# Monday, 24 September 2007

jaoo2007_1 Domain specific languages (DSL) are gaining in popularity thus I wanted to know more about them and how I can go about creating them myself. Oren gave an interesting talk on that very topic. So what do we need a DSL for anyway? Oren's main point here was that a DSL will ease communication with the business because you get concise code that you can show to the business users who can then verify that the code actually does what they want. The DSL is basically syntactic sugar which makes everything clean and easy to read.

While I certainly get what Oren is saying I've yet to meet a business person who can actually relate to IT in a deep way much less to actual code however simple it may be. In my experience business persons shut down whenever things start to get hairy, seeing actual code is definitely the hairiest of disciplines if you ask me.

Two types of DSLs exist: External and internal. An external DSL is created from scratch, a couple of examples of external DSls are SQL and Regular Expressions. Of course a DSL created from scratch needs a lot of work to get going thus we arrive at internal DSLs. An internal DSL is actually piggybacking on an existing language which makes it easier to get going. Boo is an example of one such language well suited to creating internal DSLs though usually one would use a dynamic language for these purposes.

So what is Boo? Boo is a CLR language like C# and VB; it compiles to IL. What Boo provides over C# and VB is an open compiler architecture which provides you with access to the compiler at compile time allowing you to change the output. Interestingly Boo is white space significant; I didn't get the concept before Oren's talk but all it means is that indentation decides which code blocks belong together. For developing Boo code we have the open source IDE SharpDevelop which actually supports C# also. I heard about SharpDevelop on DotNetRocks! but didn't think too much of it as a product. Who needs an IDE which does less than Visual Studio? Well Oren showed us why SharpDevelop is a big deal for DSLs. Basically you take the code for SharpDevelop and create a version for your code-savvy business persons and have them develop their code in an environment tailored to their needs.

All in all an informative presentation given by Oren Eini. I wasn't convinced about the value of DSls when I left the session but talking with Søren Skovsbøll who had a nice example of where you can use a DSL very effectively: Namely for creating questionnaires. Questionnaires can be notoriously complex to put together with various rules and sub-questions depending on previous answers. It would simply be much easier to express your intent with code in say a DSL :)

As a little addendum I can mention that Oren actually started out by talking about fluent interfaces which are the simplest way of doing DSL-like stuff. What's interesting here is that fluent interface doesn't require you to learn a new language to implement. You can do them in you language of choice and gain a lot of expressiveness. Unfortunately the plumbing of fluent interfaces requires a lot of work which is why you usually go for a fullblown DSL instead.

posted on Monday, 24 September 2007 21:35:33 (Romance Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [2] Trackback

jaoo2007_1 Robert Martin gave a very entertaining keynote this morning. He basically spoke about defining our profession and what it means to be a software professional. As an industry we've traditionally been all over the map with each developer did what he thought best in a given situation and he tried to address some of the aspects we as an industry need to work with to reach a higher maturity level.

So how do we define professionalism? Robert Martin's idea of professionalism boils down to a shared mindset and a set of techniques. The mindset part of it is basically what the agile manifesto sets forth with the individual being responsible and generally behaving like "the good citizen". He elaborated on this by giving a couple of examples: If you write code try and leave the code base just a bit prettier than you found it. This resonated especially well for me because I inherited a large code base a couple of years back and actually adopted that very mindset. The result of this is that the code base is in much better shape than when I got back then. Furthermore he mentioned that the mindset you want developers to adopt is a that of "zero defects". Of course this is a utopian goal but if you strive for perfection you're sure to create a better product than you'd have done if you from the get go start out with a "shit happens" mindset :)

Another of his points that resonated with me is that of short iterations and no big redesigns. If you have a big mess in your system don't go down the road of a total redesign, chances are that the specs for the new system will change too rapidly making the new system obsolete before it's done. Instead try to tackle the mess one step at a time, much like the "leave the code base in better shape"-rule. This fits quite well with the idea of refactoring and as such is something I not only think is a good idea but something I've seen work in the trenches. Again this is not something which is set in stone as you will experience situations where a complete system redesign is not only appropriate but necessary; like for example when you're moving from one platform to another which is fundamentally incompatible with the other. Even in this case you could argue that technologies like web services can indeed enable an iterative approach to porting the system. But that's another story entirely :)

