Tag Archives: visual studio

Visual Studio “14” announced, preview available with “Roslyn” open source compiler

Microsoft’s Soma Somasegar has announced the next version of Visual Studio, currently known as Visual Studio 14, but likely to be fully released in 2015 (and, I am guessing, likely to be called Visual Studio 2015).

This is a major release. It includes a new VB and C# compiler which is itself written in managed code, codenamed Roslyn. The open source Roslyn project provides new APIs that enable more powerful IDE features. Visual Basic is getting refactoring support for the first time.

The preview also includes a major update to ASP.NET that unifies ASP.NET MVC and the ASP.NET Web API, and has a new deployment model and developer experience:

Thanks to the Rosyln compiler, if you change ".cs” files or project.json file and want to see the change in the browser, you don’t need to build the project any more. Just refresh the browser.

There is no IIS express, nor IIS involved when you run from the command line. It means that you can publish your website to a USB drive, and run it by double clicking the web.cmd file!

On the C++ side, there is improved C++ 11 support and more features from C++ 14:

The Visual Studio "14" CTP includes support for user-defined literals, noexcept, alignof and alignas, and inheriting constructors from C++11, generalized lambda capture, auto function return type deduction, and generic lambdas from C++14, as well as many more new C++ features.

says Somasegar. There is also a refactored C Runtime (CRT):

msvcr140.dll no longer exists. It is replaced by a trio of DLLs: vcruntime140.dll, appcrt140.dll, and desktopcrt140.dll.

If you install the CTP (mine is downloading) use a spare machine or VM; it is an early preview that does not work side-by-side with other versions and the only uninstall may be to flatten the machine:

Installing a CTP release will place a computer in an unsupported state. For that reason, we recommend only installing CTP releases in a virtual machine, or on a computer that is available for reformatting.

Hands on with Xamarin 3.0: a cross-platform breakthrough for Visual Studio

Today Xamarin announced version 3.0 of its cross-platform mobile development tools, which let you target Android and iOS with C# and .NET. I have been trying a late beta preview.

In order to use Xamarin 3.0 with iOS support you do need a Mac. However, you can do essentially all of your development in Visual Studio, and just use the Mac for debugging.

To get started, I installed Xamarin 3.0 on both Windows (with Visual Studio 2013 installed) and on a Mac Mini on the same network.

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Unfortunately I was not able to sit back and relax. I got an error installing Xamarin Studio, following which the installer would not proceed further. My solution was to download the full DMG (Mac virtual disk image) for Xamarin Studio and run that separately. This worked, and I was able to complete the install with the combined installer.

When you start a Visual Studio iOS project, you are prompted to pair with a Mac. To do this, you run a utility on the Mac called Xamarin.IOS Build Host, which generates a PIN. You enter the PIN in Visual Studio and then pairing is active.

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Once paired, you can create or open iOS Storyboard projects in Visual Studio, and use Xamarin’s amazing visual designer.

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Please click this image to open it full-size. What you are seeing is a native iOS Storyboard file open in Visual Studio 2013 and rendering the iOS controls. On the left is a palette of visual components I can add to the Storyboard. On the right is the normal Visual Studio solution explorer and property inspector.

The way this works, according to what Xamarin CEO Nat Friedman told me, is that the controls are rendered using the iOS simulator on the Mac, and then transmitted to the Windows designer. Thus, what you see is exactly what the simulator will render at runtime. Friedman says it is better than the Xcode designer.

“The way we do event handling is far more intuitive than Xcode. It supports the new iOS 7 auto-layout feature. It allows you to live preview custom controls. Instead of getting a grey rectangle you can see it live rendered inside the canvas. We use the iOS native format for Storyboard files so you can open existing Storyboard files and edit them.”

I made a trivial change to the project, configured the project to debug on the iOS simulator, and hit Start. On the Mac side, the app opened in the simulator. On the Windows side, I have breakpoint debugging.

