Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Sasha Goldshtein (not the same as Sasha my MVP lead or for that matter Sasha my nephew - seems some names just follow me around) has another great Windows 7 post
and this one features native C++ code for extra fun. It tackles a problem you're likely to run into if you're doing Windows 7 development - what should you use as a toolbar preview if your app has a number of tabbed views? As you probably know IE 8 shows you multiple previews, one for each tab (within reason - I have dozens of tabs open some times and it doesn't show all of them) so you might want the same effect for your application.
The idea is that the app looks like this:
And the thumbnails look like this:
One for each tab. Sasha has provided a pair of blog posts explaining this, and you can download the code from his SkyDrive. Very nice!
PS: Want to do it in managed code? Well go get the Code Pack
then. Tabbed Thumbnails are handled nicely there.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Keyvan Nayyeri knows Visual Studio Extensibility all right. He even wrote a book:
Now he's written a multi-part blog series about extending Visual Studio.
- Part 1 clarifies the difference between an add-in and a package, and acknowledges that there are also other ways of extending Visual Studio (it's actually incredibly extensible in a lot of different ways). It's a nice history review to show us how we got to where we are.
- Part 2 is about the IDTExtensibility2 and IDTCommandTarget interfaces. All add-ins implement the first, and those that are on the Tools menu implement the second.
- Part 3 turns to packages, which inherit from the abstract class Package (and therefore have plenty of work to do implementing various interfaces.) Keyvan recommends C++ for package development, interestingly enough.
- Part 4 can now talk about the differences between them in some detail. Add-ins are easier, can be written in more languages, but just can't get the same level of integration that a package can. It depends on the functionality you plan to offer your users.
Looks like there are more parts to come ... stay tuned!
Saturday, September 5, 2009
The MVP program is a little unusual. Members are rewarded for what they've already done, and get all the benefits for a membership year even if they do nothing further. Of course, most of us just keep right on doing what we're doing and get awarded for multiple years. Do we do it for the benefits? Probably not. Most of us like doing community "stuff" whether that's speaking, writing, forums, blogging, or whatnot. But the benefits matter - they actually enable us to do the community stuff. We get extra information in the form of access to betas or conversations with product groups. We get access to each other, a treasure trove of information. And we get recognition, which can open doors for speaker selection folks, article selection folks, and so on. I also know as someone who regularly hires developers that "Microsoft MVP" on a resume makes a huge difference for me.
Now my MVP lead, Sasha, has written a pair of articles that summarizes many important things about the program. Part 1
calls us super heroes and Oscar winners (blush) and has some useful links. Part 2
goes into the benefits a bit.
Of course many people want to know how to become an MVP. It's a bit like how to get to Carnegie Hall
... practise practise practise. Do the community stuff every chance you get, throw yourself into sharing your knowledge, and when you've been doing it for a while and you know an MVP or two, ask one of them if you think you're at that level yet. If they say yes, ask if they're willing to nominate you. If you think you're really active in the community, but not a single MVP knows you and knows what you've been up to, you haven't been active enough yet. People who don't actively share their knowledge often underestimate what "active" means.
Even if you're not nominated or awarded, I am confident that the community work you do will be its own reward. Approach it like that rather than to earn an award, and you're sure to be happy.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Scott Hanselman has done quite a few posts
on Windows 7 topics already. But now he's done a lollapalooza
! He covers:
- The Code7 contest - How to get a trip to PDC and $17,777. Not bad eh? Also covered by Yochay.
- XP2Win7 (aka PhotoView) - I've covered it before and I won't repeat the links from that post. Scott includes a gratuitous underwear shot you're going to love.
- Code Pack - you know it almost deserves its own category here on my blog. Like Scott says, a gold mine of samples in both C# and VB.
- 16 bonus links and the "lightweight" parameter for MSDN.
Speaking of the PDC, they've released a bunch more sessions... it's looking very good. I have to pull the trigger soon on a decision about going straight to the PDC from Tech Ed Europe. It's calling me...
What are you waiting for? You need to read Scott's post.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Here's a recording of a panel
at Tech Ed this summer featuring four dear friends of mine: Stephen Forte
, Joel Semeniuk
, Chris Menegay
, and Richard Campbell
. The title is "Agile: A Process or an Excuse?" but they don't really answer that question. Instead they talk about what Agile means to them, what to say if people argue about whether you're agile or not, and the role of tooling including Visual Studio Team Systems, sticky notes, really large sticky notes, and Excel spreadsheets. They don't agree on all of it, which makes it a good panel, but the insight is useful. Most interesting to me: Joel and Chris have been in the "I am the guy you are making the software for" role on some internal projects - and found themselves doing everything that your usual contact over in the business unit does when you ask for requirements - forgetting some, being vague, leaving out special cases, and demanding changes because of changes in the business model out in the real world. Users don't do these things because they don't know any better; they do them because that's how life is. An agile approach lets you live in that reality instead of bemoaning the fact that no-one will stick to the things they signed two years ago. I listened on fast speed, but I suggest you only do that if you've spent a lot of time listening to these four because they're pretty fast talkers to begin with, and faster still when they get excited about a topic.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
As you probably know, we're on our way to a new version of the .NET Framework. There's so much that is new in it you could hardly know where to start. I'm just letting the information wash over me in other people's blogs, and trying things out with the beta from time to time. I spotted two related things in the last little while.
First was Improvements to Interop Marshaling in V4: IL Stubs Everywhere
on the CLR team blog. The takeaways here are faster performance, consistency between the 32 and 64 bit worlds, and better debugging. Since there is still a lot of native code hiding underneath your managed calls to library functions, everyone cares about the faster performance aspect. Read the post for all the details if interop matters to you the way it matters to me.
Second was COM Interop Gets Much Better in C# 4.0
on DevX. I've always avoided C# for COM interop work because it doesn't do optional parameters, and most COM work is rich in them, especially working with Office, which I used to do quite a lot of. Less casting, no need for PIAs, no more fake values called "missing" or some variant thereof ... it's all good. And here again the magic words "improved performance".
Two small things to note with a non-small impact on your life as a developer.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Alan Skorkin reminds us
that much of what drives current software development process came from the more general study of process for all kinds of work, including manufacturing. When you decide to adopt a particular process, you do so to reach a goal and for that vast majority of businesses, that goal is productivity - more profit per time period. (For a few very small operations, less time period to earn the profit / income sounds far more humane, but is still based on a desire for higher productivity.) Whenever you adopt a process instead of just telling your staff to do whatever you want, it's because you don't think they would be as productive left to their own devices as they would be under the direction of the process.
As Alan points out, there are two very different thoughts behind this basic position. One says that workers are lazy and shiftless. They'd rather chitchat, smoke, or daydream than produce what management wants them to produce. Processes built on this thought are all about measuring and controlling and proving that people have or haven't done what they should have done. The second, christened Theory Y in contrast to the first, which got dubbed Theory X in order to tell the two apart, says that workers are much happier when they know they are productive, and need management to help them achieve productivity as a co-operative goal. Processes built on this thought are full of collaborative work and empowering and the like.
He goes on to draw some specific conclusions about Lean that I will leave aside. I think it's useful to look at the process you work with day to day and ask yourself - is this process founded on Theory X or Theory Y? What image does the management at your firm have of the workers at your firm? Does process control them or support them? Is the motivation for workers assumed to come from inside themselves, or to be imposed by management? No matter what management says about what developers can and can't do, the process you work with will tell you their founding principle. It might be an eye opener to think about it like that.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
It wasn't long ago everyone was talking about a whole new way of working. It started with telecommuting in the 90's, but spread in this century to something far bigger. Remote work as a way of life, virtual teams, outsourcing, offshoring ... the scale just kept growing and the savings for companies appeared to be at least partly met by happy staff, whether that was a guy in the city who didn't have to spend 90 minutes each way in traffic, or a guy who was able to keep living in his small town while working for the big city firm so far away, or even a guy in a developing country who was able to earn more than his neighbours and follow the lure of high tech and problem solving at a time when no firms in that country were offering those jobs. I know many people in the big cities and the developed countries lost their jobs to those people, and I know it wasn't always simple to find traditional employment once the world of work started to change. Still, the world and the way many people in it earn a living changed and will not be changing back.
That said, in the mid 90s everyone I knew who was associated with any of this "new way of working" had come to realize it wasn't just a fire and forget sort of thing. You had to communicate a lot
. And while technology made some ways of communication simple and cheap, so that video calls and conference calls and instant messenger and desktop sharing and so on are all vital, it couldn't do it all. You have to get face to face still, and you have to do it regularly. I recently finished a 10 month contract for clients three thousand miles away. I did the vast majority of the work from here, and had phone calls and livemeetings many times a week. But every 4 to 6 weeks I got on a plane and I went there. And wow, the work we got done in those few days! Mini hallway meetings, lunches, dinners -- I typically could "touch" half the project participants in just two or three days, and solve seemingly intractable problems by going to people's offices and listening to them and looking at their body language and telling them they could trust me or asking them what the real problem was. It made such a huge difference to the success of the project. I didn't get paid for the time I spent travelling to them, or the nights spent away from my family, but I gladly invested that time to make everything go smoothly and to be a successful remote worker.
Some other folks have noticed this too, and in a far more systematic way. How's this for a conclusion
: "... common workplace-relationship problems, such as broken commitments, mistrust
and misrepresentation of information, occur more than twice as often with
virtual teams, as opposed to teams located in the same building. " Yikes! Apparently it's partly because things we do when we're upset with people work well if you see if each other regularly, but make things worse if you're apart. Or this useful summary
: "teams are a lot more effective when they're working with their friends in
than when they're working with those stupid offshore idiots
who never understand our designs or requirements
." So in that context, what could be a worse way of saving money than lowering the travel budget to zero and not letting people visit each other any more?
Yet that is exactly what's happening in a lot of companies. If it's happening in yours, do something about it. You need to visit your colleagues. If not, when your projects go pear-shaped, you may find the whole concept of virtual teams gets thrown out with it. And that would be a real shame.
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