Test driven development is another topic he dwelled on for quite some time and with good reason too. I'm coming to believe that TDD is going to be an essential part of the modern developer's skill set and as such we need to start thinking about architectural support and guidance on it. With TDD as a natural part of development we simply put ourselves in a much better position to support our customers in the future. How many times have you experienced that development ground to a halt due to complexity, not necessarily business complexity, but complexity imposed by the fact that the system has become too much of a mess for you to be able to gauge the risks of adding a new feature, much less comfortably test it for release? With TDD this because a non-issue because you know that the system is passing your tests at all times. Thus you can actually achieve the "!refactor mercilessly" approach to software development that Martin Fowler et al advocates.

Finally apprenticeship is a topic which rung true with me. The premise of this topic was the fact the newly educated people simply don't possess the skill set to participate in a software development process right out of school. Therefore Robert Martin proposed a notion of apprenticeship for newly educated people getting hired into a software development organization. It's an area I've done a little bit of dabbling in but I've never actually gotten a completely fresh guy right out of college, my work focused more on getting people with experience up to speed in areas which they were lacking.

Robert Martin is a very skilled presenter who managed to keep the crowd entertained. His style of presenting is very active which makes it even more engaging. The keynote certainly bodes well for the rest of the conference.

posted on Monday, 24 September 2007 14:29:50 (Romance Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, 23 September 2007

jaoo2007_1 Next week marks the beginning of the JAOO 2007 conference and this year I'm going. JAOO is organized by Danish company Trifork (formerly East Object Space or EOS for short). JAOO is traditionally a Java conference with well known speakers such as Ted Neward, Martin Fowler, and more.

So why, might you ask, am I going to attend a Java conference? The answer is three fold: One I'd like to get a broader perspective on the business of software development and I'm confident that attending a conference not following the Microsoft sanctioned line will provide me that.

Secondly a conference like TechEd is geared towards actual products coming out of Microsoft rather than the ubiquitous ideas behind software development. Don't get me wrong it's great fun to learn about all the new toys coming out of Microsoft but really when you get right down to it the ideas behind are what is really interesting as they tend to stick around much longer. So what this boils down to is really that I hope to gain architectural insights for use on future projects.

Thirdly the .NET community gets a lot of inspiration from open source frameworks, ideas, and techniques. To me it seems that a lot of innovation is happening within the open source space, a lot of which we'll see a some point in .NET. Tools and frameworks like JUnit, Log4J, and Spring have been around for a long time in the Java space and they all have successful .NET ports; for NUnit so much so that it was included in Team System. With this I'm looking to learn more about the various frameworks and tools out there.

With all that said JAOO is turning away from the concept of a pure Java conference, this year two tracks are actually dedicated to .NET: The .NET Road and LINQ both of which I'll be attending. They cover Monday and Tuesday for me. Wednesday will be Professional Developer. I'm looking forward to cementing my ideas on LINQ and I'm positive that Tuesday will help me doing so.

Thursday is going to bring the part I'm looking forward to the most: The Test Driven Development tutorial. Basically an entire day of hands-on TDD. Although it'll be with a Java focus I'm sure that I can port the ideas directly to .NET. My only concern is that I'm going to be the only Visual Studio guy in there but I'll deal with that once I get there :)

posted on Sunday, 23 September 2007 20:48:55 (Romance Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback

<a  href=dasBlog-2-Download-Now" src="http://www.publicvoid.dk/content/binary/WindowsLiveWriter/UpgradedtoDasBlog2.1_9EC4/dasBlog-2-Download-Now_3.png" width="500" align="right" border="0"> dasBlog 2.0 was released little over a month ago and I've been wanting to update to it for a while; yesterday I finally got around to doing it. If you're in the same situation and need to update an existing dasBlog install here are the steps to do for a 1.9 to 2.x update:

  • Copy bin directory
  • Copy root directory files, aspx, ascx, everything found in the root directory of dasBlog
  • Copy web.config
  • Copy DatePicker and ftb (this is just in case)

When you're done updating the code remember to reconfigure your IIS AppPool to run ASP.NET 2.0 as dasBlog 2.x is now a framework 2.0 application. Please note that if you have other framework 1.1 apps running in the same AppPool you'll need a separate AppPool for 2.0 as a single AppPool will, not surprisingly, run one framework version only.

