Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Senior Information Systems Architect

Oh yeah... I've been promoted: Senior Information Systems Architect. Guess I take after Bill Gates after all. :-)

I have to thank my manager for this, I guess.

I happy!

New Microsoft Technologies

I was sitting at the office earlier today going about my day-to-day business when I received an email from my MVP Lead, that contained one word and a URL. The word was 'WOW' and the URL was http://www.microsoft.com/surface.

I quickly clicked on the link.

At the risk of sounding too much like 'Janus' from 'Friends': Oh... my... God!!! I think the innovation issue for Microsoft has finally paid off. No longer can anybody claim that Microsoft copycats ideas from other technology companies. They can steal ideas from sci-fi films, this time, 'Minority Report'.

This is the outcome of approximately US$7 billion spent every year on research and development.

In other news, Microsoft has introduced an alpha of its new mashup (mashup various stuff from various Web services like Twitter, Flickr, Virtual Earth, etc) service, PopFly, which can help people create websites without writing code.

Now, many companies have introduced similar services, so, not too much innovation here. However, the way you create the mashup visually is pretty impressive. Remember this is all rendered in Silverlight. Check it out, and the screen cast.

BTW PopFly is still in Alpha so not everybody will get a chance to try this.

Enjoy!

Links:
http://www.microsoft.com/surface
http://www.popfly.ms
http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=91175
http://www.popfly.ms/Overview/

Friday, May 18, 2007

Live.com: Search Dot Net

I just came back from Friday prayer, my kids are out with their Aunt (probably at McDonald's), my wife's in the kitchen prepping something up for lunch, so I have the study room all to myself. I went in, and instead of firing up my laptop, I logged on to my desktop, which I don't usually log on to because my kids have it monopolized.

I fired up IE7 and was about to go check how Spider-man 3 did in the box office, when I was sort of taken aback by the home page; www.live.com. Its been a while since I'd done any searching on Live (yes, I confess, I usually search on Google; I'm sorry :-)). So, for the sake of humanity, I decided to go ahead and give it a try.

Being a self-centered geek, and an MVP, I decided to search for 'Bashar Lulu', and boy was I amazed by the results. Not by the number of hits, as many as they were, but by the organization, the relevance, the readability and the fact that I could actually use this as a reference. These are things I could never have done a while ago, because I saw Live as lacking, frail and simply un-usable. The results where out of order (by relevance, or importance), the engine itself seemed buggy; not any more.

Mind you, I'm not saying that Live is perfect, or that it is better than Google, I'm just saying that its getting better, much better.

Now, let me continue my story. One of the search results took me here; a list of Visual Basic MVP blogs. Yes, my name was there, and a few names down, was Dan Appleman's. I've always been a fan of Dan's, back from the days of VB5 and his book on the Windows API. Under his name was a link to his blog which I immediately clicked on.

To cut a long story short, it was on Dan's blog that I learned about SearhDotNet a search site for .Net developers. Based on Google's custom search facility (which allows you to create your own search engine), SearchDotNet gives .Net developers information relevant to .Net only.

Dan puts it as: 'Many typical developer search terms (like "cryptography" or "Url") apply to many technologies, not just .NET. When I search for cryptography, I don't want to know how to do it in PHP, nor am I interested in the latest government policies on the topic. I want to know how it works in .NET.'

Not only that, but Dan also allows users to suggest 'inclusion criteria' where we can suggest what sites to add to the search results.

My kids are back, they want the PC, got to go!

Links:
http://www.live.com
http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/vbasic/ms789067.aspx
http://www.danappleman.com/
http://www.google.com/coop/cse/overview
http://searchdotnet.com/about.aspx#choose

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ready.... boost!

A little known fact about Windows Vista, is the ReadyBoost feature which allows you to use a USB memory stick (amongst other things) as virtual memory to enhance performance. Yes, you can plug in your memory stick into your USB port on the computer where Vista is installed and you can use the empty on the stick to increase your virtual memory.

According to Matt Ayers Program Manager in the Microsoft Windows Client Performance the 'feature is designed to improve small random I/O for people who lack the expansion slots, money, and or technical expertise to add additional RAM.'

However, there are a few things you have to have in mind before using this feature:
  • Not all USB devices can be used; it has to be fast enough in RANDOM reads and writes.
  • You can only use up to 4GB of flash for ReadyBoost, with a minimum of 256MB.
  • Microsoft recommends a ratio of 2.5:1 flash to system memory for best performance.
  • You CANNOT use a harddisk for ReadyBoost; it simply is NOT fast enough.
  • You CANNOT use your MP3 player.
  • You can only use 1 device per machine.
  • You can any type of device, this includes compatible SD/CF/memory stick/MMC.
  • Microsoft uses 'AES-128 to encrypt everything that (they) write to the device.'

