Sunday, November 22, 2009

The ups and downs of the final PDC 2009 day

In addition to the WCF 4.0 session I blogged about earlier, I also attended some more sessions. The first one, Hybrid Cloud Computing with Azure and the Service Bus by Clemens Vasters was quite cool. One of the challenges that you may have if you move only a part of your system to an Azure server , is how to communicate with your on-premise systems. His team wrote a nice tool called the Port Bridge that you can use to create a very efficient secure tunnel between the cloud-based website and the firewalled on-premise application server or database. It understands many of the protocols and can tunnel both TCP/IP as well as Named Pipes. Check out a more detailed description on Clemens' blog.

I then continued to the Workflow Services and Window Server AppFabric session, but left halfway. The speaker was British and had a horrible accent that made it very difficult to follow him. Anyhow, in addition to the WCF statistics, AppFabric's IIS extensions also provide in-depth information on the whereabouts of individual Workflow instances and its contained activities.

After the lunch, I dropped in a XAML/Silverlight Futures talk, but left after ten minutes because it was only dealing with advanced XAML parsing. I then moved to the Mastering RIA Services session but was disappointed as well. The first half hour was just an intro of what happens under the hood, followed by some best practices. However, the term "mastering" was rather misleading since it never touched the advanced topics I was expecting. Definitely not on par with the remainder of the PDC sessions.

I concluded the day with an awesome talk on all the aspects Team Foundation Server 2010 offers for getting a piece of functionality completely done. It included aspects such as gated check-in, automatic deployment, and managing your entire test lab using the System Center Virtual Machine Manager and the Test and Lab Manager. The host, Brian Randal, is a very good and enthusiastic speaker. I attended his full-day pre-conference session on last year's PDC.

As of now, all sessions should be available in normal quality as well as HD from the PDC website here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Routing and service discovery in WCF 4.0

This year, the PDC 2009 lasts only four days (if you include the preconference day) so today I tried to attend as many sessions as possible. It's amazing to see how fast this week passed by. And I don't know how Microsoft does it, but this PDC has been full of novelties and amazing moments (and with that I'm not even mentioning all the social aspects of such a conference).

For instance, when I decided to attend a WCF 4.0 session, I didn't expect to see so many improvements and innovations, First of all, they've significantly reduced the amount of configuration needed to get your services running. Default bindings and behaviors, inheritance of bindings and behaviors, and listing services in the web.config rather than individual .svc files all make configuration easier. Another improvement is the advanced health monitoring and tracing functionality that they’ve integrated in the IIS manager. This takes the form of a dashboard providing live information on the WCF services running on a server, including extensive visualization and deep diving features for analyzing what is really going on in your service. So you no longer need to fiddle with configuration settings in the web.config to get some tracing.

Another new feature is service discovery. I'm not really sure what happened with the UDDI protocol, but in WCF 4.0 they’ve introduced new behaviors that will make your service discoverable through an UDP multi-cast network package. Using the new DynamicEndPoint class you can simply provide the contract definition of the service you're looking for, and WCF will look for a running service on the network. Really cool. And it supports both this kind of ad-hoc discovery as well as managed discovery facilitated by a dedicated discovery service running somewhere in your company.

However, the most impressive feature of WCF 4.0 is the built-in routing service that you can host just like any other service. Its feature set includes a routing engine that uses customizable filters to determine how to route what service operations to which service. It also has built-in support for bridging different transport/bindings, different SOAP versions, and even handle different authentication mechanisms. In addition to that, it can automatically reroute messages to an alternate endpoint if the preferred one is not available le. And finally, even though I'm against distributed transactions, the transaction scope will flow over the routed channel.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Silverlight, Silverlight, Silverlight...and laptops

On the second day of the PDC, Scott Guthrie announced the release of the first beta of Silverlight 4. Well, I've been expecting Silverlight to replace WPF as the first-choice for line-of-business apps for a long time, and I was right. The number of new features is overwhelming. Just look at this comprehensive post written by Tim Heuer to get definitive prove. And as part of this release, they've renamed the RIA Services framework to WCF RIA Services and included it in the Silverlight 4 SDK. Check out this post to get some more info on what has changed since the last CTP. I spend the remainder of the day attending every Silverlight 4 session available. I'm so looking forward to using this in a real-life project.