With the updated version a couple of new feature are available on this blog: Paging on the main page, i.e. you can now move backwards through posts. Scroll to the bottom of the main page if you want to see how it works.

<a  href=dasBlog-2-Main-Page-Paging" src="http://www.publicvoid.dk/content/binary/WindowsLiveWriter/UpgradedtoDasBlog2.1_9EC4/dasBlog-2-Main-Page-Paging_3.gif" width="198" border="0">

Paging in the categories, instead of just displaying everything only five posts are displayed when you looking at a particular category.

<a  href=dasBlog-2-Category-Paging" src="http://www.publicvoid.dk/content/binary/WindowsLiveWriter/UpgradedtoDasBlog2.1_9EC4/dasBlog-2-Category-Paging_3.gif" width="377" border="0">

If you're running your own blog on dasBlog a nice little addition is found in the admin module. It's now very easy to switch back and forth between dates when you're viewing you referral stats. Very handy.

<a  href=dasBlog-2-Admin-Referrals-D" src="http://www.publicvoid.dk/content/binary/WindowsLiveWriter/UpgradedtoDasBlog2.1_9EC4/dasBlog-2-Admin-Referrals-D_3.gif" width="436" border="0">

posted on Sunday, 23 September 2007 14:18:21 (Romance Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Friday, 21 September 2007
# Thursday, 20 September 2007

http://people.uleth.ca/~roberto.bello/Let me take you back to a time before Windows Vista, before a DOS-free Windows OS even. Let me take you back to 2001 with Windows XP just ready for release. Back in 2001 I wrote a review of Windows XP for a Danish online site which I found the other day while digging through my documents folder.

With Windows Vista released and basically a very different landscape from what was the case in 2001 I thought it would be fun for you to see what I had to say about Windows XP back then. The original article was done in Danish so I've translated it for you here. If Danish is not an issue for you, you can check out the original article as well.

It was fun for me to read my reactions from back then. Some of the stuff just wasn't researched all that well on my part but I got other stuff right. My comments about Messenger are particularly funny to me because I'm an avid user of the program today; I do blame the integrated version of Windows Messenger for this though as I quite liked my ICQ experience back then. Also if you look closely on one of the screenshots you'll see evidence of my foray into Java. Like my Linux experience it's not something I speak too loudly about today :)

Finally a lot of the doom and gloom I wrote about never came to pass. Microsoft really transformed themselves between then and now. Product activation never turned out to be a problem and of course neither did Error Reporting. I do believe that Windows XP is one of the best releases of Windows ever, I like my Vista but we're looking at some of the same little things today that we saw back then too. Little bugs, unexplained Explorer crashes, stuff that's ironed out of Windows XP by now.

Windows XP: From DOS to Windows

Introduction

A long time has passed since the world was given the first version of Windows as we know it today. Many people describe the step from Windows 9x to XP as comparable to the step we took forward with the release of Windows 95 which replaced DOS. I have to admit that I don't see the release of Windows XP as quite that big a deal. Having used Windows XP for a while I just don't buy that the step from a command prompt to a graphical user interface should be comparable to the step from one graphical user interface to a slightly updated, easier to use version of the same interface :)

Windows XP ships in two versions: Home and Professional where Home is the cheap trimmed down version. The pro version pretty much matches the functionality which we know and love from Windows 2000 Professional; the pro version is the version to get if you're serious about your computing experience.

Installation

I won't comment too much on the installation process besides mentioning that it's very easy to deal with. Windows XP even recognizes a lot of RAID controllers which are becoming increasingly mainstream as they come integrated on many motherboards these days. A general observation about the new OS is that a lot of drivers come integration into the OS. I was able to get Windows XP up and running with all my hardware configured without adding a single driver to system. A very impressive feat.

The installation is reminiscent of the one found in Windows 2000 and Windows Me; it's basically a hybrid of the two.

Having completed the installation you notice how quickly the system boots. As a Windows 2000 user I'm used to turning on the computer and waiting at least a couple of minutes before the system is up and running; even with 2000 running you have to wait additional time for the various startup programs to launch. Windows XP boots at half the time and seems more zippy than Windows 2000.

