Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tech.Ed 2007 Gold Coast Day 2

Day 2 was a full one. Software + Services and Web 2.0 in the Enterprise were two seminars given by Michael Platt but again I won't report on these since I'm going to blog about all the Web 2.0 stuff in detail later this week.

Enterprise Library 3.1 was given by Tom Hollander, who has left Patterns and Practices Group and moved back to Sydney. He stated the goals of 3.x were to:

  • Address developer feedback;
  • Provide new blocks to address standard issues, such as Validation and seperating policy from business rules;
  • Support integration with the new features in the .NET 3.0 framework;
  • Simplify development of new application blocks;
  • Retain backwards compatibility with EntLib 2.0

He demonstrated the major new blocks, showing how easy it is to create validation rules programmatically, using attributes, or via configuration files. The validation block allows developers to specify the rules once and have them apply everywhere - in the presentation layer as well as throughout the other tiers.

The Policy Injection block is a neat idea, since it allows the separation of cross cutting concerns such as caching, logging, and validation - in short managing many of the other blocks in the Enterprise library.

One potential issue is that any code using the Policy Injection block has to inherit from MarshallByRef, which means if you have a custom framework inheriting from a custom base object, you may not be able to use this block.

He also demonstrated WCF integration and the use of Handlers to place Enterprise Library functionality in the IIS pipeline, which is very convenient as you can sit them in front of any application without writing any code.



The next seminar was again given by Tom and was another conference highlight for me. This one was on Software Factories, a topic I am very interested in and that we will be hearing much more about.

Tom explained the challenges faced in solution development by describing the "gap" which exists between the general purpose frameworks provided by vendors such as Microsoft, and the solutions developers build upon these frameworks. The gap incorporates things such as business knowledge, requirements, architectures, technology decisions, and so on, and represents the additional effort that has to be undertaken with each new project.

Development teams currently bridge this gap with skilled labour, but this costs a great deal, takes a long time, introduces risk to the project, provides relatively poor quality and consistency, poor traceability, etc etc. Basically we know that the current development process is difficult and crude!

The software factory attempts to close the gap as much as possible by combining software automation (code generation) with best practices and guidance (domain expertise). As he defined it:

It's a collection of tools and assets for building applications of a particular type. When turned on in a development environment, it provides a guided experience to the members of the team."

The software factory concept is related to Domain Specific Languages (DSL) which are really languages or code targeted for a specific domain, such as Banking or Medicine.

Tom demonstrated the use of the Patterns and Practices group factories that currently exist:

  • Web Client
  • Smart Client
  • Mobile Client
  • Web Service

Microsoft is hoping to bundle software factories into the next version of Visual Studio (after 2008). As an early demonstration of the "factory of the future" he showed us the "Modelling Edition" (the name makes it sound like a Fashion Industry DSL).

Using a UML- or class designer-style interface, he dragged and dropped units of functionality onto a canvas to create an abstract model of a solution, and was then able to generate the code from it. It's a compelling vision and where the industry needs to go to reach the modern ages of computer development, but we're still a long way off.

For more information, check out the service factory on CodePlex.



"Stranger in a Strange Land: The Adventures of a SOAP Fan" was a fascinating and often hilarious exploration of the web as a middleware platform, given by Dr. Jim Webber whose blog is World Wide Webber (no relation to the World Wide Web).

Dr. Jim discussed the major architectural characteristics of the web:

  1. It is scalable
  2. It is fault tolerant
  3. It is recoverable
  4. It is secure
  5. It is loosely coupled

He made the valid point that these are precisely the virtues that we would seek in any major enterprise application. Having concluded that the web's nature makes it a desirable platform, he proposed that we should be building our systems using its fundamental nature.

He had several proposals:

  1. Links are good. In fact, if the web itself is a state machine workflow (resources are "states" and requests are "transitions") then links represent state transitions.
  2. HTTP verbs provide all the basic functionality an application needs: Create, Read, Update, and Delete actions, plus metadata provided by HEAD and OPTIONS verbs and Status Codes that assist processing by letting us know the result of our method calls.
  3. Microformats will create the small "s" semantic web. Tim Berners-Lee's vision of the Semantic web will never be realized since it ignores the fundamental reality that the web is a chaotic human creation, but microformats are entirely achievable and can provide real context and knowledge.

He then gave a funny example of how purchasing a Starbucks coffee could be achieved using this model. I still think this development model is a stretch since the tools and development mentality don't really support this yet, but as a thought exercise his ideas were top-notch.



The final seminar was "Building a Complete Web Application in ASP.NET 3.5 and Visual Studio 2008 (Part 2)" given by Jeff King. He gave a great presentation, creating functionality on the fly. He spent a lot of time demonstrating the powerful new JavaScript support that's available. Although he did a fine job I still remember writing JavaScript code during the Browser Wars and in spite of the advances I think I will need to give it a few more years before the mental scars heal :)



After that it was time for Movie World. Although I only had time to ride in the Batman Drop-thingy and on the Superman roller coaster once both were great. Superman especially was crazily fast. After the park closed (pretty early, really) I headed out to Surfer's Paradise with a couple of Microsoft guys, Richard and Shannon. We ended up leaving when everything shut down at 4:30 and I crawled into bed at 5 for a couple of hours of shut-eye. It's a hard knock life for us programmers!

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