# Tuesday, 29 June 2004

He don't half talk some twaddle at times....

He [DG: Mark Thompson] added: "Creating a fully digital Britain is a public challenge the BBC must help to lead. It is a Britain from which the BBC, and only the BBC, can ensure no-one is excluded."

 [via BBC NEWS | Entertainment | BBC outlines 'radical' manifesto]

What rubbish. Or is (only) the BBC going to start providing broadband connections to all of us excluded from the digital revolution out here in rural land? Why do they keep having to say only the BBC can do such and such, why do they have to say the BBC will lead - it still doesn't seem to have learnt how to be a team player does it.

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Every picture tells a story

So what do the pictures above each of the express products tell you about the product and who you ought to be (or aspire to be) to use it?

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Start your photocopiers

There's a bit of noise about that Konfabulator are a bit miffed that Apple 'copied' their idea for some new bits of OSX. Funny, when Konfabulator came out I thought, yeah, yawn, Zeepe can do all that. Perhaps it is time we put together a portfolio of the sorts of things being done in Konfabulator (I thought it was being ported to Windows?), but done in Zeepe (weighing in at a rather slim 650K as opposed to 4.2MB).
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# Sunday, 27 June 2004

XP SP2 RC2 SDK is here, hip-hip hooray

RC2 of the platform SDK is now available.  Still in the ISO image format but it is now available for download here [via Windows XP Service Pack 2]

Looks like a Monday morning trip to my nearest 2Mb ADSL link is called for :-)

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# Saturday, 26 June 2004

Async callbacks in server controls

Async callbacks in server controls. ... I think callbacks have the potential of enabling a whole new genre of smart Web applications. .... [via Nikhil Kothari's Weblog]

Interesting that a bit of MS might be interested in a "whole new genre of smart Web applications" when others are just repeating the mantra "smart client, smart client, smart client".

But. It amazed me that ASP.NET ever made it out the door without this sort of feature. The origins of Webservices/RPC were for this sort of thing and it amazes me people can write articles implying they have moved forward the art when this really is very old hat, core stuff and should have been in ASP.NET 1.0. I was beginning to suspect that is wasn't in 1.0 because of a deliberate attempt to hobble web app development in favour of WinForms - good to see it will appear in ASP.NET 2.0 (the trouble is, we still have a long while to wait).

 

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# Thursday, 24 June 2004

Web applications

Jupiter recommends that software vendors channel their attention toward usability issues [via Jupiter Research Sees a Return to Rich Client Applications]

Lots and lots of noise around this issue at the moment, with a lot of noise saying throw away the browser and go for .NET or throw away the browser and go for Java, or throw away the browser and go for Flex.

At the moment, I don't see .NET (1.1) as a viable proposition - if nothing else, installation of an app is just too painful. Java, hmmmm, well Java has really never quite made it and Flex still hasn't got over the really bad developer environments there used to be for Flash. But, whilst I agree that throwing away the browser is a good idea, you don't actually have to throw away the underlying technology....

There is a ton of richness in html; simply moving to WinForms or whatever is not going to solve usability problems, that is down to app design. What I do agree with is that browsers make lousy frame windows for a lot (but not all) web applications. Zeepe solves that (and other) problems while maintaining the knowledge investment in html development.

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# Tuesday, 22 June 2004
# Saturday, 19 June 2004

XP SP2 RC2 - CoInternetSetFeatureEnabled has changed

Heads up: CoInternetSetFeatureEnabled has changed significantly in RC2 over previous releases.

Without another SDK drop, testing this stuff is a bit difficult. Perhaps it has appeared somewhere I haven't noticed but I haven't seen anyone blogging from the IE team  mention these changes either. Can't be bothered to chase around in circles again on this.

Presumably the guys who write/wrote MyIE2 have all this stuff - if they haven't I hope they are jumping up and down (or perhaps they aren't going to use it, who knows, who cares?).

[Update - XP SP2 RC2 SDK not likely until July]

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More don't develop in .NET

However he argues that not many people are using it (actually that not many desktop developers are using it) . There are two reasons for this which I know first hand as a developer of a desktop application that runs in the .NET Framework (RSS Bandit)

  • The .NET Framework isn't ubiqitous on Windows platforms
  • The .NET Framework does not expose enough Windows functionality to build a full fledged Windows application with only managed code.