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Now, I will not pretend that everything ran smoothly in the short time I have had the preview. I have had problems with the pairing after switching projects in Visual Studio. I also had to quit and restart the iOS Simulator in order to get rendering working again. This is an amazing experience though, combining remote debugging with a visual designer on Visual Studio in Windows that remote-renders design-time controls.

Still, time to look at another key new feature in Xamarin 3: Xamarin Forms. This is none other than our old friend XAML, implemented for iOS and Android. The Mono team has some experience implementing XAML on Linux, thanks to the Moonlight project which did Silverlight on Linux, but this is rather different. Xamarin forms does not do any custom drawing, but wraps native controls. In other words, it like is the Eclipse SWT approach for Java, and not like the Swing approach which does its own drawing. This is keeping with Xamarin’s philosophy of keeping apps as native as possible, even though the very existence of a cross-platform GUI framework is something of a compromise.

I have not had long to play with this. I did create a new Xamarin Forms project, and copy a few lines of XAML from a sample into a shared XAML file. Note that Xamarin Forms uses Shared Projects in Visual Studio, the same approach used by Microsoft’s Universal Apps. However, Xamarin Forms apps are NOT Universal Apps, since they do not support Windows 8 (yet).

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In a Shared Project, you have some code that is shared, and other code that is target-specific. By default hardly any code is shared, but you can move code to the shared node, or create new items there. I created XamFormsExample.xaml in the shared node, and amended App.cs so that it loads automatically. Then I ran the project in the Android emulator.

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I was also able to run this on iOS using the remote connection.

I noticed a few things about the XAML. The namespace is:

xmlns="http://xamarin.com/schemas/2014/forms"
xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2009/xaml"

I have not seen this before. Microsoft’s XAML always seems to have a “2006” namespace. For example, this is for a Universal App:

xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
xmlns:x=http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml

However, XAML 2009 does exist and apparently can be used in limited circumstances:

In WPF, you can use XAML 2009 features, but only for XAML that is not WPF markup-compiled. Markup-compiled XAML and the BAML form of XAML do not currently support the XAML 2009 language keywords and features.

It’s odd, because of course Xamarin’s XAML is cut-down compared to Microsoft’s XAML. That said, I am not sure of the exact specification of XAML in Xamarin Forms. I have a draft reference but it is incomplete. I am not sure that styles are supported, which would be a major omission. However you do get layout managers including AbsoluteLayout, Grid, RelativeLayout and StackLayout. You also get controls (called Views) including Button, DatePicker, Editor, Entry (single line editor), Image, Label, ListView, OpenGLView, ProgressBar, SearchBar, Slider, TableView and WebView.

Xamarin is not making any claims for compatibility in its XAML implementation. There is no visual designer, and you cannot port from existing XAML code. The commitment to wrapping native controls may limit prospects for compatibility. However, Friedman did say that Xamarin hopes to support Universal Apps, ie. to run on Windows 8 as well as Windows Phone, iOS and Android. He said:

I think it is the right strategy, and if it does take off, which I think it will, we will support it.

Friedman says the partnership with Microsoft (which begin in November 2013) is now close, and it would be reasonable to assume that greater compatibility with Microsoft XAML is a future goal. Note that Xamarin 3 also supports Portable Class Libraries, so on the non-visual side sharing code with Microsoft projects should be straightforward.

Personally I think both the Xamarin forms and the iOS visual designer (which, note, does NOT support Xamarin Forms) are significant features. The iOS designer matters because you can now do almost all of your cross-platform mobile development within Visual Studio, even if you want to follow the old Xamarin model of a different, native user interface for each platform; and Xamarin Forms because it enables a new level of code sharing for Xamarin projects, as well as making XAML into a GUI language that you can use across all the most popular platforms. Note that I do have reservations about XAML; but it does tick the boxes for scaling to multiple form factors and for enormous flexibility.

Hands on with Cordova in Visual Studio

At TechEd this week, Microsoft announced Apache Cordova support in Visual Studio 2013. A Cordova app is HTML and JavaScript wrapped as a native app, with support for multiple platforms including iOS and Android. It is the open source part of Adobe’s PhoneGap product. I downloaded the preview from here and took a quick look.

