MSDN roadshow 2008 : Glasgow

MSDN roadshow for slides and details.

I attended this event last week, but I’ve only now had the time to write about it, so I hope my notes are up to scratch. Overall impressions were that it was definitely an advertising event, and so less useful than community-focused events such as the Developer, Developer, Developer event (which I’m getting tempted just to call d3) but there was some useful information in the talks. Not sure if or when I’ll get the chance to use them properly but here’s my thoughts on the technologies. If I make any mistakes, feel free to correct me and I’ll edit this content, but make sure you check out the slides above or on the speaker’s sites as they’ll be more accurate.

ADO.NExT

This is Microsoft’s answer to abstracting the database layer. ADO previously got as far as abstracting the connection, whilst leaving provider-specific SQL embedded in the code. The new version has two new abstractions which build on each other, which together make up the entity framework. At the basic level is a new SQL variant ESQL (entity SQL) which abstracts out the underlying database language to a more .Net-friendly variant that returns objects rather than rows. On top of this is built ADO’s LINQ-compatable ORM that allows LINQ queries to run against any ADO database provider.

To make this work, ADO.Net uses XML config files like NHibernate to map between the database schema and the object schema. Unlike NHibernate, ADO.Net adds XML definitions of both the database and the object schema. (Wouldn’t it be nice if databases had a schema we could access from code, eh…?) ADO.Net then uses the object schema to generate .Net classes like LLBLGen. These partial classes support LINQ and some extension via methods, but cannot use properties as these are lost whenever the classes are re-generated. The sample code provided in the talk discussed an ugly hack where a metadata class containing properties was associated with the generated partial class via decorators. It works, but it’s hardly as easy to use as partial classes generated by, for example, Visual Studio’s GUI designer.

Apart from ORM, the new ADO.Net also provides Data Services, which allows CRUD database access via RESTful URIs, which is an alternative to embedding SQL in your URLs, if you don’t fancy putting too much abstraction between your website and your database. Data Services has also caught the LINQ bug, making queries through web services easier, and providing an alternative access method to the standard SOAP approach favoured by many exisiting web services.

ASP.NExT

Web 2.0 and AJAX may make for more responsive web pages, but they have a habit of breaking expectations, such as the behaviour of the back button, which won’t undo incremental changes since AJAX applications tend to perform in-page loading that doesn’t update URLs. Google and Yahoo both have toolkits that help with this, and now Microsoft’s ASP.Net extensions add state data to ASP.Net apps.

ASP.Net also supports routing tables to de-couple the web hierarchy from the disk hierarchy, which is useful for tagging, RESTful URIs and other behaviour, but was developed in ASP to provide an MVC framework for the web, in order to provide cleaner code and a simpler URI interface.

The preview edition is in a lot of flux, so I’m not sure what state it’s in a week on from the roadshow, so I’d suggest catching up with the blog above for the latest information.

Silverlight 2

aka Silverlight.Net. You can now use .Net languages to script Microsoft’s flash killer, which is definitely cool from an IronPython perspective, although it is a strict sibling of .Net (think J2ME vs Java). The really interesting parts of Silverlight 2 are in the fact that there is now full 2-way communication between the web page hosting the silverlight app and the app itself, and that Microsoft is now planning a designer’s studio for Silverlight to do the GUI and the animations. How long before all apps are written partly with the XAML-based Expression Blend? If you think there’s a lot of variety in interfaces right now, I can see a lot more variety coming once designers get their hands on Blend.

Visual Studio Team Suite

Anyone who’s not using unit tests and refactoring to improve their code is not a professional programmer. The new features in VSTS aim to bring the new version up to compete with the other testing and refactoring tools out there. Continuous integration and testing were covered at d3, but this talk explored the idea that CI can include any task that can be represented as a .Net object, and there are a number of such tasks available from the contrib server including tasks to deploy a database or set up a virtual server ready for a test environment. The CI mantra was pushed with the comment that Flickr have a 30-minute release schedule so that users are always up to date with new features and bug fixes. It’s a lot easier to do that on a website than with deployed software like Windows, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind when setting up CI. It’s nice to be able to prove that the software is ready to go whenever you need it.

The part that most interested me about the new VSTS was the addition of unit testing, refactoring and source control to SQL Server databases (with a promise of other dbs to follow). The source control was fairly straight-forward, one SQL file for each table, key, constraint, view, procedure, etc, laid out in files to match the heirarchy of the database in Management Studio, so you can track changes at a very fine-grained level, so long as you’re using something a bit more advanced than CVS. Once the schema is imported, refactoring options such as wildcard expansion in SELECT queries becomes available to provide more robust code. Unit testing of SQL stored procedures, using SQL conditions such as row counts and performance measures have been added, and the unit tests are run as transactions to prevent any changes to the database. The testing framework also includes performance and load testing, web testing that allows testing of a sequence with captured data, and a data generator similar to the one demonstrated by Redgate at d3.

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3 thoughts on “MSDN roadshow 2008 : Glasgow

  1. Hiya Craig

    I’m interested to know how (if) you’d like to see us do things differently given your comment about “an advertising event”. Keeping in mind it is an MSDN event and we’re there to talk about the Microsoft platform and tools, how would you like it to look? DDD has a little more scope to work with but do you think we could do things better?

    Also, I should own up as I think the “ugly hack” you refer to in MikeT’s session was actually in the Dynamic Data part of my session. This is a necessary evil at the moment. There is no “better” way to do it I’m afraid.

    All the best

    Mike

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  2. Mike,

    My comment about it being “an advertising event” was about the idea that the roadshow’s main focus is obviously on spreading the word about new technologies and showing demos, whereas the DDD events are more for the “How Do I…” sort of questions. I think it’s just a matter of focus. It wasn’t meant in a negative way, just to emphasise the difference in purpose compared to the subject of my previous blog.

    I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with the way the event itself went, but I think the important thing for developers is to be able to keep informed, and to be able to form a dialogue with Microsoft after the event, which I’m glad to see you’re doing. I hope part of that is making sure that the right people get to hear about the concerns and the praise raised by the community.

    As for the “ugly hack”. I may have mistakenly attributed it to the wrong Mike, but I think the important point there is that the framework itself requires those hacks, whereas similar frameworks from Microsoft seem to be far more elegant, so I would hope that the developers will look to those for inspiration, otherwise those technologies will stick out badly against the rest of the ecosystem, and evolution will see them fall into obsolescence.

    Thanks for reading, and for the comments.

    Craig.

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  3. Thanks Craig – I see where you’re coming from now.

    On the “ugly hack” front, the “issue” is that there is no elegant way to do this (currently) in .NET. ie we need to apply attributes to members of a generated class. Partial classes allow you to directly extend a class by adding members but you can’t directly modify the generated class with attributes.

    What I’m getting at is that this isn’t the fault of the Dynamic Data framework per se, it’s a limitation of (current) .NET. If there’s a more elegant way to achieve the same thing in another Microsoft framework then I’m sure the ASP.NET team would jump on it!

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