SIMPLE: Rocket science

Posted on August 12, 2007. Filed under: TechEd |

Not wanting to pick on anyone in particular, but I’ve heard the expression “it’s not rocket science” all week at TechEd, usually in the context of how easy it is now (as compared to previous versions of products) to build wonderful, enabling, awe-inspiring solutions to enterprise problems.

I have to admit I wasn’t exactly sure what rocket science was, but thankfully Wikipedia came to the clarification party yet again:

Rocket science is an informal term for aerospace engineering especially as it concerns craft which operate in outer space.

Due to the complexity and depth of this area of engineering (requiring mastery in subjects including mechanics (fluid mechanics, orbital mechanics, flight dynamics), mathematics, control engineering, materials science, aeroelasticity, avionics, reliability engineering, noise control and flight test), it is also informally used as a term to describe an endeavor requiring great intelligence or technical ability.

Whilst the tools are certainly getting better, I have to say that enterprise development is getting more and more like rocket science, with a complete range of specialists required on most large developments these days…

Is it just me that thinks this?

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TECHED: Why attend the locknote?

Posted on August 11, 2007. Filed under: TechEd |

I’ve held off talking about the TechEd keynote from Wednesday (because it was extremely disappointing), but thankfully the locknote was slightly (but only slightly) better.

It was good because it was a chance for us developers to say goodbye to Frank Arrigo (he’s heading over to Redmond). Frank has had an amazing impact on the developer community (and to a small extent the IT Pro community) in Australia. He is much loved, and we’ll miss him.

Apart from that we were dragged through a mildly interesting insight into the AFP (which really only served to confirm my thoughts from the earlier Computer Forensics session).

Why attend the locknote?
Answer: We’ll miss you Frank.

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TECHED: Why Computer Forensics?

Posted on August 11, 2007. Filed under: TechEd |

I popped into the end of a session delivered by some of the AFP (Australian Federal Police) Computer Forensic experts. The surprising discovery for me was how under-resourced they are. Sure, they know how to recover data ‘deleted’ from a hard drive, and they also get pretty good at finding incriminating stuff, but overall my impression was that these guys rely on a lot of luck.

Quickly banishing visions of NCIS-like teams that were the uber-crime-sleuth I’d wanted to be when I was younger, these guys are just hard working blokes (no women apparently) who often get called into really disgusting crime scenes (drug user’s premises with discarded syringes etc), and can find themselves at the end of their 24 hour search warrant with nothing to show for it.

I had hoped I would come out really scared about how powerful and technologically innovative this crack team were – but no, they are just coping (like computer crime agencies world wide no doubt).

Why Computer Forensics?
Answer: Because it is better than nothing at all…
Note: The AFP is looking for more recruits – they are in dire need.

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TECHED: Why Online/Offline Gadgets?

Posted on August 11, 2007. Filed under: TechEd |

More out of interest than any compelling business need I dropped into Neil Roodyn’s session on Vista Gadgets.

And I have to say I found it quite thought provoking. Neil went through some simple examples but most importantly stressed some of the design considerations to be employed. Designing for Offline (or worse, unexpected disconnection scenarios) from the outset is the most important of course, but then issues of having initial data in the install were covered.

His session had examples including Bus timetable, Routing (via Virtual Earth) and Recipe gadgets.

Neil finished with a few directives summarised as:

  • Build gadgets to work offline
  • Utilise more opportunities (Vista will be on up to 1 billion desktops one day…)
  • Decide which functionality option is correct for the circumstance (eg having huge offline caches can lead to performance issues

However, my main takeaway, and answer to the question of Why is as follows:

Why Vista Gadgets?
Answer: To complement existing applications

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TECHED: Why SharePoint Branding and Customization?

Posted on August 11, 2007. Filed under: SharePoint, TechEd |

Why SharePoint Branding?
Answer: Because we can. Finally.

Yes, the customization ‘features’ of SharePoint have been well criticised for a while, so it is good to see that branding and formatting is now a simple combination of master page changes and CSS.

Not that it is trivial, but as Kathy Hughes covered (extremely well I might add) in her session, it is very straight forward once you know how. Getting your head around the Content database and how pages are constructed with Page layouts, Content placeholders and web parts is a little confusing at first, but soon starts making sense.
Themes are also supported, but I had to leave the session before we got to this part (a pity).

The customization tools are spread across SharePoint Designer, Visual Studio and also in browser changes.
The session covered the basic steps of Design, Coding and then Cascading down through sites.

So, to repeat my earlier answer to Why SharePoint branding…
Answer: Because we can, and we can do it reasonably easily now.

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TECHED: Why Silverlight?

Posted on August 9, 2007. Filed under: Silverlight, TechEd |

What an awesome end to the day. I’m already sold on the whole Silverlight concept, but this session was an eye opener. Joe Stegman impressed, with a slickly crafted presentation, perfectly delivered. No woffle or hype, just demo after demo of Silverlight goodness.
Part of the attraction of Silverlight is how it opens up the programming of media and interaction via Visual Studio (admittedly mostly in v1.1 which ‘aint out for a while yet). But in 1.0 (due for RTM in a month or so) there is plenty to appreciate. The graphics rendering on this is incredibly smooth and fast. A demo with 9 separate video streams was pushing (only!) 50% CPU on his notebook.

Joe covered the various toolsets – this was the first time I’d seen Expression Blend demoed in a compelling way (it’s actually a really nice product), but the standout was Expression Media Encoder which was packed with features (it even has a command line extension for batching media conversions.

Why Silverlight?

  • Broad reach (his words) which means they are ultimately aiming for it to run on everything (but initially this is just Windows and Mac), including mobile devices
  • The rich media experience is easy to achieve
  • The tools are available very soon

I’d be looking at Silverlight very seriously for web sites wanting to deliver rich media. The learning curve is not that steep, and the results are incredible.

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Posted on August 9, 2007. Filed under: TechEd, WPF |

The old joke about WPF being the answer to a question that hasn’t been asked is still around I guess, and thus a session on WPF is treated by some with a little bit of skepticism. Although only a mini-session, Paul Stovell did a great job of explaining why WPF is now relevant. Actually I don’t really think his aim was to address relevance, but he did it none the less. With the release (finally) of tools that help build the XAML behind WPF applications, the space is becoming more and more compelling.

Paul went through the development of a calendar control in WPF and along the way offered an insight into the way of thinking through a control’s design (he’ll have details on his blog in the coming days no doubt).

I had to leave half way through his sessions sadly, but the few minutes I saw allowed me to answer the basic question:
Why WPF?
Answer: A newer, richer user experience; Tools are finally delivered; Graphics engine is highly performant and easy to harness.

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Posted on August 9, 2007. Filed under: TechEd |

INSERT INTO cheek (tongue)

This was a great mini-session, with the remarkable Nick Hodge covering the all-too-important science of LOLCODE.
I’m with Nick on this, in believing it to be the single most important technology initiative in years.
The benefits are countless, but include the long lost art of ensuring maintenance coders are amused long into the future, and also the ability to SMS in code updates. As noted by a guest-appearing CLR expert (who likely wants to remain anonymous :-), LOLCODE may well be the savour of the IT industry, as it stands to attract back a brand new generation of high school leavers into the Uni IT courses.

Removing tongue from cheek now…

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TECHED: Why ForeFront Server Security?

Posted on August 9, 2007. Filed under: TechEd |

Developers (like me) often can’t comprehend the overhead of installing security tools across a large server count. Afterall, we are usually only dealing with a handful of servers. So how do the people looking after large numbers of servers (eg hundreds) cope?
This is a difficult problem and a number of vendors are targetting applications at the problem. One particular area is ensuring all Exchange and SharePoint servers have their security products kept up to date.
As Tim Smith explained, this is where ForeFront steps in. Acquired by Microsoft from Sybari, the Antigen product range has largely been re-branded as ForeFront.
The product has a number of versions, but in general is a means of linking in servers to be updated automatically, no matter what security suite they run (eg Kaspersky, CA, Norman etc). Forefront does all the management of deployment out to the servers.

Why ForeFront Server Security?
Answer: To easily manage deployment of security updates out to Exchange and SharePoint servers.

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TECHED: Why BizTalk and BAM?

Posted on August 9, 2007. Filed under: BizTalk, TechEd |

Business Activity Management (BAM) is an important area for growing businesses to embrace. IT is basically the act of observing key processes in a business and being able to proactively respond to issues.

In this session Mick Badran (local BizTalk guru and MVP) along with Rahul Garg (Microsoft Technical Specialist) took us through an introduction to using BizTalk to implement BAM.

The functionality is largely OotB (Out-of-the-Box) in BizTalk 2006 R2 and is easy to implement.

The need for proper BAM will be decided at each organisation, usually the larger ones, and will require analysts to first work out what needs to be observed. Then it is handed over to the developers to implement using BizTalk orchestration. The general result is a tracking portal that allows activity searches, reporting, queries and alerts (eg even a Vista gadget for displaying summary information).

Why BAM?

  • It is becoming more necessary in companies, especially as timeframes are continually squeezed
  • Companies are requiring real-time activity information
  • The cost of the technologies available are allowing it to be implemented cheaply
  • The cost of not implementing may be high for companies due to lost revenue, opportunities, etc

Why BizTalk?

  • Easy to implement OotB
  • Feature set is growing in future versions
  • Mature toolset
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