There is a long list of dependencies which the preview offers to install on your behalf:

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and

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The list includes the Java SDK, Google Chrome and Apple iTunes. The documentation explains that Java is required for the Android build process, Chrome is required to run the Ripple emulator (so you could choose not to install if you do not require Ripple), and iTunes is required for deploying an app to an iOS device, though a Mac is also required.

The license terms for both Chrome and iTunes are long and onerous, plus iTunes is on my list of applications not to install on Windows if you want it to run fast. Chrome is already installed on my PC, and I unchecked iTunes.

Next, I ran Visual Studio and selected a Multi-Device Hybrid App project (I guess “Cordova app” was rejected as being too short and simple).

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An annoyance is that if you use the default project location, it is incompatible because of spaces in the path:

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The project opened, and being impatient I immediately hit Run.

When you build, and debug using the default Ripple emulator (which runs in Chrome, hence the dependency), Visual Studio grabs a ton of dependencies.

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and eventually the app runs:

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or you can debug in the Android emulator:

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A good start.

Microsoft has some sample projects for AngularJS, BackboneJS and WinJS. This last is intriguing since you could emulate the Windows Phone look and feel (or something like it) on Android on iOS, though it would look far from native.

The preview is not feature-complete. The only supported device targets are Android 4.x, IOS 6 and 7, Windows 8.x Store apps, and Windows Phone 8.x. Windows Phone debugging does not work in this preview.

Office, Azure Active Directory, and mobile: the three pillars of Microsoft’s cloud

When Microsoft first announced Azure, at its PDC Conference in October 2008, I was not impressed. Here is the press release, if you fancy a look back. It was not so much the technology – though with hindsight Microsoft’s failure to offer plain old Windows VMs from the beginning was a mistake – but rather, the body language that was all wrong. After all, here is a company whose fortunes are built on supplying server and client operating systems and applications to businesses, and on a partner ecosystem that has grown up around reselling, installing and servicing those systems. How can it transition to a cloud model without cannibalising its own business and disrupting its own partners? In 2008 the message I heard was, “we’re doing this cloud thing because it is expected of us, but really we’d like you to keep buying Windows Server, SQL Server, Office and all the rest.”

Take-up was small, as far as anyone could tell, and the scene was set for Microsoft to be outflanked by Amazon for IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and Google for cloud-based email and documents.

Those companies are formidable competitors; but Microsoft’s cloud story is working out better than I had expected. Although Azure sputtered in its early years, the company had some success with BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), which launched in the UK in 2009: hosted Exchange and SharePoint, mainly aimed at education and small businesses. In 2011 BPOS was reshaped into Office 365 and marketed strongly. Anyone who has managed Exchange, SharePoint and Active Directory knows that it can be arduous, thanks to complex installation, occasional tricky problems, and the challenge of backup and recovery in the event of disaster. Office 365 makes huge sense for many organisations, and is growing fast – “the fastest growing business in the history of the company,” according to Corporate VP of Windows Server and System Center Brad Anderson, speaking to the press last week.

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Brad Anderson, Corporate VP for Windows Server and System Center

The attraction of Office 365 is that you can move users from on-premise Exchange almost seamlessly.

Then Azure changed. I date this from May 2011, when Scott Guthrie and others moved to work on Azure, which a year later offered a new user-friendly portal written in HTML5, and Windows Azure VMs and web sites. From that moment in 2012, Azure because a real competitor in cloud computing.

That is only two years ago, but Microsoft’s progress has been remarkable. Azure has been adding features almost as fast as Amazon Web Services (AWS – and I have not attempted to count), and although it is still behind AWS in some areas, it compensates with its excellent portal and integration with Visual Studio.