One thing all attendees noticed this week is that the PDC was going through a crisis as well. There was no free breakfast, no party at Universal Studios and even no gadget. Well, the PDC organization has compensated for that big time. How? Well, because during the keynote, Steven Sinofsky announced that every attendee will receive a multi-touch convertible Acer Aspire 1420P tablet pc for free. Now that's what I call an awesome gadget! And it is fully installed with Windows 7, the Office 2010 beta and some nice showcase tools for its multi-touch support. I can tell you that the audience went wild when this was announced.

TDD and BDD at the PDC 2009

In addition to the usual hot-of-the-press content, the PDC organization also introduced a new way for attendees to contribute to the event. They call it a birds-of-a-feather session where attendees can propose a subject and host a discussion in one of the break-out rooms. Obviously, I filed a proposal on one of my favorite subjects TDD and BDD, and unlike my expectations, I was actually selected as one of the proposals.

Well, yesterday, the first day of the PDC, it finally happened. At 16:30 I went to room 309 and found it exceeding its full capacity of 120 people in no time. Apparently, automated testing and Agile practices are just as hot in the US as it is in Netherlands. I started the sessionwith an inventory of questions people would like to get an answer to. BDD was important, but after a short discussion I got the impression that most attendees did not yet really grasp the essentials of TDD. But since it was a discussion session, Ididn't want to take control and explain it to the audience myself. Instead I tried to let individual attendees explain it to the rest. Unfortunately, since many interpretations exists, that didn't really work. I tried to steer the discussion to get a clear understanding of it, and I made sure I added my two cents as well, but I'm quite sure some attendees still left the session with some unclarity.

Nevertheless, a small group of developers kept lingering at the room's exit and we've been continuing the discussion for almost an hour. So from my point of view, it was a big success. Even if they did not all grasp the concepts and ideas behind TDD, they sure have been triggered to read more about it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

First day at the PDC 2009

After waking up at 5:00 in the morning for the third night in a row, Tuesday was the first day of the PDC conference itself. As is common for any Microsoft conference, the first keynote is usually a bunch of marketing stuff, and this one was no different. Nevertheless, if you have watched it from the PDC site, you will agree that this whole cloud thing cannot be ignored anymore. I have to make sure I'll attend one of many cloud sessions in addition to all the architectural and Silverlight talks.

The keynote was followed by a talk by the team-formally-known-as-the-Oslo-gang, Chris Anderson and Don Box. It started with a short intro on the Entity Framework 4.0 which helped me confirm the ideas I've been forming for my next SDN talk. Right after that, they introduced the OData protocol that allows virtually any application and framework to exchange data. And while doing that, they used Quadrant as a 'nice visualization tool for showing data'. I really wonder what happened with all the Oslo tools and frameworks. One cool thing about OData is that you can retrieve the metadata in EDMX-format from any OData-compatible data source, even a Sharepoint list. By simply providing the URL to the data source in the Add Service Reference dialog of VS, it will generate code in similar way the Entity Framework does for you now.

The remainder of the day was filled with an additional EF4 session which didn't reveal anything new for me, some tips and tricks on Blend 3, and some nice demos showing some of things they have in mind for the next version of ASP.NET.

The official conference day was finalized by a moderate party in the main lounge amongst the many exhibitioners such as DevExpress, Infragistics and Telerik. Thomas was tired, but Ronald and I concluded the day with a drink in the Saddle Ranch at Sunset Boulevard.

Silverlight 4 Beta available now

During the keynote of the second day of the PDC, Scott Guthrie announced the first beta of Silverlight 4. What we already knew for a while is becoming true: Silverlight will replace WPF for most line-of-business apps. The release is scheduled for the first quarter of 2010.

