But it works on my PC!

The random thoughts of Richard Fennell on technology and software development

Virtual PC on Windows 7

You can run Virtual PC 2007 on Windows 7, but Windows 7 does include a new version of Virtual PC as part of the operating system, which is good.

The problem I have, and as will many others, is though my 64Bit Acer 8210’s Intel process has hardware virtualization support, Acer for some bizarre reason chose to disable it in the BIOS; thought it was enabled in the 32bit 8200 series, and is enable in the later Travelmate equivalents. Acer are not alone in this choice. This means that many people with fairly recent PCs will not be able to run the newer version of Virtual PC.

If at all possible I think Microsoft need to provide support for host PCs with no hardware virtualization support,or that lack the option to enable it in the BIOS, as does my Acer. However I wonder, as hardware virtualisation is pre-requisite for Hyper V, is it that this new version Virtual PC share technology with Hyper V, thus giving the same hardware requirements?

Holiday is when you catch up…..

I got round to listening to the latest Radio TFS podcast today whist out for a run, Adopting Team System with Steve Borg. If you are looking at adopting TFS or even just critically looking at your development life cycle with a view to improving (irrespective of the tools you use), then this podcast is well worth the time to listen to. It actually covers a lot of the points I was discussing at the Agile Yorkshire user group this week in my session of Crystal Clear. By now I would usually have put my slide stack up for all to download, but in this case, as my session was a book review in essence I would like you to read the original Crystal Clear by Alistair Cockburn.

In my opinion, the key point they both raise is the that it is important to have a process that provides:

  • Safety – provides a framework that means the project can safely be delivered
  • Efficiency – development should be in an efficient manner
  • Habitable – that the team can live with the process (if they can’t the process will be avoided/subverted)

Or to put it another way (and quoting here from the Crystal Clear book) “a little methodology does a lot of good, after that weight is costly”

A point raised at the user group in the chat after my session was that of how to get senior people (such as CEO, CFO etc) to buy into the ‘new’ development process (a critical factor for success). Too often it is heard “I don’t care if you are agile or not, I just want it delivered” and no support is provided beyond the actual coding team from the business. A good discussion of this type of problem is in Gojko Adzic’s book Bridging the Communication Gap: Specification by Example and Agile Acceptance Testing. This is written for non software developers and discusses how to make sure that the whole business is involved in the development process, thus enabling the project to deliver what the business really needs not what people think they need. I would say this book is an essential for anyone involved in the software specifications process – and that should be everyone in an agile project!

Intent is the key - thoughts on the way home form Software Craftsmanship 2009

Today has been interesting, I have been to conferences where you sit and listen, such as DDD, TechEd etc. I have been to conferences where everyone is encouraged to talk open spaces style such as Alt.Net, but today has fallen between the two styles.

The Software Craftsmanship 2009 conference has been in more of a workshop style; most sessions have started with a short presentation to set the scene then the attendees split to forms small groups to do some exercise or chat, reporting back later in the session. A sort of lead open spaces feel if you want.

As usual with events you need to let what you heard sink in, but I think it will be useful. Not so much in the 'I must do X to fix project Y' but in the general approach to development issues. This was a conference on craftsmanship, best practice in general not magic bullets. A good example was in the session on responsibility driven design with mock objects, where a good deal of time was spent discussing the important of variable/object names in the design. From this session you should not take away that 'View' is a bad name and 'Display' is a good one; but that the choice of the name is important to how you will view the intent of the test and the code you are writing.

I suppose this was the theme for the day, in development intent is key, why you do something is more critical than how. It is only through clear understanding of the intent of the business users that a developer can hope to design the best system. So often what the client asks for is based on what they think can be done and unless this requirement is challenged to get at the underlying intend the best solution (whatever best means to the project) will be missed. The same holds true with writing tests, it is vital that the test conveys the intent of what is being tested, else there is little hope for any future maintenance work when all the original staff have moved on. This means to me that the most important part of the user story is the 'so that they can' clause at the end, it is so often the window onto the truth of the real story intent behind the story.

So an excellent day all round, thanks to Jason Gorman and everyone else who helped to organise the event, I look forward to next years, and so should you if you are interested in your craft....