Both of these issues are why Microsoft is working on WinFX. Again, the elepahant in the living room issue is that it seems that Microsoft's current plans are fix these issues for developing on Longhorn not all supported Windows platforms.

Disclaimer: The above statements are my personal opinions and do not reflect the intentions, strategies, plans or opinions of my employer.

 [via Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life]

Stuff the disclaimer, bang bang from someone on the inside, lets re-iterate the major points here:

  1. The .NET Framework does not expose enough Windows functionality to build a full fledged Windows application with only managed code.
  2. Microsoft's current plans are [to] fix these issues for developing on Longhorn [only]

These are killer reasons for NOT developing in .NET (along with the other reasons I've been listing like p/Invoke, CLR->CLR breakage) that MS has to address.

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In one

A wild, but interesting response to Joel Splosky. generated this interesting response:

Interesting comments. I think the two of you are looking at things from two different perspectives. Joel seems to be approaching things from the shrink-wrap/ISV developers perspective where the combination of the size of the runtime, as well as certain immaturities exist in the platform (that can and does result in broken code) only serve to cause headaches and support work for a shrinkwrap vendor. If you approach this from a software services provider perspective, the size of the runtime doesn't matter and breakage is minimized by comporate controls and additional billable hours.  [via Seven Reasons Why the API War is Not Lost After All]

Bang on and in one.

There are also a couple of web app usability problems comments...

The main point I think Joel was making is that webapps will continue to become more and more prevalent, as opposed to smart-client apps, because users don't mind....I don't agree with this - webapps are loved by System admins, but users often just have them forced upon them and really dislike them. Just today, a Web project (ASP.NET) in my team in a very large corporation was rejected by users for being unusable. And this wasn't a fault with the app, which was as specified - it was the lack of those 'smart-client' features that the users are used to in Office, etc.

Personally I agree (or I'm glad there are some users out there who agree), I've always thought it problematic to do apps inside a browser, but I've not thought it problematic to do apps with DHTML technology. IMHO, XAML exists because the browser can't be developed without walking into a wall of security concerns and screams of non-standard etc etc. So, write a new browser using its own markup language. All markup can be implemented in a runtime that instantiates objects - its really a very very short distance to XAML.

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# Friday, 18 June 2004

More from Joel

June 17, 2004.  ... What are your ideas for improving the HTML/CSS/JavaScript infrastructure to make web app development better? Write them up and post them somewhere; I'll point to the best ones from my blog.  [via Joel on Software]

As usual, go read if you haven't. Key point: no point if users have to install something - i.e. no point in working on web apps unless you are a browser vendor. Quite probably reality, but a shame - dunno, needs arguing against somehow.

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# Thursday, 17 June 2004

RISC OS - alive but dying

RISC OS rights rumble becomes war of words.  System builders suspend shipments [via The Register]

and rather quaintly called the RISC OS.

It had a really good idea for saving files (entirely drag and drop) but it didn't work that well in practical terms (you had to get the app window and filer window visible at the same time). Gosh, long time ago now.

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Extraordinary .NET madness (I don't hate Microsoft, but they ain't half irritating)

Refining the Versioning Story.  

Wesner Moise reports on a talk that Jeff Richter did on the .NET versioning story in the Longhorn time frame. Some interesting quotes:

  • "a library could not easily be updated since the CLR looked for an exact version match. There was a complex way to solve this problem through policy files; however, even engineers at Microsoft found this approach too difficult."
  • "Microsoft has a new approach for Longhorn and Orcas (.NET v3.0), which divides assemblies into two categories, Platforms and Libraries."
  • "Most assemblies will or should be libraries. Microsoft discourages the use of platform assemblies."
  • "There are actually three types of platform assemblies: System-wide, process-wide, and app domain-wide."
  • "Longhorn will no longer support multiple CLRs. Every managed application will be forced to use the latest version of the CLR on the system."
  • "Whidbey is expected to include an Assembly attribute, AssemblyFlagsAttribute, which allows to developer to specify Library, AppDomainPlatform, ProcessPlatform, SystemPlatform, or Legacy to identify the versioning scheme the CLR uses to load a reference assembly."

