COMMUNITY: CodeCampOz 2008 report

Posted on April 28, 2008. Filed under: Community, Microsoft |

When: 25-27 April 2008

Where: Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia

This has easily been the best CodeCampOz I’ve been to (and I’ve been to all of them :-). Mitch and Greg have done another stellar job organising this event. All of the sessions have been high quality and relevant. Big thanks to Microsoft, Readify, IT Masters, SSW and CSU for their involvement.

The Twitter coverage has been a highlight (view the Hashtags summary here), and meeting people who I’ve been following for a while has been a bonus. Photos have been put up on Flickr thanks to Roger.

As Angus has reported, we’ve got tons of ideas and suggestions to take back and implement at Elcom.

I’m not really one for gratuitous praise or for singling out people, but I have to say that during Paul Stovell’s session I had the distinct feeling we were in the presence of greatness…

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A quick catch up with Frank Arrigo

Posted on April 21, 2008. Filed under: Microsoft, Personal |

There’s plenty to talk about after the MVP Summit last week. But that’ll have to wait. For now, you can either read the shenanigans courtesy of Schnubbs’ blog, or… you can watch this quick 2 min video where a bunch of us caught up with Frank Arrigo. Can you believe he’s been in Seattle for 9 months already? Time flies.

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TIP: Fixing IE so it doesn’t go mental with lots of tabs open

Posted on March 27, 2008. Filed under: Microsoft, Tip |

This one has bugged me for ages – you open up stacks of tabs in IE and after a while weird things start happening. Perhaps its the menu not appearing on some tabs, another tab has missing toolbars, etc.

And it affects other programs as well including File Explorer, shortcuts, and in my case SharePoint Designer (and even Live Writer – with which I am currently writing this post).

Well, thanks to Jon Galloway we now have a (Microsoft non-supported) solution. Jon points to posts by Ed Bott and Kevin Dente, the latter being almost 4 years old. Some things never change huh?

Warning: All registry changes are ‘do at your own risk’ affairs, so be careful as always with this one.

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CLARITY: CRM Live becomes CRM Online

Posted on March 27, 2008. Filed under: Clarity, Microsoft |

The main interest in this article from Mary Jo is not about CRM (who cares about a name change after all) but rather how Microsoft are clarifying their terms:

Live: Consumer focus

Online: Business & Enterprise focus, hosted by Microsoft

Hosted services: hosted by Microsoft partners

And don’t miss the revenue sharing snippet at the bottom – Microsoft will share 10% of the CRM Live charge with reseller partners (its at the bottom of page 10 of the linked document).

(via Mary Jo Foley)

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MEDIA: Speaking at a Microsoft Media event

Posted on March 6, 2008. Filed under: Microsoft |

Last week I spoke at my first media event. Which was kinda fun.

Here’s what happened.

As part of the Microsoft Heroes Happen Launch event last week, Microsoft put on a media event. It was all organised by their PR company (in this case Howorth Communications) and involved getting a few key Microsoft executives (Martin Gregory and Bob Kelly) plus a few clients (5 in this case) to tell of their experiences with the new Microsoft products.

Elcom was asked along to present on our increased performance using Windows Server 2008.

The event was reasonably small, with perhaps 15 journalists, the 2 key Microsoft execs, plus a few Microsoft staff and the 5 client representatives (of which I was one).

Martin Gregory hosted the lunch (the food was pretty good I should add), and spoke about Microsoft’s message for the launch. He then handed over to Bob Kelly who outlined the Microsoft vision and covered off a number of the new features in the Microsoft products released in the last year – focusing of course on the 2008 stack.

Following that, each of us (ie the 5 clients) had a few minutes to outline the company we work for and our experiences with the 2008 stack.

The clients who presented were Lion Nathan, CargoWise, University of Canberra, Mincom and Elcom. It was interesting to hear about how massive an impact the 2008 stack is having on these companies. Each had good stories to tell about increased productivity, performance and functionality. As you’d expect at an event like this it was all positive about Microsoft of course, but that doesn’t diminish the breadth of results being experienced. Coding times are being cut, turn around times are being reduced, network upgrades are being fast tracked and performance is being increased (as we are testament to) – to name just a few advantages.

After the presentations each of us had a little booth with 4 chairs where journalists could come and chat about our results/experiences if they wanted further information. I chatted with 2 journalists but had to rush off (I was already running late for my presentation in Dave Glover’s session). Interestingly, many journalists left straight away without talking to any of us one-on-one.

All in all another great experience. But what can I learn from this? I was reflecting on what I said at the event (you can see media snippets here and here) and thought about what I’d do differently next time.