The New Stuff

What constitutes this seemingly "great" leap forward for Windows XP? This is what I'm going to find out in this section by visiting some of the new features found in Windows XP.

Look and Feel

windowsXP-desktop The most obvious new thing about Windows XP is the user interface which has had a huge overhaul. From being gray, boring, and all business it's gone to exciting, colorful, and playground-y. It really is an interface you just want to explore and click your way through. As we all know a picture says more than a thousand words so take a peek at the screen shot of the new desktop I've included. Notice the gorgeous, modern feel of the desktop.

What lies at the heart of this user interface are skins. You can go out to the Internet and download new skins for Windows XP which change the look and feel of the OS. You only get a single skin out of the box but you do have the opportunity to go back to the classic look of Windows 2000 if you want to.

windowsXP-controlpanel Besides the very prominent new user interface there are a couple of nice little features which gives the OS a feeling of completeness to it - when it works, more about that later.

The control panel has gotten an overhaul as well and as a result we've gotten a different approach to managing the computer. Microsoft decided to go with a more task-based approach which to my mind works well for newbies but starts to break down for people who know what they're looking for. Luckily it's possible to revert back to the original view of the control panel just as was the case with the desktop. Very nice!

windowsXP-explorer Windows Explorer is another area of Windows which has gotten a face lift which means that the tips you get at the right side of the screen are actually useful. The area is now used to display relevant operations for the selected object, help, and much more. New users especially will find the new interface appealing because of the readily available help. For experienced users this can be turned off as well. Notice the highlighted blue area on the screenshot of Windows Explorer: It shows a selection of drive. It's little things like that which makes Windows XP feel so complete.

windowsXP-visuelleIndstillinger1 All these skins and flashy features come with a price of course. The price is a performance hit. The animated menus, the shadows on icons, etc. costs. It becomes even more apparent should you move to a old machine which doesn't complete live up the recommended Windows XP specs. Luckily Microsoft did foresee this scenario and included options to turn off the flashy stuff conserving system resources for the important stuff like getting your work done. You get a nice granular option list from which you can turn off individual visual features.

Most people are familiar with Windows Update at this point. The service is integrated right into Windows XP making it very easy to get those updates installed. Windows XP will now automatically notify you if there are available updates which by itself is nothing new as you've been able to do this with an add-in for Windows 2000 from Microsoft. What's new is the fact that Windows itself will download and install the updates for you without any intervention from you at all. Again something new users of Windows will find particularly useful with more and more viruses and other nasty stuff floating around the Internet.

Speaking of the Internet Windows XP now comes with a built-in firewall which is turned on with a single mouse click. It's important to remember that the built-in firewall is no where near as powerful as a standalone solution like ZoneAlarm from ZoneLabs. You're still free to install a third party firewall if you want to. On a positive note the built-in firewall is better than no firewall at all but some people feel that it can provide a false sense of security. For me personally it's a nice addition because it helps protect the less savvy people thus giving the users a better online experience. I did try to install ZoneAlarm to see if it would run at all. The only problem I encountered was the fact that ZoneAlarm wouldn't start with Windows on every boot even though I configured it to do so. A small error - whether it was a problem with Windows blocking other firewall applications or just an incompatibility between the products I can't speak to. For Microsoft's sake I hope it's the latter as the former would cause quite the outcry.

In the security department I need to mention driver signing, a process which been around for a while. User were worried for a while that Windows XP would be unable to use drivers not signed by Microsoft. Luckily I can attest that this is not the case, Windows XP has no problems with installing unsigned drivers at all; XP simply made me aware of the fact that I was installing an unsigned driver and proceeded from there. Although the unsigned drivers are accepted by Windows XP a number of warnings appear which might confuse the user; only time will tell whether this will become an actual problem.

Worth mentioning is the fact that many drivers from Windows 2000 are directly compatible with Windows XP which will ease the transition somewhat though not completely. As with any new OS release drivers will be an issue so watch out for hardware compatibility with Windows XP before you buy.

windowsXP-compatablity A lot was done to ease the transition and I've not experience any major issues other than the ZoneAlarm not starting with every boot. Windows XP itself has a trick up its sleeve which should make the most stubborn programs run: Compatibility. Basically the compatibility feature will make a program believe that it's running under a different version of Windows than XP thus allowing it to run.