I know that the existing versioning story doesn't cut it for a lot of folks. Will this new model solve the problems? Is there a complexity danger?

 [via Marquee de Sells: Chris's insight outlet]

This is what really annoys me. .NET is relatively new but was supposed to be the solution to all known problems. In particular, a major point was supposed to be the end of so called dll hell.

Already, we get "oops, that didn't work, even we didn't know how to make it work".

Even more scary, Longhorn will no longer support multiple CLRs. Now as far as I have seen, there have been breaking changes from CLR to CLR version - what the heck does this mean for vendors then? Perhaps (I hope) I am wrong on this point.

I keep thinking I really must abandon what I am doing and embrace .NET, this sort of stuff just keeps holding me back. Perhaps by v4.0 it will be stable and usable; it did take until Windows 3.11 until that was usable.

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XP SP2 RC2 Install failure

Well, Windows Update based installation failed with error 80240034 - that's it, no further information.

I was running XP under a Virtual PC and had restarted the Windows Update install a couple of times so perhaps it had got confused - a complete reboot and restart and Windows update deemed that it had .2MB missing. Having got that, it is now in the process of restarting after a succesful install..., there's a lot of Please wait....s during the restart.

 

 

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Allegedly, ATOM is made by nicer people.

The Reason for ATOM.  It seems to me that folks embrace ATOM mainly to get away from the guy that's credited with inventing RSS: "I'm not running for president.... I think a lot of people participating in this dicussion are not grounded in truth, deliberately so, openly so. Shame on you, I say."

This was said after he pulled down 3000 web sites he was hosting with no notice. ATOM is starting to sound more and more attractive... [via Marquee de Sells: Chris's insight outlet]

What is scary is this guy [Chris Sells] is respected and influential and yet apparently a data interchange format is attractive on the basis of the perceived behaviour of an individual. Oh well, politics is personalised, why not the merits and demerits of computer algorithms etc; we're only human.

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Scoble let the cat out the bag.

"[T]he IE team does exist and does care".  Dave Massy is moving to Internet Explorer Program Management and wants to know what you want from IE in the next version. Don't be shy. [via Marquee de Sells: Chris's insight outlet]

Apparently Scoble jumped the gun.....

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# Wednesday, 16 June 2004

Commentary on Microsoft APIS and HTML

Joel puts it so much more eloquently than I:  How Microsoft Lost the API War

Some bits for discussion:

A lot of developers and engineers don't agree with this way of working. If the application did something bad, or relied on some undocumented behavior, they think, it should just break when the OS gets upgraded.

I'd noticed this creeping into MS weblogs, or more accurately, statements that backwards compatibility was impossible. A statement I'd always viewed as odd given the history of MS.

One runtime to rule them all. It was beautiful. And they pulled it off, technically. .NET is a great programming environment that manages your memory and has a rich, complete, and consistent interface to the operating system and a rich, super complete, and elegant object library for basic operations.

Here I disagree, it doesn't have a complete ... interface to the operating system - its one of the problems (OK probably fixed in Whidbey, or at least better, but see previous post about Not writing apps with WinForms).

And yet, people aren't really using .NET much.

Oh sure, some of them are.

Interesting, reading MS weblogs etc one gets the impression that everyone is using it and yet there doesn't seem to be much eveidence for it - just looking in the wrong place I kept telling myself.

And the ones that are using .NET are using ASP.NET to develop web applications, which run on a Windows server but don't require Windows clients

Much the real world impression I was getting.

No developer with a day job has time to keep up with all the new development tools coming out of Redmond, if only because there are too many dang employees at Microsoft making development tools!

Yup, agree there - and they don't document properly what they do so the time required goes through the roof.

Promising new technologies like HTAs and DHTML were stopped in their tracks.

Yup, agree there, but there is Zeepe.

I'm actually a little bit sad about this, myself. To me the Web is great but Web-based applications with their sucky, high-latency, inconsistent user interfaces are a huge step backwards in daily usability.