First thoughts on Windows 7 Beta

I had the PDC CTP on my Netbook and that was OK so I had not expected any major issues. That said it has not been without problems, but all the issues I have logged as part of the beta program have been related to hardware detection (missing base stations and ignored physical Wifi switch state) on my Acer laptop. However, these issue can be worked around i.e. don’t use sleep or hibernate. so have not stopped be using the beta on my primary PC.

As to using Windows 7, I like it. I am find the revised UI easy to use, and it certainly seems faster than my Vista build on the same PC, but this might just be the fact it is fresh install on a formatted disk.

I will report more then I have used it for a few days in the real world

Steve Ballmer’s MVP Live Search Challenge

At the last MVP Summit Steve Ballmer said “I’m going to ask you one week switch your default [search engine], one week. At the end of the week…I’ll want feedback, how was your week, what happened, what did you like, what didn’t you like … Can I make that deal with you? (Cheers and applause.) That’s the deal.”

Well the week was last week, and how did I find Live Search?

I have to say it is vastly improved, in the past I just assumed Live Search would find nothing of use, especially if I was after something I would expect to find on a Microsoft site like TechNet.

This week I have found that though it does not return exactly the same a Google, it is just as useful; in fact the two are fairly complimentary. For most searches it does not now seem to matter which one I used, but when really digging one might turn up something the other does not.

So am I going to move back to Goggle? Well I am just not sure it matters for day to day searching. I certainly don’t now feel the need to change my default search engine to Google immediately when I setup a PC as I used to.


The future of paid conferences and other thoughts

Whist at PDC and the VBug conference I have heard a a good deal of chat over the future of paying for conferences and user groups. This is in the light of all the PDC sessions being available on Channel9 in under 24 hours and that the content at the Vbug conference is also available at free events like DDD.

The question boils down to can a person or company justify paying a good few thousand Pounds, Euro or Dollars to fly half way round the world when they could see the same content at home? In my previous post on the PDC I suggested it was worth it for the networking, and I still think this is so. However, I have heard an interesting slant on this from more than one person; this is go to the city were the conference is but not to the actual conference; just taking in the parties and maybe watching content via the Internet where available.

For some people I think this might be a viable option; as long as you get the right party invites! For example at TechEd Europe there many community orientated events organised outside the conference because this is the one time most relevant people are in the same city. Also if you are in this group then you may struggle to find time to go to the actual conference so maybe this plan is viable or even preferred. However, for the average developer I am not certain it is the case, too much of the networking happens randomly inside the conference corridors and at meal tables. For this ‘outside the conference’ model to work you have to know who you want to meet and get invited to the right places/parties i.e. you need some profile in the community

As to the other point whether Vbug like events will continue I think we need to consider who they are aimed it. I had expected at the Vbug conference to see a lot of faces in the audience who I see at DDD, but this was not the case. There were a few but not a majority. Then again I don’t see the same faces at DDD as Alt.net. We have a number of distinct communities going on here, there is some cross over but not that much. I think the three broad groups are:

  • People who go to events (free or otherwise) during office hours – VBug attendees, and people who come to the events we host with Microsoft.
  • People who will go an event in their own time, but it is a passive learning experience – like DDD on a Saturday or a speaker at a user group
  • People who want to discuss what they do either in a user group over a beer or at an Open Spaces format conference – like Alt.net

We are never going to get all three groups merged into one. People will move from one to another and maybe attend all three, but that is their choice.

We are lucky in the UK that we have such an active and high quality community so all three groups can be supported, it will be interesting to see if any one type prevails (judged by attendance) as time goes on. However I do not expect to see any type disappear soon.

Post PDC 2008 thoughts

So back home now after a reasonable journey back from LA all things considered; so I have had a bit of time to reflect, was the PDC good?

Well I think I enjoyed my previous PDC in 2005 more, your first time always sticks in your memory. I think that this might be due to the fact that at the 2005 PDC LINQ was announced and it was a real left field thing, nobody seemed to see it coming. Due to the prior announcements (leaks) there was nothing that was not expected at this years PDC.

This said, it does not mean the the announcements were not important, for the future of Microsoft probably far more important than LINQ was. You could argue that Azure is more of an IT pro announcement, on a day to day basis it will certainly effect them, due to remote hosting of core services, more than developers who will still basically be using .NET via WCF, EF etc. just altering a connection string or two. So an announcement at the Professional Developers Conference was in itself interesting, but where else would Microsoft do it?