When errors do occur Windows XP will provide Microsoft with information about the error which they can use to create a better OS in the future or release fixes more quickly. A general tendency for Windows XP is to do opt-out of things which provide Microsoft information. Privacy concerns aside I believe that you should at least be given the option of opting out automatically instead of requiring you to go digging in preferences to turn it off if it bothers you.

The Bad

Error Reporting is very telling as to how Microsoft decided to implement features in Windows XP. Personally I'm not very keen on the "I know what's best for you" mentality which permeates Microsoft these days. A number of programs are installed out of the box and integrated right into Windows. The first example of this was Internet Explorer which came with Windows 98. Officially the explanation was that it created the platform for a lot of the new features in Windows 98 - many didn't buy this explanation and saw it as a way to compete unfairly with then top company in browsers: Netscape. We all know how that particular piece of history turned out.

Now it seems the time has come for Microsoft to attack the instant messaging market head on. Microsoft has had a presence in the IM market for a while but hasn't made any particular inroads into it. This is about to change with Windows XP as Windows Messenger comes bundled into the OS, Messenger of course is Microsoft's idea of what an IM client should be. I've never used Messenger myself but thought I'd give it a shot with it already installed and good to go. after a couple of the days the verdict was in: It has to go!

Luckily for me every program and feature installed in Windows is still controlled in the add/remove programs portion of the control panel so I go there and start looking for Windows Messenger. Interestingly enough Windows Messenger is nowhere to be found in add/remove programs, not even under the OS features where it belongs. Further digging reveals that you can't even prevent Messenger from starting with the OS. Fine I try to close Messenger but Microsoft apparently finds Messenger to be such a useful tool that it automatically starts with Outlook Express as well, an application I use all the time.

Maybe it's just me but I'm starting to see an uncanny parallel with the Netscape-saga emerge here. I need to set the story straight and mention that I did find a way to remove Messenger some days later but the "fix" involved editing a text file hidden in the Windows folder itself. A lot of people don't want to or are not capable of doing this which effectively means that Windows Messenger is here to stay. I'm no expert on good marketing behavior but I'm pretty sure that this is isn't it.

As previously mentioned a couple of bugs crept into the RTM version. One such bug is the System Tray. The Systray doesn't seem to remember the settings you set for it and the program which couldn't launch it every boot. I tried associating an external program with a file type but inside the program itself but that didn't work and Windows XP still had control of the file types in question. To remedy this I needed to right-click the file and select always open with. Not the most intuitive way to it if you ask me.

The last area of critique is probably the most notable one: Product activation. We all know the key principle from games like Quake and Half-Life where the game simple refuses to launch if you don't supply it the correct key. Now imagine a world where you're only able to do a thousand changes to your game config after that you'd need to call up idsoftware or Valve to a new key for your game. This is the reality we're facing with Windows XP. Microsoft added product activation in an attempt to stop piracy of Windows. Unfortunately it's the consumer who pays the price in the form of a less flexible OS.

Microsoft slacked their security a little bit by allowing you to do a thousand minor changes to your config before requiring a reactivation. What constitutes a minor change then? Well, Microsoft is very tightlipped about that fact leaving the customers hanging. That Microsoft released another version of Windows XP which doesn't require product activation is a different story. How Microsoft can believe that hackers, crackers, and pirate won't go ahead and use this version instead of the one protected by product activation is beyond me, but they must know something that I don't.

All in all you end up with a strange feeling having shelled out the big bucks for a Windows license. You don't really own the product and you can't really do with it what you want. All the while the pirates are having their way with the enterprise version of the products.

In Conclusion

When everything is said and done, all argument weighed, I still end up with a pretty good feeling. Of course some things could be done better or differently. That's the reality of created a standard product used by millions, you simply can't hit the mark for everyone.

Technically Windows XP is the long awaited combination of Windows gaming OS Windows 98 and the more business-minded Windows 2000 and Microsoft has pulled a product which will appeal to the masses.