But they needn't be. I have been amazed that people have been able top describe WinForms/Avalon as rich with the implication that HTML is poor. This misses two points:

  1. HTML is very rich and can be very dynamic (alot of what XAML/Avalon do can be done now in DHMTL + appropriate browser)
  2. XHTML is incredibly extensible by the <object> tag and by namespaces - I call this astonishingly rich. Why did components become so unfashionable and yet downloading .NET libraries become so fashionable.
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# Tuesday, 08 June 2004

Smart clients

Smart Clients vs. Web Clients.  ...  I have one very large client here in Vermont whose IT shop is digging their heals in insisting that a web application is the way to go for their solution.  ... Do you think the pendulum is truly swinging away from the browser back to Smart/Rich Client front-ends? Al [via Channel9 Forums]

Who is this company digging their heels in - way to go, web technologies have a load of mileage yet.

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# Monday, 07 June 2004

Zeepe (What) Beta

A beta of Zeepe (7.1.1.72) is available at http://www.zeepe.com/zp_beta.asp. This release includes support for XP SP2 RC1 (and hopefully RC2) features such as the NewWindow3 event and control of pop-up windows.

 

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Zeepe is What?

An anonymous reader writes "MozillaZine is reporting that the Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software have formed a working group to develop specifications for Web applications. The new Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group is working on specs for Web Forms 2.0, Web Apps 1.0 and Web Controls 1.0, among others. This is being done outside of the W3C, with the hope of getting a viable alternative to Longhorn's XAML available soon. Another reason for working outside the W3C could be the rift between Mozilla/Opera and other W3C members over what technologies Web applications solutions such be based on: Mozilla/Opera favour a backwards-compatible HTML-based standard, others are looking towards to XForms and SVG. It will be interesting to see if any other browser developers jump on board WHATWG." This story builds on our recent story concerning the group.  [via Slashdot | Mozilla, Opera Form Group to Develop Web App Specs]

So Zeepe is an example of What? What. What? (we're English here so three is enough, as in...).

Another to follow, though from their position paper to the W3C working group (I must read all those) "Any solution that cannot be used with the current high-market-share user agent without the need for binary plug-ins is highly unlikely to be successful".

But, it would appear that Zeepe is a What browser that already implements a fair amount of what (oh dear) they are descibing.

 

 

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If you are interested in UK politics

TheyWorkForYou.com is ... basically an ultra-user-friendly front-end to the Hansard public record of all speeches and debates in the houses of commons, with each MP getting their own page complete with a summary of their recent performance and member's interests and a list of their recently recorded parliamentary appearances ... the most useful feature is probably the most subtle: you can subscribe to an RSS feed of your MP's appearances [via Simon Willison's Weblog]

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Genreisation - how do you spell it?

This ought to be a word (as in not a word in the English dictionary) getting a lot of use in the moderne world. Music is by genre, books are by genre, TV channels broadcast a particular genre as do radio stations. What else is ripe for genreisation?

A quick search of Google reveals slightly more use for genre-isation as against genreisation. Perhaps them thar in the media have a nother word for it.

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Another hmmmm

r.a.d.editor MCMS edition is available at no cost to all customers of Microsoft Content Management Server. However, this is not a freeware, but rather a commercial product that is sponsored by Microsoft. Posting credit to Mark Harrison [via Microsoft WebBlogs]

Sponsored by Microsoft? Upfront, ongoing?

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# Sunday, 06 June 2004

Why not to write (WinForms) apps with .NET

Why I Can't Wait for Longhorn.  

One of the more annoying aspects of writing Windows applications using the .NET Framework is that eventually you brush up against the limitations in the APIs provided by the managed classes and end up having to use interop to talk to Win32 or COM-based APIs.

In my experience is rather earlier than eventually, but lets move on...

This process typically involves exposing native code in a manner that makes them look like managed APIs when in fact they are not. When there is an error in this mapping it results in hard-to-track memory corruption errors ....

Most recently we were bitten by this in RSS Bandit and probably would never have tracked this problem down if not for a coincidence. As part of forward compatibility testing at Microsoft, a number of test teams run existing .NET applications on current builds of future versions of the .NET Framework. One of these test teams decided to use RSS Bandit as a test application. However it seemed they could never get RSS Bandit to start without the application crashing almost instantly .... Bugs were filed against folks on the CLR team and the problem was tracked down.

If you are interested in the reasons, go read the article; in summary Dare had got the declaration wrong (there are no official 'headers' for this, you have to do it all yourself). Note that bugs were filed against the CLR and that this would never have been found if it hadn't been for MS future testing your app.