My main thought was that I probably didn’t explain Elcom as well as I could have. I launched into our experiences, results and plans, without first explaining who Elcom is. I wonder if I could have been more helpful to the audience in that regard.

[Note to self: Write a blog post outlining ‘The Elcom Story’ because I get a few people asking me what it is we do, and realised I have never really explained it here.]

Anyway, that was the fun I had last week.

Have you ever spoken at a media event? If so, what did you do, and what tips do you have?

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MICROSOFT: Heroes Happen {Here} presentation

Posted on March 3, 2008. Filed under: Microsoft |

I had the pleasure of speaking as part of Dave Glover’s session in the Visual Studio track at last Thursday’s Microsoft Wave launch in Sydney.

Dave’s session was on some of the new productivity enhancements in Visual Studio 2008. In my spot I covered off the experiences we’ve had with the 2008 stack at Elcom.

In particular I outlined how we, as a software development company – and thus mostly focused on Visual Studio – have benefited hugely from the performance improvements in IIS7 on Windows Server 2008. My point being that we need to investigate the entire stack – not just those parts that we deal with most.

One interesting thing about presenting the session – I got really nervous just as I went on. This is strange because I’m usually pretty comfortable as a speaker (having presented at user groups for years, spoken in front of large groups and even run conferences). Later that night I realised why… I’ll be outlining that in a separate post.

My PowerPoint slides from the presentation are here. And the case study we handed out is here.

During the session I asked for feedback from people about our results. I’m keen to hear suggestions and field questions. I offered a prize for the best suggestion or question that came through. Most of the feedback I received was in relation to the resource usage of IIS6 compared to IIS7 – with people asking for more details. This is good feedback and I’ll be detailing some of that in the coming weeks. Alan took performance monitor screenshots as he conducted the testing, and he’ll be writing that up shortly.

And I’m happy to announce that the best suggestion/question winner was David Perks from Brennan IT. Two Hoyts Gold Pass movie tickets coming your way shortly Dave.

Finally, a big thank you to Microsoft and Dave Glover for having me along.

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MICROSOFT: As good as open source

Posted on February 21, 2008. Filed under: Microsoft |

Ask most people what the best thing about Open Source is, and they’ll tell you one of two things:

1. It’s not Microsoft, or

2. It’s free

We’ve all heard the Cost of Ownership arguments and know that being free to use is not necessarily free to operate, but that’s not really an issue for people like, um, students.

Microsoft has unveiled its DreamSpark* initiative, in which students get a stack of developer & designer tools for free. Get them hooked young.

I think this is a great idea. In fact, always have. When I was at uni (back in the dark ages – I graduated in ’94 🙂 the main player in student developer tools was Borland. Why? Because they were dirt cheap. They lead the way with the whole academic pricing model that is now used by Microsoft, Adobe and others. I remember buying the full, enterprise, everything, all-you-can-eat, version of Borland C++ for something like a hundred bucks (retail was in the thousands) simply because I was a student. In fact I wrote my whole thesis in it (ahhh pointers, how I miss you not…).

Everyone in my course was using Borland and we were all hooked. And remember that Software Engineering as a degree was pretty new** in those days (I commenced my degree in ’89 and it had only been going for a few years prior to that I think). Anyway enough of the boring history, my point is this. Borland owned that generation of software engineer. Microsoft were quick to catch on and a few years after I finished, Microsoft Visual C++ had taken the top spot.

Microsoft’s recent decision to make their tools free to developers is a simple evolution of this. 15 years ago they were competing with Borland and cheap pricing. These days they are competing with Open Source and zero pricing.

So this is not a clever move, nor even a surprising move. It is a necessary move to ensure they can still have some hold on the crucial student generation – and thus tomorrow’s IT generation. It’ll be interesting to see how many of these licenses are claimed, and to compare that to usage of the Express range. My guess is that students are gonna flock to this like ants to a sugar bowl.

The only bad part – it won’t be available in Australia for a little while (since there is no verification system in place – as Long Zheng points out).


* btw I think DreamSpark is a dumb name.


** Note: I should clarify that Software Engineering is different to Computer Science – at least it was when & where I was going through. Software Engineering was new and came out of the Electrical Engineering faculty – and was a 6 year degree. Computer Science, which had been around for ages, was a 3 or 4 year degree (depending on electives). Interestingly, Software Engineering went down the DOS and Windows path, where as Comp Sci had a lot more Unix.