You will pay a premium for a license if you want the latest and greatest from Microsoft but in return you'll get a nice environment for you work and gaming needs. There's no doubt in my mind that a couple of hundred bucks are better spent on Windows XP than a piece of hardware which will be obsolete in six months anyway. An OS simply stays around for much longer.

Windows XP is expected to hit the streets October 25th 2001.

posted on Thursday, 20 September 2007 22:10:34 (Romance Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Monday, 17 September 2007

Announcing the next meeting in Aarhus .NET Usergroup. Be sure to mark your calendar for Wednesday 26/09 18:00. Please note the new time for the meeting which is 18:00. The last meeting ran pretty late with the discussion going strong when I left at 23:00 so to accommodate that we decided to move the time forward a bit.

Leave a comment to sign up for this meeting.

Practical Information

The meeting will be held:

Wednesday 26/09 18:00

at:

Kristelig Fagbevægelse

Sintrupvej 71

8220 Brabrand

Map

Agenda

Usergroup News

To keep everybody inform on the various stuff going on we'll begin with a short update on planned sessions, new initiatives, and so forth. This will also be your chance to give us some feedback on what you would like to see at future meetings or voice your interesting in presenting a subject matter yourself.

BizTalk and Enterprise Service Bus, Troels Riisbrich Underlien

The term Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) has as many definitions as SOA itself. Depending on the company, the person you'll get a different explanation of what ESB is. We'll take a look at what ESB can be, how it can help us, and how it fits into a service oriented architecture. Furthermore we'll dive into how Microsoft recommends putting together an ESB and how we at Vertica have gone about implementing the ideas in a concrete projects.

Tour de Krifa

The CTO of Krifa will give us some history on Krifa and how they go about developing their internal solutions.

The Nutcracker

Open mic. This is your chance to get the discussion going on a topic interesting to you. Last time we discussed how to go about getting certified on .NET, techniques for reading and retaining the information, and books to get. So feel free...

posted on Monday, 17 September 2007 14:59:29 (Romance Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [13] Trackback
# Tuesday, 11 September 2007

To my delight the next beta of Windows Live Writer has been released. It's going to be the last beta before a final release too so go check it out. I switched from BlogJet to Windows Live Writer when the very first version was released and I haven't looked back since.

I was disappointed to find that the dictionary didn't work for me in beta 2 due to the fact that Live Writer reads the current locale of the computer and enables or disables the dictionary accordingly; of course the workaround did remedy this but it's still annoying to have to apply a third party app to every single Live Writer installation you do when you move from computer to computer as I do. Luckily beta 3 fixes this problem and no workaround is needed anymore. Yay!

Windows-Live-Installer Interestingly a new installer has been added to the product which I'm not too sure I like. Basically it's a Windows Live Installer which pimps the other Live products such as Messenger, Mail, etc.. Although I don't like it I do like the fact that it advertised Photo Gallery - a product I've been looking to get my hands on for some time. Photo Gallery doesn't really add anything on top of what you get in Windows Vista other than the fact that it runs on Windows XP as well. I had hoped that Flickr integration would be in there but that's sadly not the case. It does provide a Publishing feature but only Live Spaces is supported for pictures and Soapbox for videos. Bummer.

Other stuff includes:

  • Insert videos using our new 'Insert Video' dialog
  • Upload images to Picasaweb when publishing to your Blogger blog
  • Publish XHTML-style markup
  • Use Writer in 28 additional languages
  • Print your posts
  • Justify-align post text
  • Better image handling (fewer blurry images)
  • Resolved installation issues from last release
  • Many other bug fixes and enhancements 

Download Windows Live Writer Beta 3

posted on Tuesday, 11 September 2007 12:52:29 (Romance Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Monday, 10 September 2007

04092007 cleaned When Max announced that he was leaving Microsoft a while back it was a good/bad news kind of thing. Bad news because Max had been my access to the Commerce Server team for a while and very good news because he announced that he would be providing Commerce Server training for the masses; a market that has left a lot to be desired over the years.

A short while after the announcement Microsoft let us know that they would be running a training course on Commerce Server with none other than Max doing the training. Needless to say that I was sorely tempted to go but in the end we decided against it due to the traveling involved and the lack of information regarding the tech level of the course. It all worked out quite nicely as we enquired as to whether he'd be interested in coming to Denmark and do some training for the entire e-commerce team at Vertica which he accepted to do.