.... Not only do these problems waste lots of developer time trying to track them down they lalso lead to negative user experience with the target application. [via Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life]

I reckon its near imposssible to write an application without using Win32/COM interop - and it is clearly very dangerous to use these things without taking a huge amount of care. Worse, you will never be quite sure you got it right, you just hope you have.

Dare says he hopes that with Longhorn and WinFX he hopes these problems become a thing of the past. He hopes. This is supposed to be the development platform of the future and one of the people hopes its usable. Good grief.

 

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# Saturday, 05 June 2004

Issue Tracker again.

New ASP.NET Issue Tracker Starter Kit.  

There's a new ASP.NET Community starter kit : Issue Tracker (via Early Adopter).
 
This joins in nicely to something I've been wanting to blog about: there's a real lack of good free issue tracking software. I asked around and no one can tell me of a free good one, especially something with a rich client front end, that's suited for a place with more than 1 developer. This is of course despite that fact that people seem to love re-inventing the wheel all over again at each company and create an issue tracker of their own. go figure. Maybe this one will be a good compromise.

 [via ISerializable]

Perhaps we should put a web based rich client front end on this as well as the Zeepe Web application sample devTracker.

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# Friday, 04 June 2004

Deny anything.

And Mr Blair told BBC Breakfast: "I think the idea of my chief of staff giving interviews to Conservative MPs at the traffic lights on his bicycle is somewhat far fetched."  [via BBC NEWS | Politics | Powell 'did not damn Brown hopes']

What's particularly wonderful here is the typical New Labour thing of deny what was never stated to (hopefully) hence discredit the rest of the story. It was never stated that the chief of staff gave an interview.

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Server sourced events in web applications.

Server-sent DOM events.  

Someone suggested to me recently that it would be quite cool if there was a way in which servers could dispatch DOM events straight into a Web page so that script in the page could then react to them, updating the page and so forth.

At the moment pages fake this by opening an iframe to a page that the server keeps open, slowly trickling script blocks into it, and having the browser execute them as it finds them.

This is pretty ugly, but it works. So here is a proposal for a cleaner, declarative way to do this.

To specify an event source in an HTML document authors use a new (empty) element event-source, with an attribute src="" that takes a URI to open as a stream and, if the data found at that URI is of the appropriate type, treat as an event source.

... [via Hixie's Natural Log]

What an interesting idea - we could do this in Zeepe, <zeepe:event-source src="" />. Hmmm, a great one for the list

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W3C Workshop

The more I read the position papers that are going to be presented, the more I wonder at exactly what is going to come out of this workshop. [via Hixie's Natural Log]

Oh good, something whose thoughts were the same as mine, XForms/SVG are not the answer.

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More on no more IE development.

Another point that came out of the discussions is that, in case there was any doubt, Internet Explorer in Longhorn will not support XHTML or SVG. (Microsoft suggested they would need some significantly more comprehensive test suites before they started working on standards compliance again.)

 [via Hixie's Natural Log: Spring 2004 Travelog: Part 8 (First Day of the Workshop)]

This is an interesting little article; there seems to be a move afoot, which probably started quite some time ago, to get away from standards. They've (MS) have had enough of the straight-jacket (see "My biggest complaint about W3C is that they made HTML standard non-extensible.") and the bad-mouthing. Heck, if you're gonna be bad mouthed (just because you're MS) you might as well go entirely on your own in the first place.

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The name I can never remember

Microsoft and RSA Security on Wednesday started beta testing a product designed to phase out the use of traditional passwords and replace them with automatically generated passwords from a SecurID token.  [via Tests to uproot Windows passwords begin - News - ZDNet]

I came across SecurID several years ago but can never remember the name when I need to. SecurID is:

SecurID is one of the most popular two-factor authentication systems and is already used by many large enterprises. The token is about the size of a matchbox and generates a new six-digit code every minute. 

ActivCard maybe the other.

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# Thursday, 03 June 2004

Detecting Zeepe in ASP.NET

Browser Detection using ASP.NET.  Using and updating your machine.config file to better detect browser type in ASP.NET [via Code Project Latest Article Briefs]

What this doesn't say is that you can add a configuration/system.web/browsercaps section to the web.config for an application (I think) - for those cases where you don't have access to machine.config.

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