:
Of course, it's not a fist fight. Mike goes on to elaborate on the continuum of technologies and the way you can share skills between them. He also points to a post by Karl Shifflet that demonstrates how code can be reused between WPF and Silverlight applications.
A vital reference for anyone who is moving around on this continuum is a whitepaper (with companion code) that highlights the similarities and differences between WPF and Silverlight. It's available on Codeplex now. It's full of detailed summaries like this:
Check it out!
Sunday, 21 June 2009
Some simple truths about elevation (as in UAC):
- A process, once running, cannot elevate itself. You are launched elevated or not.
- A non elevated process can launch an elevated one. The easiest way is to make a separate exe and embed a manifest, then launch it with ShellExecute.
- An elevated process, once running, cannot "drop back down" to being elevated. As in the first bullet, you are launched elevated or not.
There are some incredibly complicated ways to launch an elevated process but I don't use them because they are incredibly complicated. But you might have noticed there's a symmetry problem there. Can an elevated process launch a non elevated one? My first answer would be "it doesn't matter, because you shouldn't." My paradigm is that your core app should be non elevated, if at all possible, and if it has one or two admin-ish features, those should be refactored into a separate manifested exe that is launched (from a UI component decorated with the shield), does its stuff and gets out.
However, a case can be made for having some sort of admin app that wants to leverage some other installed application, like Internet Explorer, that could possibly be using a malicious plugin or the like. This admin app would be smart to do its leveraging with a non elevated instance of that application. So how can you do it? Well, according to Aaron Margosis, it's a seven step process in native code. Managed code is left as an exercise for the reader.
If you care, now you know how to do it. And even if you don't care, the symmetry is restored.
Friday, 19 June 2009
If you already know what NDepend is, all you really need to know is that you can now point CppDepend at some big legacy C++ codebase and start to get your arms around all that code a bit better. If you have vaguely heard about NDepend but weren't really listening because you're a C++ programmer, it's time to change that. You can start by reading an analysis of MFC that uses CppDepend to answer questions like what fraction of member variables have names that start m_ (answer: about half) or what kind of coupling the key classes tend to live with.
Beatiful visualizations and genuine insight. Sure, you're not going to refactor MFC yourself, but imagine pointing all this at your own library!
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