Let me start out by saying that I'm extremely impressed with the material and the way he handled himself the entire time both before he got here and when doing the actual training. There's no doubt in my mind that Max provides the single best source of training on Commerce Server today, bar none. Our team consists of people of varying degrees Commerce Server experience and he managed to organize the training in a way which kept both the proficient and less proficient interested. He did this by not only request specific areas of interest on Even before he got here he wanted us to come up with very specific areas on which to focus the training and he kept tweaking and tuning the training on the fly based on our feedback. Very nicely done indeed.

So what gives Max Akbar the edge over the competition? Well first of he's worked with Commerce Server on actual projects for customers such as CostCo, Costco.ca, GAP, and Banana Republic which definitely gives him a unique perspective on CS solutions. Additionally he was part of the CS team as a program manager. Both of these facts color his outlook which means that he's got a definite enterprise-y look on things. Not surprisingly enterprise in the US definitely doesn't equal enterprise in Denmark and getting a perspective on that part of the story was very interesting to say the least. Also it helped keep the training relevant and interesting because he was able to relate most of the material to real-world scenarios albeit on a much larger scale than we're used to. Finally we got some interesting insights into the inner working of the Commerce Server team something that helps us understand why a particular feature in the product is done the way it is. It almost felt like getting into the psychology of the product :)

The training consisted of three days worth of tightly packed information. Rather than regurgitating every note I took I'd much rather like to focus on the highlights; there were more than a few too :)

Cactus

The whole Cactus affaire left me a bit confused mainly due to the fact that Ryan Donovan posted that Microsoft is committed to Commerce Server as a product only to finish off that particular announcement with the fact that they're effectively outsourcing development of the product to Cactus Commerce. Now what's interesting here is the fact that Microsoft does this with other products it's just never clear which ones they are. In the case of Commerce Server Cactus has actually been involved in the development of the product even in version 2007 so what's happening here is the logical extension of that. Whether a good or a bad thing remains to be seen but the fact of the matter is that when Microsoft announces that they're committed to a product like they did with Commerce Server they're committed for years to come so I'm not too worried here. Now the story might be very different if Vertica was based in Canada which Cactus calls home because we'd be competing with the company which effectively controls the Commerce Server source code. Not exactly what I'd call equal footing and definitely not something that works very well with the Microsoft partner strategy.

Management API of Commerce Server

Shifting gears completely we learned that the old Commerce Server 2002 APIs are still available in 2007. The Commerce Server team just doesn't advertise this fact very loudly. Basically it's possible to use many of the well known management samples from the 2002 installation so be sure to take a look at that if you need to automate deployment of sites and stuff like that. You'll find the stuff you need in the SDK\Site Management directory under the Commerce Server 2002 installation directory.

Tools, Tools, Tools

Max has taken the time to write a lot of useful tools and utilities for Commerce Server 2007. Many of which he's already mentioned on his own blog like PackageThis for creating stand-alone versions of the documentation from the MSDN web site.

More interestingly he's created a tool called Secure Commerce Server 2007 Tool which will automate the entire security configuration process setting role membership on everything from the database, file system, to Authorization Manager stores. Unfortunately the GotDotNet page is down but hopefully he'll get around to creating a Codeplex site for it soon. It takes my own idea of simply scripting the database security permissions to a different level for sure.

How many times have you needed to extract a file from a PUP archive and had to do a custom unpack just to get at that single file? Whenever I've gotten in that particular situation in the past it's been a pain so I was very glad to learn about PUPViewer which will allow you to not surprisingly view the content of the PUP file but additionally it'll allow you to extract that annoying little file you were missing.

Secrets of Commerce Server

OK so not so much a secret as a good tip: Take a look at the contents of the installation directory of Commerce Server 2007. Chances are that you'll find some interesting stuff which is not listed in the start menu. I'd not even thought about doing so myself but in truth I've been missing out because of that. Among other stuff in the \tools folder you'll find tools for automating import and export, resynchronizing scopes in AzMan stores. You've probably taken a look at the \sdk folder but if you haven't you need to. Interesting stuff in there for sure.