Checkout the announcement page for more details and the download links.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Between fun and work

On Monday, we drove back from Las Vegas while doing a quick stop at another factory outlet mall and another stop at the local Frys electronics shop. Las Vegas was sunny but really cold (about 3 degrees Celsius) so we where happy to be back in LA and enjoy a nice 20 degrees. We left quite late in the morning so it was already 15:30 at the time we entered the LA zone again. We didn't have lunch yet, so we decided to continue to the Santa Monica area. But because of the traffic, at the time we parked the car near Santa Monica blvd, we decided that a light dinner was better. Santa Monica is a very nice area which I think could live in without any issues.

Because I was supposed to be at the PDC conference center at 19:00 for a meet-and-greet with the Birds-of-a-Feather organization, we didn't have a lot of time to linger over there. In fact, because of the traffic jams I barely managed to be on time. No, not barely, but not at all!. Apparently, Outlook screwed up the time zone differences and put the meeting request at the wrong time. I had to be at the conference center at 18:00 instead of 19:00! When I entered the room at 18:50 the audience made some funny comments which I didn't get initially. Only when they wrapped up the meeting five minutes later, a proverbial light bulb popped up. Fortunately, the guys from the organization were willing to summarize the most important hints and tips, and I joined them on a walk to Palarmo's Party at The Mayan a few blocks from the conference center.

The party was fun, but not as crowded as last year which is probably caused by the fact that there so few Dutch attendees :-). We left at around 21:30 to go to the rooftop bar of The Standard, but that appeared to be a bit boring as well. So after grabbing a bite from the local Subway we finalized another fun day in California.

Viva Las Vegas

Since we were in LA anyway and they rented a convertible (particularly a Chrysler Sebring), Thomas and Ronald suggested to drive to Las Vegas on Sunday and return on Monday. So we went on a road trip to the City of Sin. It takes only 4,5 hours to drive there and there are plenty of Starbucks along the road, so we actually had quite a lot of fun driving there. We stayed at the Stratosphere hotel which is well-known for its 350-meter high tower. I have a slight problem with heights, but we did go up and enjoyed a spectacular view from the open balcony. Quite a challenging endeavor since the tower is actually swinging back and forth all the time.

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We spend most of the day trawling along The Strip and getting surprised by the awesome hotels. Especially The Venetian is really impressive. They've essentially duplicated large parts of Venice, including a really impressive indoor canal where the roof looks like an genuine open sky with clouds and all.

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Unlike the rumors, Las Vegas is less hysterical than I expected. Obviously, you'll find casinos everywhere (and with everywhere I mean everywhere, even at tank stops), but the atmosphere is quite relaxed. We enjoyed some beers and tacos along the indoor canal, and had dinner at one of the food courts you'll find in the many hotels. After we returned to the hotel, Thomas decided to go to bed, but me and Ronald still had some energy left to go visit a night club. After a 2-km walk we ended up at the Lavo Nightclub and enjoyed two beers for 17 dollars (!), but the fatigue caught on us quite promptly. We must be getting old...

Arriving in LA, California

Last Saturday, after a long 11-hour flight, I finally arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport. Fortunately, Lars Cornelissen, a German speaker which I met at the NRWConf 2009, was sitting next to me. So at least there was somebody to chat with and the flight was not utterly boring. Since I hooked up with Thomas Huijer and Ronald Harmssen from Oosterkamp Training, I took a ride with their convertible and was dropped off at The Standard, my residence for this week. The room is very nice; cheaper, but much more spacious than the Westin Boneventura I spend last year. It even has an IPod docking station.

Since they both arrived with half full suit cases (why didn't I think about that?), we drove to the Citidal Outlets to do some outlet shopping. Prices of brands like Tommy Hillfiger are incredibly low already, but with the current Euro-Dollar rate, it gets even better. Suffice to say, I was succesful :-) We completed the day with diner at Rudy's, a 1940-style burger restaurant. Since we were all suffering from the time difference, at around 20:00, we called it a day.