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Posted on February 2, 2008. Filed under: Clarity, Microsoft, Technology, VSTO |

Seems like Microsoft is having a V Day, every day. Here’s a run down of the main V technologies/tools:

VSTS (Visual Studio Team System)

Firstly, Visual Studio. Visual Studio 2008 (the current version) is Microsoft’s IDE for building .NET based applications, be they Web, Desktop, Device or Microsoft Office based.

Visual Studio comes in a number of different versions, grouped into three main areas:

The premier version is called Visual Studio Team System 2008 Team Suite and includes everything from all the different-role based versions.

VSTO (Visual Studio Tools for Office)

VSTO is Microsoft’s tool set for building applications that run in Microsoft Office (eg Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint). They are built using Visual Studio.

Originally a replacement for VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) in Excel and Word, VSTO was made available in its first version approximately around the start of 2004. The most recent version – VSTO V3 – was delivered as part of Visual Studio 2008 in November 2007.

The aim of VSTO is to provide tools for developers to build on top of Office as a platform. Using VB.NET and/or C#, developers can use Visual Studio to build add-in for most of the Office 2003 and 2007 applications, including Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, InfoPath and Visio. SharePoint and Groove development is also possible, al though not directly targeted.

(See also my further thoughts on VSTO here)

VSTA (Visual Studio Tools for Applications)

VSTA is a customisation toolkit for allowing your application to be extended (using .NET). You are basically exposing your application’s object model in a form that can be built upon using Visual Studio. You can even embed a cut-down version of Visual Studio into your application to allow customers to extend it without having to install Visual Studio.

If they do have Visual Studio installed, they’ll be able to built add-ins for your application.

VSTA comes from the same Microsoft product group as VSTO and shares a similar architecture. Here’s how they relate to each other:

Microsoft has a product (eg Outlook) that they want you to be able to extend. They use VSTA to allow their product (Outlook) to be extended using Visual Studio. They call their extension toolset VSTO.

(Note: They don’t embed the cut-down version of Visual Studio into Outlook, but the concept is similar to how they provide the macro editor embedded into Office.)

VSTA is reasonably new – the first version was announced in early 2006. The second version is due in early 2008.

VSX (Visual Studio Extensions/Extensibility)

It’s easy to get confused between VSTA and VSX. The difference is that with VSTA you provide extensibility for your application, whilst with VSX you build new extensions for Visual Studio. With VSX you are building something new onto the Visual Studio IDE.

Code Magazine recently had an entire issue devoted to VSX.

VSX is part of the Visual Studio Ecosystem of products, delivered via the Visual Studio 2008 SDK.

Microsoft has been focusing on opening up extensibility for Visual Studio a lot lately. Although the ability to do so has been around for a while, it is now free (previously it was licensed at a cost), licensing restrictions have been toned down, and the Visual Studio Shell has been released (meaning you can build Visual Studio Add-ins without even needing Visual Studio installed).

Also, a number of open source projects have appeared on CodePlex, including the World of Warcraft AddOn Studio.

Other V words:

VSS (Visual SourceSafe)

Microsoft’s long running source control product has been superseeded in many ways by the source control elements of Team Foundation Server, however VSS is still promoted and supported. Ideal for smaller development teams.

Volta (Volta)

A new initiative from Microsoft labs, as opposed to a product as such, this is a process of so called tier splitting, whereby the Volta technology takes a traditional WinForms application and splits it out into client and server tiers/components, all held together with Volta goodness. The server tiers can be transformed to being web based (JavaScript usage features heavily in this case).


I think we all know this one. Microsoft Vista is an operating system, and the successor to Windows XP. 

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ELCOM: More on Windows 2008, SQL 2008, VS 2008

Posted on January 18, 2008. Filed under: Elcom, Microsoft |

Earlier this week I mentioned Elcom had moved everything over to 2008 (that is, our product – Community Manager.NET – is now targeting .NET 3.5 in Visual Studio 2008, and our site is running on Windows Server 2008 with SQL Server 2008 on the back end).

Initial thoughts were that the site was running a bit quicker. Turns out we were wrong. The site is actually running a lot quicker.

One of our techies, Alan Lee, set up a testing environment so that we could start measuring the performance improvements. You can check out his method here, and his results here. This is only the start of his testing mind you, and there are a few caveats to note (in regard to CPU usage).

But the results are stunning.

Bottom line: The Elcom site is now running over 5 times faster.


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ELCOM: Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008

Posted on January 15, 2008. Filed under: Elcom, Microsoft, Technology |

Elcom is all 2008.