Now, you might think what Vista is doing is putting the paging file onto the flash disk and if the USB device is removed unexpectedly all hell will break loose. Nope, Microsoft simply caches parts of the paging file (for performance purposes ONLY) and if the information is not found, they fall back to the harddisk.

I like!

Read more:
http://blogs.msdn.com/tomarcher/archive/2006/06/02/615199.aspx
http://windowsvistablog.com/blogs/windowsvista/archive/2006/11/20/windows-readyboost.aspx
http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista/features/details/readyboost.mspx

XML Notepad 2007

From an online download website: 'Microsoft XML NotePad 2007 assists developers in creating XML applications. It allows authors to rapidly build and edit small sets of XML data as a test bed during the development of XML-based applications.

With XML Notepad, you can create XML document prototypes quickly, easily, and in an iterative fashion, using familiar metaphors. XML Notepad offers an intuitive and simple user interface that graphically represents the tree structure of XML data.

Working with the standard building blocks of XML (Elements, Attributes and Text), authors are able to create reproducible data structures that can be easily filled. It also includes XMLDiff to visually compare the differences between 2 two XML files.'

Download here!
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=72d6aa49-787d-4118-ba5f-4f30fe913628&displaylang=en
http://www.snapfiles.com/get/xmlnotepad.html

Read more here:
http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa905339.aspx

New SQL Server in 2008?

Microsoft is trying to make good on its promise of introducing a new version of SQL Server every two to three years.

SQL Server 'Katmai', which is the upcoming version of SQL Server, promised in 2008, has many new enhancements, including but not limited to the ability 'to handle, store and manage all data types natively rather than converting them into Binary Large Objects (Blobs).'

This sends SQL Server beyond relational data to include 'documents, geographic information and XML.' Which means you 'could search YouTube based on an image rather than keywords, or a shopper wanting a red, V-neck T-shirt could search multiple sites using a scanned image rather than typing a bunch of keywords into a search engine.'

Other new stuff includes 'emphasis on scalability for BI,' while that doesn't say much, it still remains to be seen what else will the new version bring in.

Enjoy!

Resources:
http://www.crn.com/software/199500344
http://www.regdeveloper.co.uk/2007/05/10/microsoft_bi_conference/
http://www.microsoft-watch.com/content/business_applications/katmai_to_anchor_microsoft_bi.html
http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2007/may07/05-09KatmaiPR.mspx
http://www.newsfactor.com/story.xhtml?story_id=52147
http://www.microsoft.com/sql/prodinfo/futureversion/default.mspx

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Visual Basic Power Packs

Ever since it introduced Visual Basic .Net some six years ago, Microsoft has been striving to have developers jump the VB6 wagon and onto the .Net one. Being a VB6er myself I can sympathize with all those who still find it difficult to do so.

Migrating VB6 code to VB .Net is at best, a helluva task. Especially if you were like me, everything in one EXE file. No DLLs, no business logic and no stored procedures. In other words no logical architecture of any kind. All SQL statements where adhoc (inline SQL statements) which means amongst other things poor performance and almost no security whatsoever.

I started with VB3 as an amateur and things kinda evolved from there. Proper solution design was not something to look for in an application. Does it work? Does it do the job? Performance and security came in at a distant second.

The truth of the matter lies in realizing that VB .Net is NOT the same language as VB6. It looks the same, tastes the same but isn't the same at all. In my opinion it is, almost always, best to rewrite the entire application. But that is not always feasible. Some of these applications have been years in the making, with literally thousands and thousands of man hours in the making.

Microsoft realizes that and have therefore introduced the 'Visual Basic Power Packs', later herein VBPP. Officially 'Power Packs are free Add-Ins, Controls, Components, and Tools for you to use with Visual Basic 2005 to make developing great applications even easier.' In simple English, they're new tools to ease the transition from VB6 to .Net. To sort of, phase in the transition. To create a familiar environment for VB6ers, one that was alienated by Visual Studio 2002 and 2003.

VBPP includes the 'Microsoft Interop Forms Toolkit' which allows you to open .Net forms in VB6 applications, thus 'instead of upgrading the entire code base, (VB6) applications can now be extended one form at a time'. VBPP also includes the 'Microsoft Printer Compatibility Library' which 'allows projects that used the Printer and Printers Collection in Visual Basic 6.0 to be upgraded without having to re-write your printing logic'.

Now, Microsoft will also bring the 'Data Repeater Control' to VBPP which 'is similar to DataRepeater control found in Visual Basic 6.0 but it’s even simpler to use because you do not need create a UserControl first. All you do is simply drag and drop your dataset to the Repeater control and the designer will generate the controls for you'.

And 'Line and Shape Controls' with which you can 'add graphics to your Windows Form at design time just like you did in Visual Basic 6.0'. You can vote on which of these you'd like to see first.

Find out more about Visual Basic Power Packs here http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/vbasic/aa701257.aspx.

Enjoy!