On a more step change for developers front, will Oslo change the world? Well in my opinion not yet, but this was a PDC so we expect the new ‘real’ product to be a few years out. Next year’s PDC 2009 I think will see the Oslo and Dublin technologies productify (is that a word?). It is worth comment that a PDC two years running is rare, so Microsoft must have something up their corporate sleeve.

Since getting back I have done the conference survey and I found one question interesting ‘does the fact that the sessions were all available via www.microsoftpdc.com effect your choice to go to the conference in the future?’. I have to say yes, but on reflection it was worth the trip. A conference is more than the keynote and breakout sessions, maybe there is a future in fully online conferences but it is not there for me yet. Whether I want to travel best part of half way round the world is a interesting point; a 2 hour flight to Barcelona did seemed attractive when sitting in Heathrow Terminal 5 prior to my11 hour flight. But I was lucky I suppose, a friend was off to Hawaii for an air compressor conference the same week I was in LA (each to their own I suppose). The location for me does not warrant the travel, the inside of a conference centre is much the same in any country. I suppose a factor here is how much time you spend in the conference against the beach, for me if you are going to a conference it is to learn not have a holiday (or hunt for swag!), but I am not sure all people have the same opinion here. Some people seem to see a conference a reward for work done in the year, so at treat not a learning experience.

So will I be at PDC 2009 – I expect so. Whether Black Marble send as many to the PDC as opposed to the various TechEds I am not sure, this is a discussion we need to have post conference season. We defiantly need to cover both types of conference, as does any forward looking Microsoft partner, but the ratio is the question.

As for me next it is the Vbug conference I am speaking on VSTS; I believe there are still spaces available, maybe I will see you there.

PDC Day 3

The keynote today was all about MSR, interesting as ever. I particularly liked the demos of Second Light (Surface computing that reaches beyond the surface of the physical pc) and Boku (a system to help children program). The latter is close to our hearts at Black Marble due to the work we have done on FPL, another system to teach children to program (watch out for free downloads of this application soon)

It was also interesting to see that there was a date for a PDC 2009 – shows that Microsoft have plenty of new things in the pipeline.

Outside of the keynote, what could be more directly useful to me will be Visual Studio Team Lab, a new SKU for 2010 (sorry still can’t find a link with more details) that will manage the provisioning of test environments: Hyper-v VHDs are stored in a repository and created using pre defined rules as part of a build process. Test can then be run either automatically or manually using the new VS2010 test tools. Test results are then fed back into the TFS work item tracking system including screen shots, error test information – in fact enough information to allow a developer to connect to the Hyper-v pc at the point of error and debug. This idea is something we are working on internally with current VS2008 and Hyper-V tools. Unfortunately we are unlikely to see Team Lab until VS2010 reaches beta, so a good way off – so I am going to have to persist with our own internal projects it seems.

PDC 2008 Day 2 Keynote

Well it was all end user focused today; Windows 7 and experience in Live systems. All looks very nice, given the usually question you have to raise in a connected environment over personal data security. I am sure Microsoft have done a good job of physical and logical data security, but the whole concept of mesh networks opens up a huge potential for social attacks. No developer can protect against the user clicking on an ill advised email or now mesh link; I know I have fixed too many friends PCs with the XP Antivirus 2008 Trojan of late, where they click on a link because an email said their anti virus was out of date, they thought they were doing good.

It was interesting that the major third party demo’s big demo’s were both from the UK: Tesco and the BBC. Is it me or does the fact Tesco plan to offer a WPF application to handle your online orders but also manages family photos see a little scary? Where is their reach going to end?

The second half of the keynote was the Don Box and Chris Anderson show  - excellent as ever. A whistle stop tour of programming against Azure. And all the demo’s coded against the live web sites even worked!.

It made me laugh…

At the PDC expo drinks last night I was asked to show age ID to get a drink! Just me it seems, nobody else from the company.

I thought I was doing well to be carded on my 30th birthday whilst in the US, but 10 years on it getting silly – You must ask how do I keep my youthfully countenance? Wish I knew, but they say it is youth culture here in LA.

So my new aim is to get asked to prove my age to get a drink with an OAP bus pass.