The Elcom web site is now running on a Windows 2008 Server, with SQL Server 2008 as the back-end and Community Manager.NET completely recompiled under Visual Studio 2008 (targeting the 3.5 Framework) delivering the content.

Elcom - Enterprise Content Management

Community Manager.NET is Elcom’s content management system (CMS), which we have now re-compiled, tested and released on the .NET 3.5 Framework.

Now, you might think this is a pretty simple thing to do, but there’s actually a reasonable amount of work involved to ensure it is all performing smoothly. I won’t go into the details here, but suffice to say, when you have a mature product (Community Manager is in its 5th year of development) there’s a fair bit of code that needs to be checked. Third party tools, and rarely used custom modules only add to the mix.

Additionally, running it on two products that are still not yet released (Windows 2008 and SQL 2008) brings its own share of fun 🙂 The main hassles have been in getting up to speed with a few of the Windows 2008 Server settings, some of which Brad and Alan have noted.

And, to be honest, there are still a few little issues with the site… (can you find them?).

It’s a little early to be talking about the advantages and performance improvements that the updates provide, but we’ll report back in the coming months with issues and improvements.

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2008: The Year of VSTO

Posted on January 6, 2008. Filed under: Microsoft, Technology, VSTO |

There’s been a number of predictions made about technology for 2008, and of course a list of disappointments for the past year. Considering that no ones really takes any of them very seriously, then why not add my own 🙂

Here’s my prediction:
2008 will be the year that Office Business Applications go mainstream*.

And by Office Business Applications (OBAs) I’m interested primarily in applications built using Microsoft Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) technologies**. Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint are the main platforms targeted.

Outlook is the future  

My main focus will be on Outlook because it is the program (IMO) that is used by the most people, and for the most time during each day (ie ‘everyone’ has Outlook open all day). (Word and Excel are of course close behind).

Outlook has over 450 million users (admittedly most are not yet on Outlook 2007) and this will only increase in the coming year.

But why hasn’t this happened already?

Hurdles so far
Reason 1: Toolset

VSTO, even though it is in its third version is still hard to learn. There are still significant hurdles to cross, but it is getting much better. Many of the security and deployment concerns have been addressed, and the breadth of material and online help available is growing steadily.

Reason 2: Mindset

However, the main reason for the lack of mainstream* movement so far is because people are still caught up with matching VSTO applications to Office functional context.

Thus, they think (incorrectly in my Web 2.0 opinion) that an Outlook add-in should relate to an already existing Outlook task eg helping with email, or contact, a to do item etc.

Time to rethink I say.

We should start building all kinds of applications into Outlook, especially those that have nothing to do with normal Outlook activities.

Changing our mind set

And ironically the catalyst for this will be games.

I predict that there will be a rash of games built into task panes of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and most importantly Outlook.
Sound crazy? Yeah, I know…

But wait.

Imagine having Poker, Sudoku, Scrabble, Chess, Minesweeper and other games hanging off your Outlook 2007 To-Do Bar. Just sitting under the calendar and above your task list. Perhaps in a task pane of your email, constantly there as you go through each item. (With a ‘boss’ key of course 🙂

And it won’t stop there.

Follow the Facebook model

Facebook really upped their traction when they added the developer tools to allow applications to be built into the platform.
It is a simple conceptual jump to see how this can be easily transferred to Office.

The key of course is that many of the Facebook applications available have nothing to do with social networking (ie they are using a social networking platform simply as a developer platform, focusing on the reach, not the social networking nature).


– So, think of any Facebook application that you currently use, and simply transfer it to Outlook.

– Next, think of any gadget currently in your Vista side bar and then imagine it in an Outlook task pane.

– Further, open it up to Skype and IM, all built into Outlook, along with Twitter and other communication tools.

And the list goes on…

Key point

The key is to use Outlook (and Office) as a developer platform, and stop limiting it to just an email, contact, calendar, to-do list related platform.


Microsoft Office is a platform. Let’s start using it as such for ALL application types***, whether they be directly related to an Office function or not. Think about reach, not functional context.

And finally

Look out for later this year…


* Mainstream – there are a lot of OBAs in enterprises already of course, so when I talk of mainstream, I am referring to that adoption rate where non-IT friends and family are happily installing the applications. Various Outlook add-ins (Plaxo, LinkedIn, etc) have come close to bridging this gap – we just haven’t had the killer Outlook app yet…

** For those not familiar with VSTO (Visual Studio Tools for Office) it is a set of tools for building applications into Office programs using Visual Studio and .Net.