Staging Service

The most under appreciated feature of Commerce Server 2007 is the staging service. What you can do with this thing is move data from one environment to the other basically automating a task which typically has been quite complex in the past. An example would be to allow business users to edit catalogs on a staging environment and then push the catalog into production once they're happy with their work. Not only does this alleviate some of the complexities of deploying business data but it also allows for some interesting deployment scenarios, e.g. have the staging environment on the LAN and the customer store front at a hosting provider allowing for a very smooth user experience for both the business users AND the actual customers. I'll definitely look into the various uses of this one some more. Unfortunately it's only part of the enterprise version and it doesn't support a truly flexible deployment model because you need an enterprise version on each of the servers you deploy it to.

Interestingly the staging service is useful for other solutions than Commerce Server ones because it also allows you to more files from one server to the other; add to this the fact that you can run tasks before and after moving the files and you've got yourself a very powerful deployment system for doing scheduled deployments. Basically you can keep your hands off of your production environment if you get this right.

Scopes in Authorization Manager

Role based security is a well known technique but AzMan introduces another layer on top of this (it actually introduces two but that's not interesting here). I call this additional layer Business data security. This is my own self invented term so bear with me if the meaning isn't clear. Basically what scopes allow you to do is to define security on the data itself instead of the functions of your application. This is hugely useful in scenarios where you want very tight control over your users and your business data. I've already got a couple of instances where this will be useful so I'm definitely glad I got it cleared up. There's no magic involved in the process, if we take the catalog system new scopes are created whenever you create a new catalog, properties, etc.. The secret sauce is a naming convention which means that the catalog subsystem knows whether a user has access to view a particular catalog, e.g. a user would have to be assigned to the CatalogScope_<CatalogName> scope. Easy, isn't it :)

Data Warehouse Demystified

The last day took us into the data warehousing capabilities of Commerce Server. It's an area we aren't too familiar with so it was great to get some insight into what makes this feature tick. What DW boils down to is a PUP package with existing cube and DTS definitions that's pretty much it. Having created those you need to run a little tool to get Reporting Services going by deploying the report definitions to the server. That's it. Having successfully done that you'll have access to the data warehouse capabilities. Do keep in mind that they're only available in the enterprise edition.

Debugging

Nothing new was revealed for us here but I still think it's valuable to know this so I've included it in this post anyway. Max had a couple of pointer on how to debug problems with Commerce Server. Two tools came up: The tried and true Fiddler and reliable Reflector. These two have helped us more times than I wish to count.

If you don't know already Reflector allows you to peek inside compile .NET assemblies by decompiling the IL to readable C# or VB. The only thing lost in this translation are the actual variable names but you still get the idea behind the code. What we use Reflector for is basically for finding the right places to plug into Commerce Server when we're doing generic extensions for the product.

Fiddler comes in handy due to the fact that Commerce Server 2007 introduces a web service API. Fiddler is extremely good for figuring out what goes wrong in a request or simply trying to understand how a particular feature works. Take for example the business user applications which provide access to also every single part of the CS API. The interesting thing here is that if you can do an operation from the business tools you can do them programmatically; very useful for figuring out how to accomplish some specific task.

If you're doing any kind of integration with Commerce Server you need Fiddler installed on your machine. Period.

In Conclusion

Having Max come to Vertica and do his training has been a very good experience. Both for the guys who's been working with Commerce Server for a long time and the less experienced guys. For me personally it means that I now feel very comfortable with the product because I was affirmed in my knowledge on the product at every turn. What Max provided me was insight into why some of the feature were done the way they were and some tips and tricks which I'd probably never have thought of on my own.

Not only is Max very solidly founded in Commerce Server he's also a great guy who's very easy to be around. The casual training session is certainly attests to that fact and I'm sure that we all learned a great more due to this fact. I'm certain that we'll have him back when our team grows even bigger.

So thank you Max and we'll be seeing you :)

posted on Monday, 10 September 2007 16:48:51 (Romance Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [4] Trackback
# Friday, 31 August 2007

It's Friday and Brian sends along the preview of Minesweeper the Movie. Had me LOL'ing for sure.

posted on Friday, 31 August 2007 10:23:50 (Romance Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback