Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Whidbey Rocks! VS 2005 Launch Tour San Fran

Yesterday I attended the Visual Studio 2005 Ready Launch Tour. WOW! I had so much fun.

The morning started with a very loud and exciting performance from Cheap Trick, and the "Rock and Roll" theme continued throughout the day until the very end - even through the complimentary software which was presented in "record album" style. There was even a party afterwards, which I really wanted to go to but could not attend.

Overall

I am personally a Microsoft groupie, and more importantly, very easy to impress - so I had a blast. I thought that the theme was well-played and that there was plenty of opportunity to find out a good deal of top-level info about all of the new products.

I personally was disappointed, though, with the way that they were pushing BizTalk 2006 - they didn't even make a single demo with a very simple web site, without incorporating BizTalk. I guess that should have been expected, and I certainly was very impressed at how tightly integrated the systems were, but I was there for Visual Studio.

Was it a bit disappointing?

If I were to take off my "very easy to impress" hat, I was almost wondering if it was kind of a flop - there was a decided lack of enthusiasm on the part of the crowd. I expected it to be like an Amway convention - with plenty of ooo'ing and ahhh'ing, applause, and rip-raring-ready-to-go developers with their eyes bulging out at all of the new cool tools.

This was not the case.

There was only sparse applause after each presentation, with even a dreaded "hang-time" after one segment, where the speaker expected applause and didn't get it (until the crowd realized they were supposed to clap). I only experienced 3 times in the whole day where the crowd showed any life at all:
  • When Visual Studio 2005 Express Edition was announced as being free
  • When they announced a fully functional PayPal-enabled eCommerce Starter Kit for the 2005 Express Edition
  • When they mentioned something to the effect of the Visual Studio 2005 HTML designer not reformatting your HTML on you every time you switch back from design view (as is happening to me right now, writing this article in VS 2003
I personally thought the day was enjoyable, but it seemed like I was the only one.

The Atmosphere

As I mentioned, I thought the "Rock and Roll" theme was very well played out and carried through the days' presentations and decorations. Nothing beats a free seminar, but I was quite shocked to find that all of the food and goodies were free as well. And there was an ample supply of that.

All of the Microsoft people I talked to were ready to jump and answer any questions, and were very friendly in general. I also found their arrangements for their "Cabanna" side-sessions to be well-placed, roomy, and comfortable. I could always hear and see every speaker clearly, and most of the time nothing was too loud - except for the Cheap Trick presentation, which it should be.

The Moscone Center was "cool", had nice clean (and easily accessible) bathrooms, lots of space, and friendly people.

The Presentations

Too Dry

Maybe one of the reasons I saw a lack of enthusiasm was the college-lecture atmosphere of the presentations. I don't know if it was just me, but even the "very interesting" presentations were so dry and monotonous that I missed key points because my attention was drifting. There were one or two entertaining speakers, but I have to say that the best speaker of the day was the College student they invited to plug VS Express Edition.

They could really have benefitted from taking some tips from Ron Jacobs and the Patterns & Practices team, in that they really know how to joke around and put you at ease, while still covering the material.

No (or too few) "oooo ahhh" moments

I have seen at least one Microsoft presentation before that prompted a "wow" from the whole crowd when the sample demo finally ran and showed off its widget. I vaguely recall a presentation where throughout the short demo, they created a small speech-enabled service; at the end of the demo, they ran a web application, placed an order, and the presenter's cell phone rang and "spoke" about the new order. Everyone ooooo'd, ahhhh'd, and cheered.

There were no (or very few) such moments in these presentations, which is really too bad because I do feel that there are plenty of new "wow" features in the products. There was certainly quite a bit of information, and I didn't feel that any of the presentations were a complete waste of time; however, I just wonder if they could have rearranged them better, or put a bit more life and humor into them.

Bugs

Unfortunately, many of the presenters were using pre-RTM product - one speaker actually told us that. For that reason - or just because applications will never be perfect - in a few presentations the product being demonstrated blew up. Mostly, just enough to "stall" the presentation or even shut down Visual Studio completely. However, my colleague told me one of the presenters in the SQL track was unable to show one whole demo of his because the application would not work as expected.

The Swag

Microsoft gave great swag - some were announced and was expected but some were not. Here's some stuff I got:
  • Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition (DVD)
  • SQL Server 2005 Standard Edition (DVD)
  • BizTalk 2006 [beta?]
  • Voucher for one free certification exam
  • Cool looking T-Shirt and keychain
  • About 5 CD-s that I don't even know what they are yet - trial versions of various things, and a "transcript" of the day, I would guess
  • Geeky flourescent orange armband for "VIP's" (which I did not see one single person actually wear)
  • A very nice soft organizer/binder and pen set, assumedly for taking notes
  • Mandatory hang-around-the-neck event-ticket-holder with bar-code to make sure you don't mooch, and even used by vendors so they can simply scan-and-spam.
Other than that, there was a decided lack of swag from other vendors. *

Oh, there were a lot of vendors there, and they were being very cute in their marketing strategies to get you to come take a look at their booth. One company's employees dressed up as Elvis, Tina Turner, Cher, and some other costumes, to get you to take their CD. HP's employees (I think) had TV's in their T-Shirts. I felt wierd not being able to look the employee in the eyes when they were talking to me, but my eyes kept getting drawn down to the big functioning flat screen TV on their chest.

* Now, as I understand it, there were 2 "contests" going on during the after-launch party, where they were giving away Digital Cameras, printers, and even a Plasma TV. Man, I wish I could have stayed for that, but the way my luck has been going lately (very well), I think my run of good luck has run out and there's no way I would have won anything.

But other than the after-party giveaways, I didn't really get much swag. I got mostly flyers and CD's of marketing materials. The "best" 2 pieces of swag I got, beyond the expected event swag, was another cool event T-Shirt which wasn't even free (I had to buy a book), and a CD from the Patterns & Practices Microsoft team with a bunch of webcasts and podcasts.

The Actual Product

Oh, you mean that there was more than swag and free goodies at this event? Sure, I found out a few things I didn't know about the systems. Here's a very small list of some of the things I personally found useful or just "cool" - I certainly am only skimming the iceberg of what's new.

SQL Server 2005

  • "Native Support" for XML - I got the impression it was like an XML Data Type
  • Try/Catch blocks in T-SQL
  • Directly expose results of a stored procedure as a Web Service
  • Write Stored Procs using C# - This one I did not understand, but they showed a demo that looked like it got a result set, and called some other web service using C# code, all on the SQL Server engine
  • Free "Express" edition (which replaces MSDE?)

Visual Studio 2005 - Web stuff

  • HTML Editor doesn't screw up your HTML any more
  • Master Pages
  • DataGrid control - no longer have to write code to hook up Edit/Update/Delete
  • New Login control
  • New Registration control

Visual Studio 2005 - Other

  • I heard the word "Generics" being bandied about, but don't know what they are other than what I read in the book I had to purchase to get the "free" T-Shirt
  • I heard about Smart Client and One-Click deployment, although missed that seminar to go to one of the Cabanna sessions
  • Free "Express" editions of VB and C#

Visual Studio Team System

  • Re-write ground up of version control system
  • Associates check-ins with bugs and work orders
  • Helps coordinate your bugs and work orders with your whole team
  • Plugins for Excel, Outlook, and Reporting Services

BizTalk Server 2006

  • I didn't find out anything about BizTalk I didn't already know (which is not much) except for seeing how closely it integrates in with Visual Studio now. There were BizTalk-specific talks, but I did not attend.
I know I'm missing a ton of stuff here - I'm going to have to research all of this further, and actually read the material that I got yesterday. It was quite a lot to take in.

Mini-Tour

Well, I had fun yesterday. But it's certainly a lot to take in, and I only went to the developer track seminars. I am also going to be attending a 1/2 day event in Sacramento on December 15th, at which I will go to the SQL Server track and see what I can gain from that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

MCMS Error - Web Author - Rich Page / Make Rich

We were having an issue with our Commerce Server site in relation to Content Management Server. There is a "Web Author Console" that allows you to create, move, and edit "postings" on the fly. Part of that console was mysteriously throwing an error, and from some research, we found that it was the "Make Rich" link that was throwing the error.

The error was being thrown in the MsibCreateNewRichPageAction get_ActionJavascript method. The error was "An unhandled exception of type Microsoft.ContentManagement.WebControls.WebAuthorException has occurred : The property cannot be accessed before the Control.OnInit() phase."

Unfortunately, I could not find any answers to this problem using either Google or Microsoft Managed Newsgroups, so I re-post it here in the hopes that someone else will find it helpful.



This issue has been solved via a tech support call with Microsoft. The technician was very polite and helpful, and it turns out that is was a rare but very easy solution.

Apparently, the location (in CMS) where the templates were being stored had been moved without the knowledge of our developers. The "default rich product template path" was being queried, and no template was found at that location. Therefore, the link was not created and this error was caused.

The path info can be found was in 2 ways:

(1) Look in the Commerce Server Manager. Navigate to Commerce Sites --> SITE_NAME --> Site Resources --> Content Connector. Look at the value for the property "Default Rich Product Template"

(2) Open Visual Studio .NET and view the MCMS Template Explorer. Right-click on your Rich Product Template and select Properties. Look at the value for the property "Path"

Once you have the path that is being used, open up your Site Manager for Microsoft Content Management Server. Click on "Template Gallery" on the left-hand side. Make sure that your template is located in the path that was specified using the 2 methods above.

Monday, October 03, 2005

CodeProject Article posted - VSS Automation

I have posted my first CodeProject article - Visual Source Safe 6.0 Recursive Rollback.

This article covers the basics of VSS Automation using the SourceSafe API (SourceSafeTypeLib) and the SS.exe command line utility. The code sample shows rolling back an entire project hierarchy recursively.

Please check out my article and give it a rating. Post any comments you would like, and help me make the article better!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

CodeProject Article Review - VSS Automation

I have created an article for CodeProject that discusses Visual SourceSafe 6.0. It covers integration with the SourceSafe API into a .NET Project, in addition to using the SS.exe command line utility.

See the article here.

The focus of the sample code is to iterate through an entire project hierarchy and do a rollback to a particular label or file.



I am asking anyone who wants to, to please review this article before I post it on CodeProject. It is my first article, and I would like to simply make sure that I am not making any large blatant mistakes, or outright stating something that is incorrect.

Please post any comments here you may have, or email me. Thank you in advance for any advice you can give.

Monday, September 26, 2005

MSDN Webcast notes - blogging from the Dev's perspective

I have just listened to today's WebCast on Blogging: MSDN WebCast: Blogging from the Developer's Perspective (Level 100). It was mostly the same as the last WebCast from TechNet, but there were many different questions from others; I also got to ask a lot of specific questions arising from experimenting with blogging last week.

Here are some random points of interest from this WebCast:

Google returns blog hits
Google's main search engine includes several of the larger blogs sites. Regular searches there will return hits from blog articles. I was under the impression that someone had to search a Blog Search engine; the trick is, then, to make your blog interesting enough such that enough people link to it. The more people that link to your blog, the higher you will appear in the search results list.

According to the WebCast, most people don't go past the first page of results when searching on engines such as Google or MSN search or Yahoo. That stands to reason, because I know I have the tendency to click on the first page's links first, even if they don't look 100% relevant to what I've searched for.

Blogging Academy
Check out this site from Josh Bancroft: http://www.bloggingacademy.com/. This is a tutorial site for blogging with Podcasts discussing many how-to's and tips, along with a lot of blogging resources.

Advertise your Blog
Pheedo.com is a site that will offer services to promote your blog and set up advertisement on your blog.

RSS is not just for blogs
Here is a quote from WebCast when I asked to give some examples of how RSS is being used: "Some other examples of RSS: Halo 2's stats are sharable via RSS. Our plasma screens at the PDC got all of its data via RSS feeds from various places. The next version of Sharepoint spits out RSS. SO does the next version of CRM".

It was also suggested that, since RSS is just XML, it could be developed internally for use in custom reporting applications.

Blog Spamming
To my understanding, the CommentAPI is a plug-in that will allow you to post a comment to someone's blog right from your syndication application (like RSS Bandit or NewsGator). Many spammers, however, are exploiting this - they will automatically post a comment on your new blog with a link to their web site, in an attempt to boost their statistics and thus drive more traffic to their site.

I had to turn on comment verification because I noticed this was happening to me. I was all excited about getting a comment not 2 minutes after I posted my article last week, only to be disappointed when I realized it was spam.

OMPL
According to theMSDN Bloggers site, OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) is "a format based on XML that facilitates the exchange of outline-structured information between applications running on different operating systems and environments".

That doesn't really make sense to me - I think it's a way to download and import blog lists into aggregators.



Now that I'm looking for it, it seems that blogging is everywhere - where was I? Apparently, many search results I have been coming across are actually blog hits. It seems that you can customize your Blog site (even on free sites such as this one) to the extent that it practically looks like a small informational web site.

In any case, it looks like blogging is here to stay, so it's our job to see how we best fit into the blogging world, and to jump in before the train passes.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Added myself to TechNet

I have added my blog to the Microsoft TechNet blogger site; my challenge now is to keep up with my blogging. At first, I plan on simply repeating what I heard in a WebCast, like I did in my previous blog.

I also have to figure out the styles and formatting this template site is using, because I noticed my header sections were pretty large and obnoxious. At least I got rid of the Pink fluffy template I tested a week ago - it looked like Barbie revisited.

I have signed up for the next blogging webcast coming up Monday: MSDN Webcast: Blogging from the Developer's Perspective (Level 100). I hope to post by Tuesday night a summary on that info like I did with the first one.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Notes from MSFT WebCast

I mentioned in my last blog post that I had seen a fantastic WebCast from Microsoft that indroduced Blogging and RSS Syndication.

This webcast was recorded, and is now available for download at the following link: TechNet Webcast: Introduction to Blogging for the IT Professional (Level 100). I watched the recording and took some notes this time, which I sharewith you here. This is my own interpretation, so anyone who wants to correct me, please do.

Don't forget the next live webcast coming up: MSDN Webcast: Blogging from the Developer's Perspective (Level 100). And this link is at the bottom, but it's a good one - check out this Microsoft blogger site: TechNet Webcasts & Events Bloggers

Intro to Blogging

Some points on blogging:
  • Newest posts are listed first
  • Most blogs are written by a single person
5 things that make blogging hot:
  • It is very easy to publish to - free web interfaces
  • Discoverability - it's very easy to find your blog post/article on blog search engines
  • Most blog tools will show who's linking to your blog and how much traffic they have sent to your blog
  • Many blogs will have what is known as a permalink - you can get a url for just that entry. Users, therefore don't have to navigate to a page and then scroll down to find the particular posting.
  • Syndication (RSS, ATOM) and news aggregators
Locate blogs using a Blog search engine such as the following: What makes a good blog
  • Be Passionate - talk about what you love to do. Don't make it boring: keep your personality in it.
  • Be Authoritative - Do you talk about the entire industry? Are you well rounded? Do you know what you're talking about?
  • Be Credible - Don't lie, let people know your background and biases
  • When posting about an event or news story, post quickly after the story breaks. If you don't post within the first few hours you won't really be "part" of the conversation (especially technology).
Some blogging tips:
  • A great way for a techie to get started on a blog is to post questions and answers - problems they've run across and how to solve them. Similar to articles on CodeProject, but more informal and much shorter. That will help get links to your blog.
  • Pick a niche. People don't like when you talk about mixed topics in the same blog, or about personal events. If you want to post personal events, post in another blog.
  • Put what you're talking about in your title tag so it's easy to see that searching. Don't just write "My Blog", write "My Racquetball Blog" for example.
Why Blog? or What's the use for blogging?
  • Good bloggers have more following than some good authors
  • Practice your Tech writing skills
  • Interviews - many employers search on prospective employees by seeing if they are respected in the blogging communities
  • Word-of-mouth for your product. For example, If you write a software application and someone blogs about your software (i.e. reviews it), it helps to get the word out about that application.
  • You can very quickly check out lots and lots of news and info using blogs and aggregators.
How do you become known?
  • The more others link to your blogs, the more the search engines will find you, and the more of a following you will develop.
  • Do a podcast, videocast, or screencast in addition to your blog. (Be careful with the amount of bandwidth that your ISP's will limit you on). Check out this site http://www.blogcastrepository.com/ for some good screencasts (or blogcasts)
  • Go register on technet at http://techneteventsbloggers.net/ - if you have good content in your blog, it will be posted to the community. This is a good way to get discovered if you are a small blogger.
Some places to host your blog:

Intro to Aggregation

  • An aggregator is what Outlook is to Email - it's the client for effective blogging. Most are free or very cheap. Some aggregators are web-based, so the status of your items are carried with you.
  • It draws readers that want to stay with you and your posts.
  • Aggregation makes blogging more powerful. Think of how you would typically read someone's blog every day: you would create an internet favorite to their blog, go back there manually every day, and then have to examine the site to see what you have read and what you have not read.
  • RSS - Really Simple Syndication - is an XML document that aggregators use to read content from weblogs.
How do I subscribe to a feed?

Usually you will see RSS or XML on a web site. This is a link to the XML document used to subscribe to the blog.

Some aggregators will let you simply right-click on that link to subscribe, or else just use the subscribe feature in your aggregator by typing in the URL directly.

Some aggregators: Why use an aggregator?

Q: "Do I have to go to your web site every day to check to see if you have new blog posts?"
A: "No, you only have to go once to my blog, and subscribe to it via RSS; then my blog comes to you."
  • Distinguishes between read and unread posts like email clients
  • You can subscribe to different sites and topics
  • Automatically updates the information for you. You don't waste time browsing to a web site that has no new posts.
  • Very powerful for getting through lots of news fast
What is a podcast? (Portable Device + Broadcast)

Blogging Communities

  • Each individual blogger has their own blog feed and the community also has a cumulative main feed.
  • The more people that subscribe to these community sites, the better thechances are that you'll get higher readership, than if you just had your own blog site.
  • You need to fit into the group - don't post cat photos or off-topic articles, as youmay have your posts removed by the administrator(s)
  • Community blogs may have ads on them
  • Visitors are looking for specific topics so may find your blog easier than on your own blog site
Some community blogs you can get started on:

Corporate Blogging

Be careful what you say, if your company can in any way be linked (i.e. using their name, or having pictures with their logo).
  • Assume your company or boss will eventually read your blog - especially ones referencing your company's name or your full name
  • ell your company or boss about your blog beforehand
  • Find out what your company's guidelines or policies

Technet Blogging Resources