*** By application types, I mean let’s make our Outlook add-ins relate to anything. Obviously, I’m not suggesting we re-write our huge standalone Winform apps into Outlook 🙂



It was Scott Scovell (a former work colleague, now making waves in the BizTalk community) who first put me on to the whole Office applications idea. Three years ago he was telling me how we should be building some of our company apps into Outlook (I wasn’t convinced at the time, but as usual he was right…)

However, for me it wasn’t until I heard Andrew Coates present on VSTO at TechEd 2007 last year that the penny finally dropped. His excellent ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants‘ post in September was the clincher.


Note: This post is covered under my new Disclaimer ‘terms’.

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CLARITY: Flash versus Flex versus Silverlight

Posted on November 28, 2007. Filed under: Clarity, Microsoft, Technology |

Summary: Flex is to Adobe as Silverlight is to Microsoft

Silverlight is often referred to as Microsoft’s version of Flash, however it is more correct to say it is Microsoft’s version of Flex.

You could say the following…
Silverlight 1.0 = Flash
Silverlight 2.0 = Flex

[UPDATE: Silverlight 1.1 has been re-branded as Silverlight 2.0]

Here’s a very basic comparison of Flex and Silverlight:

Flex is an Adobe product which allows you to build Rich Internet Applications* (RIA)

It is basically a developer tool which has a framework of functions that allows you to build applications that run in a browser (any browser on any platform).

Flex can use the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)** to run those very same web apps on the desktop as desktop apps.

Flex is currently building in .Net framework support.
Flex is currently in Beta for version 3.

In comparison, Silverlight is a Microsoft technology that allows you to build RIAs.

Silverlight apps are built using Visual Studio, Blend and other tools.
Silverlight 1.0 (released in October 2007) focused on providing Rich Media support.

Silverlight 1.1 (currently in Alpha) is focused on the programmability behind the apps.

Via a Silverlight plug-in, the apps run in any browser on any platform (there are some limits though).

Silverlight does not provide desktop app functionality. WPF is the Microsoft solution for rich media desktop applications.

* Some people contest that RIA stands for Rich Interactive Applications
** AIR used to be referred to as Apollo (it’s previous codename)

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CLARITY: Microsoft is a marketing company

Posted on November 23, 2007. Filed under: Clarity, Microsoft |

Not wanting to be too much of ‘well duh’ post, but I thought it was worth reminding ourselves that in software we need to be focusing extensively on marketing and sales. It all too easy to get caught up in the development, to the detriment of the marketing.

I’ve (finally) finished ‘Partnering with Microsoft‘ by Ted Dinsmore and Edward O’Connor. It’s a little dry, and can get repetitive, but overall it is a useful analysis of how Microsoft Partners should approach their relationships with Microsoft and other partners. In the process, the book details how Microsoft organises itself.

The following quote is worth reflecting on in light of your own software company:

Of the total employee base, 23,200 (42%) are dedicated to research and development, which includes product development; 25,100 (46%) are engaged in sales, marketing and support; 4,300 (8%) are assigned to finance and administration; and 2,400 (4%) work in manufacturing and distribution.

(p37, based on Microsoft organisation details in 2005)

So, to be clear, Microsoft has more people working in sales, marketing & support than they do developing the actual products. The inclusion of support in the 46% is distorting, and ideally I’d like to know how many just in sales and marketing. My guess is that the bulk is in sales & marketing. But even so the message is clear.

Now, I’m not saying that Microsoft’s model should be your model, but if you find you have heaps of developers and no marketing resources, then perhaps there’s food for thought.

How to Make Money in Trusted Partnership with the Global Software Powerhouse

(btw – I’m linking to the book on my Amazon store page – I get a commission from every sale – which I use solely to help cover costs I incur running SBTUG)

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TECHED: Please don’t split it down under

Posted on November 8, 2007. Filed under: Microsoft |

Microsoft has split TechEd 2008 into 2 back-to-back conferences in the US.

I hope they don’t do this in Australia. One of the things I loved this year was going to a big mix of sessions, covering both developer and infrastructure topics. Although I’m a developer at heart, in my current role I need to be across a number of areas, and TechEd was a perfect ‘source of truth’ for much of it.

I’m guessing the reason for the split in the US is a logistical one. And on the upside, I could possibly go to both conferences (and see even more sessions – woo hoo!), but I have to admit to being pretty tired by the fourth day this year.

I’d prefer they ran the whole conference twice, rather than split it. That would actually give them a benefit with scheduling for the second week, based on stats, popularity of sessions etc in the first. But I guess that’d be too long for all the speakers to stay for.

(via Alan Stevens)

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