Now at TechEd Microsoft has made another wave of Azure announcements. A quick summary of the main ones:

  • Azure Files: SMB shared storage for Azure VMs, also accessible over the internet via a REST API. Think of it as a shared folder for VMs, simplifying things like having multiple web servers serve the same web site. Based on Azure storage.
  • Azure Site Recovery: based on Hyper-V Recovery Manager, which orchestrates replication and recovery across two datacenters, the new service adds the rather important feature of letting you use Azure itself as your space datacenter. This means anyone could use it, from small businesses to the big guys, provided all your servers are virtualised.
  • Azure RemoteApp: Remote Desktop Services in Azure, though currently only for individual apps, not full desktops
  • Antimalware for Azure: System Center Endpoint Protection for Azure VMs. There is also a partnership with Trend Micro for protecting Azure services.
  • Public IPs for individual VMs. If you are happy to handle the firewall aspect, you can now give a VM a public IP and access it without setting up an Azure endpoint.
  • IP Reservations: you get up to five IP addresses per subscription to assign to Azure services, ensuring that they stay the same even if you delete a service and add a new one back.
  • MSDN subscribers can use Windows 7 or 8.1 on Azure VMs, for development and test, the first time Microsoft has allows client Windows on Azure
  • General availability of ExpressRoute: fast network link to Azure without going over the internet
  • General availability of multiple site-to-site virtual network links, and inter-region virtual networks.
  • General availability of compute-intensive VMs, up to 16 cores and 112GB RAM
  • General availability of import/export service (ship data on physical storage to and from Azure)

There is more though. Those above are just a bunch of features, not a strategy. The strategy is based around Azure Active Directory (which everyone gets if they use Office 365, or you can set up separately), Office, and mobile.

Here is how this works. Azure Active Directory (AD), typically synchronised with on-premise active directory, is Microsoft’s cloud identity system which you can use for single sign-on and single point of control for Office 365, applications running on Azure, and cloud apps run by third-parties. Over 1200 software as a service apps support Azure AD, including Dropbox, Salesforce, Box, and even Google apps.

Azure AD is one of three components in what Microsoft calls its Enterprise Mobility Suite. The other two are InTune, cloud-based PC and device management, and Azure Rights Management.

InTune first. This is stepping up a gear in mobile device management, by getting the ability to deploy managed apps. A managed app is an app that is wrapped so it supports policy, such as the requirement that data can only be saved to a specified secure location. Think of it as a mobile container. iOS and Android will be supported first, with Office managed apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Mobile OWA (kind-of Outlook for iOS and Android, based on Outlook Web Access but delivered as a native app with offline support).

Businesses will be able to wrap their own applications as managed apps.

Microsoft is also adding Cordova support to Visual Studio. Cordova is the open source part of PhoneGap, for wrapping HTML and JavaScript apps as native. In other words, Visual Studio is now a cross-platform development tool, even without Xamarin. I have not seen details yet, but I imagine the WinJS library, also used for Windows 8 apps, will be part of the support; yes it works on other platforms.

Next, Azure Rights Management (RMS). This is a service which lets you encrypt and control usage of documents based on Azure AD users. It is not foolproof, but since the protection travels in the document itself, it offers some protection against data leaking out of the company when it finds its way onto mobile devices or pen drives and the like. Only a few applications are fully “enlightened”, which means they have native support form Azure RMS, but apparently 70% of more of business documents are Office or PDF, which means if you cover them, then you have good coverage already. Office for iOS is not yet “enlightened”, but apparently will be soon.

This gives Microsoft a three-point plan for mobile device management, covering the device, the applications, and the files themselves.

Which devices? iOS, Android and Windows; and my sense is that Microsoft is now serious about full support for iOS and Android (it has little choice).

Another announcement at TechEd today concerns SharePoint in Office 365 and OneDrive for Business (the client), which is getting file encryption.

What does this add up to? For businesses happy to continue in the Microsoft world, it seems to me a compelling offering for cloud and mobile.

Microsoft’s new open source direction for C# and .NET (and native compilation too): Anders Hejlsberg explains

At the April 2014 Build conference Microsoft made some far-reaching announcements about its .NET platform and the C# programming language. Yes, there was talk of C# 6.0, the next version, but the real changes are more profound. Specifically:

C# and Visual Basic have a new compiler, itself written in C#, code-named Roslyn. Roslyn is not just a new compiler; Microsoft now calls it the “.NET Compiler Platform”.

There is a new commitment to open source for .NET projects. Microsoft formed the .NET Foundation to oversee existing open source projects, including  ASP.NET, Entity Framework, the Azure .NET SDK, and now Roslyn as well. “When it comes to development projects we are going to operate from the premise that open source is the default. Unless there are reasons why it does not work,” said C# lead architect Anders Hejlsberg.

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Note that open source does not mean chaos. It does mean that you can fork the project if you want – the Roslyn license is Apache 2.0 – but getting Microsoft to accept new features you have contributed will not be trivial. Hejlsberg makes the point that language features are easy to add, but impossible to take away, so extreme care is necessary.

Microsoft is also supporting cross-platform C# to a greater extent than it has done in the past. The most obvious sign of this is its cooperation with Xamarin, which provides C# compilers for iOS and Android. Xamarin’s Miguel de Icaza got a top billing at Build, and is also involved in the .NET Foundation.

There is more though. The idea of standardised C# is re-emerging:

“The last ECMA standard was C# 2.0. There wasn’t a lot of demand for it, but that demand has recently risen and we have re engaged with the ECMA community to produce a standard for C# 5.0,” said Hejlsberg.

This bears some unpacking. Why was there little demand for ECMA C#? Partly I would guess from the assumption the C# was firmly in Microsoft’s grip, with Java the obvious choice for cross-platform development. The main interest was from the Mono folk (Miguel de Icaza again), which implemented .NET for Linux and the Mac with some success, but nothing to disturb Java’s momentum.

The focus now though is on mobile, and interest in C# is stronger, mainly from Microsoft-platform developers reaching beyond Windows. There is also Unity, which uses C# as a scripting language for developing games for multiple platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, Xbox, PS3 and Wii – PS4 is coming very soon.

Microsoft has now consciously embraced multiple platforms, as evidenced by Office for iOS as well as the Xamarin collaboration. “We want C#developers to build great applications across different form factors and different device platforms,” said Jay Schmelzer Director of Program Management for Visual Studio.

You might observe that this position has been forced on the company by the rise of iOS and Android, a view which likely has some merit, but the impact it has on C# and .NET itself is still real.

I asked Hejlsberg to unpack the difference between the Roslyn project and C# 6.0, bearing in mind that both are covered on the Roslyn open source site; you can see the current status of C# 6.0 and the next Visual Basic here.

Roslyn is the name for the project that encompasses the new C#compiler and the new VB compiler and the new language services that they share. C# 6.0 is the name of the next version of the C #language which will have a specification and which will have an implementation. We are implementing C# 6.0 on the Roslyn platform. We are not going to continue to evolve our old C++ C# compiler – the C# compiler was originally written in C++ and has been evolved up through C# 5.0. That is where we are going to retire that code base, and going forward versions of C# will be built on Roslyn and therefore will be built open source. Unlike previously where, boom. C# came down from the sky with a set of features, it is going to happen more organically now, people will submit pull requests, open up issues, and you will see us work on these features. You will see them from inception to fruition.

“The C# team, the Roslyn team, the VB team, their day to day workplace now is the open source site. That is where they check-in code. It is a community in the making.

Even that is not all. At Build, Microsoft also announced .NET Native, which is a native compiler for C# and Visual Basic, now in preview for x64 Store apps. What is the difference between .NET Native and the existing NGen native compiler for .NET? Over to Hejlsberg:

NGen is the native feature that we currently support. NGen is really, “I’m going to JIT [Just in time compile] your code and then snapshot all the data structures and dump them in a file so that I can quickly rebuild that file later when you run this particular application”. But it is the same code generator and all the same features, and JIT is still there. NGen is really a way to pre-cache the JIT output and therefore get better performance, but it adds to the size of your app because you still have all the assemblies and metadata and then the NGen image as well.

.NET Native is a completely different approach. Instead of the JIT we use the backend from the C++ compiler. You can think of it as a linker that takes as input assemblies, and as output produces a PE [Portable Executable] executable. In the process this linker or code generator will analyse all the IL [Intermediate Language] that goes into the application and it will apply a thing known as tree-shaking where it eliminates all of the code that will never execute based on known execution roots.

In other words, the public static main of your program and also whatever pieces of your app that you designate as reflectable, they also become roots. Based on that we produce an optimised exe, and into that exe we link the pieces of the framework that you are referencing. We link in a garbage collector [GC], and it looks to the operating system just like an exe. When you run it, it runs a local GC in there and it is as efficient really as C++ code.

There are some restrictions associated with .net native, mainly that you can’t just willy-nilly reflect on the whole world. You can’t just generate new code and ask for that to be jitted because they may not be a JIT compiler. We are considering allowing you to link in a JIT compiler, but there are certain execution environments which don’t permit jitting, like Xbox. If you use reflection in your lap you have to tell us what to keep reflectable, because otherwise we will optimise it away.

According to Schmelzer:

The preview out today is scoped to Store app x64 and ARM. We haven’t run into any technical limitation that shows it can’t be done across the breadth, it is just a matter of request and need.

Open source, native code compilation, and an innovative compiler: it adds up to huge changes for C# and .NET, positive ones as far as I can tell.

The Xamarin connection is intriguing though. Developers in general admire the technology as far as I can tell, but it is expensive, and paying out for a Xamarin subscription on top of maybe MSDN for Visual Studio is too much for some smaller organisations and does not encourage experimentation. Might Microsoft acquire Xamarin and build Visual Studio into an IDE targeting all the major mobile platforms, but with special hooks to Azure-hosted services?

That prospect makes sense to me, though it would be a shame if the energetic Xamarin culture became bogged down in big-company bureaucracy. Currently though: no news to report.

How to crash your Windows Store XAML app

I am working on a Windows Store app, of which more soon. I am writing the app in XAML and C#. I was tweaking the page design when I hit a problem. Everything was fine in the designer in Visual Studio, but running the app raised an exception:

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WinRT information: Failed to create a ‘Windows.Foundation.Int32’ from the text ‘ 2’.

along with the ever-helpful:

Additional information: The text associated with this error code could not be found.

The annoying this about this error is that debugging is not that easy. The exception is in Framework code, not your own code, and Microsoft does not supply the source. Once again, everything is fine in the designer and there are no compiler errors.

Puzzling. I resorted to undoing bits of my changes until I found what triggered the problem.

This was it. In the XAML, I had somehow typed a leading space before a number:

Grid.Row=" 2"

The designer parses this OK (it would be better if it did not) but the runtime does not like it.

Actually, I know why this happens. If you are typing in the XAML code editor (which I find myself doing a lot), then auto completion inserts the blank space for you:

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I wish all bugs were this easy to solve, though I regard it as a bug in the Visual Studio editor. Posted here mainly in case others hit this problem; but I also observe that Windows Store development still seems less solid in Visual Studio than the tools for desktop or web apps.

Other problems I have hit include the visual designer changing to read-only of its own accord; and a highly irritating issue where the editor for a XAML code-behind class sometimes forgets the existence of all the controls you have declared in XAML, covering your valid code with red squiggly lines and reporting numerous errors, which disappear as soon as you compile. Once this starts happening, the problem persists for the rest of the editing session.

It is not all bad. I am pleased with the way I have been able to put together a touch-friendly game UI relatively easily. Now comes the fun part: writing the logic for the AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Visual Studio license expired: not what you want to see just before boarding a flight

While waiting to board I fired up Visual Studio 2013 thinking I might tinker with the game I am working on during the flight.

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I got this unwelcome message. “Your license has gone stale.” This is because I have an MSDN version which apparently is no longer a perpetual license.

Thanks to what looks like a beginner programming error, I am also informed that the license will expire in 2147483647 days.

The other factor here is that I only use Visual Studio on this machine when travelling. Although my subscription is still in date, the software has to call home once in a while or it stops working.

Fair enough for Microsoft to protect its rights but I wonder if this could be fine-tuned.

Frank comments from Microsoft Product Manager on the Visual Studio 2012 user interface mess. “Secrecy is bad – it lets problems fester”

When Visual Studio 2012 was first previewed, it presented a new IDE style which featured all-caps menus and a mainly monochrome icon set which most developers disliked; the icons were too hard to distinguish. Microsoft has tweaked the design, restored more colour, and I hear fewer complaints today, but that essential design approach remains in Visual Studio 2013.

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Microsoft product manager Brian Harry has made some frank comments on what happened, in a series of comments beginning here. The comments were made last month, but I had not seen them until today and consider them worth highlighting.

“The implementation of the new UI in 2012 was a mess” says Harry, explaining that the team assigned to create the new look was too small. Worse, it was too secret. “To aggravate this folly, there was a bit of a "cone of secrecy" around the new UI because we didn’t want it "leaking".  Even I didn’t get to see it until months into it,” he writes.

After a strong negative reaction to the preview, “we eventually came to realize we had a crisis on our hands,” says Harry:

Could we have reversed direction, of course.  We debated it vigorously – and for a while, I have to admit, I wasn’t sure.  Ultimately, I concluded that the only way was forward (not that it was actually my decision but I’m just stating my position).  I know some people will disagree with me emphatically and I respect that.  I am in the camp of people who generally like the new UI style.  I know some people think there aren’t any people in that camp but I’ve seen the survey’s and there actually are quite a lot of them.  I do believe there is continued room for improvement and we made some improvements over the past year (the Blue theme, for instance, is very popular – actually Dark is too; Light, not so much).  I’ve gotten completely used to all CAPS menus.  They never bothered me much and now, it just looks normal to me.  Contrast has gotten better.  Icon color has gotten better.  Icon shapes have gotten better.  I’d, personally, still like to see more liberal use of color (Team Explorer is mine and you can see we are a bit more liberal with color than much of VS :))  But all in all, I like the new UI and generally, people internally are happy with it too.

It was a journey and we made mistakes a long the way.  I think the biggest learning was – Don’t kid yourself into thinking you can do a ripple effect feature like that "on the cheap".  Another learning, for me at least, is secrecy is bad – it lets problems fester until they become crises.  Share, share, share.  The feedback is critical to course correction.

Now some observations of my own. My sense is that the flaws in the design stem from over-application of the content-first, “immersive UI” concept which is also seen in Windows 8 “Metro” or “Modern” apps. This concept makes perfect sense if you are browsing the web or reading a document: you want the screen furniture and tools to get out of the way as far as possible. If you are creating content though, the tools become more important. Arguably they become part of the “content”, if you define that as what you are focusing on.

I see the same design error in Microsoft Office 2013, which has a washed-out UI similar in many ways to that in Visual Studio 2012. If you are using Office mainly to consume content, it makes sense, but Office is a content creation tool, and the icons should be more prominent.

I am not sure of the logic behind all-caps menus except that they look vaguely modern and industrial; everybody knows that ALL CAPS is harder to read than lower case or mixed case, so this makes little sense to me.

In neither case is it that big a deal: I can still work productively and you get used to the UI.

Finally, you can tell from Harry’s remarks that the development team at Microsoft went all-out to try and please developers while also satisfying whatever corporate goals (misguided or not) were behind the new style. Kudos to them.

Visual Studio 2013 update 1: avoid the RC if you use C++

Microsoft has released Visual Studio 2013 Update 1 RC which I installed for a look. It has a “go-live” license, which means you can use it in production, and when the final version comes out you will be able to install it over the top, so it sounded safe enough.

Update 1 is only a bug-fix release – the fixes are listed in the link above. “When you edit multiple resources in Resource Editor, Visual Studio crashes randomly,” is one, so if that affects you, you might want to install it.

Unfortunately the RC introduces a new problem. The syntax highlighting in the C++ editor is broken. Here is a snippet of code before the update:

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and after

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Microsoft is aware of the issue and apparently the RTM update will be OK.

While investigating this, I discovered another issue. Visual Studio 2013 was crashing whenever I tried to open a C++ project. If I tried to debug Visual Studio with a new instance, the new instance would crash too. I uninstalled Update 1 RC but that did not fix it. This post on StackOverflow does not describe exactly the same issue, but did lead me to suspect Xamarin, an add-on for Android and iOS development with C#. I uninstalled Xamarin and the problem disappeared; Visual Studio seems to start up more quickly too. A shame as I like the product.

Update: the final Update 1 is now available. What’s in Update 1: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2911573

Download: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=301714

Visual Studio goes online, kind-of

Microsoft held its official launch for Visual Studio 2013 today, at an event in New York, although the product itself has been available since mid-October. VP Soma Somasegar nevertheless made some new announcements, in particular the availability in preview of an online Visual Studio editor, codenamed Monaco. “Developers will now be able to edit their sites directly from the web, from any modern browser, on any device,” said Somasegar on his blog.

Monaco is not intended as a replacement for the desktop IDE. Instead, it parallels what Microsoft has done with Office, which is to provide a cut-down online editor for occasional use. Monaco currently targets only web applications running on Azure, Microsoft’s public cloud platform. The technology is not altogether new, since it is built on the same base as “Napa”, the online editor for Office 365 applications.

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At the launch, Monaco was demonstrated by Erich Gamma, of Design Patterns and Eclipse fame, who says he uses it for real work. He assured us that it is built on web standards and compatible with iOS and Android tablets as well as desktop browsers.

Online editing with Monaco is only one part of what Microsoft now calls Visual Studio Online. The product also includes a hosted version of Team Foundation Server, offering source code control, collaboration tools, and an online build service. These features were already available as part of Team Foundation Service, which is now replaced by Visual Studio Online. If you are happy with the cut-down Visual Studio Express, or already have Visual Studio, then subscription is free for teams of up to five users, with additional users costing $10 per user/month for an introductory period, and rising to $20 per user/month.

Microsoft is also offering Visual Studio Online Professional, which bundling desktop Visual Studio Professional with these online services, for teams of up to 10 users, at $22.50 per user/month rising to $45.00 per user/month. This follows the same model which Adobe adopted for its Creative Cloud, where you get cloud services bundle with tools that run on the desktop.

Pay even more and you can get Visual Studio Online Advanced, which oddly does not include the Professional IDE, but supports unlimited users and has additional reporting and collaboration features, for $30 rising to $60 per user/month.

When does the introductory offer expire? It’s until further notice – 30 days’ notice will be provided before it ends. Confusing.

Somasegar also announced the preview of a new online service called Application Insights. This service analyses and monitors data from .NET or Java applications running on Windows Server or Windows Azure, and .NET applications on Windows Phone 8, reporting on availability, performance and usage.

Another new service is Elastic Load Test (not to be confused with Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud), which simulates multiple concurrent users for testing the performance and behaviour of an application under stress. This requires the expensive Visual Studio Ultimate with MSDN subscription, and offers 15,000 virtual user minutes per month, with additional virtual user minutes at $.001 each.

Finally, he announced a partnership with Xamarin to enable development for iOS and Android in C# and Visual Studio, extending the existing Portable Class Libraries so that non-visual code can be shared across different Windows platforms as well as the new mobile target platforms.

I spoke to Xamarin’s Nat Friedman about this and wrote it up on the Register here.

Microsoft’s strategy here is to persuade existing Windows developers, familiar with C#, Visual Studio, and both desktop and ASP.NET applications, to stick with Microsoft’s platform as they migrate towards cloud and mobile. In this context, the heart of Microsoft’s platform is Windows Azure and Office 365, which is why the company can tolerate iOS or Android clients.

The company will also hope that a proliferation of apps which integrate and extend SharePoint online will help drive subscriptions to Office 365.

The latest Visual Studio includes a new Cloud Business App project type, which is an app that sits on Windows Azure and integrates with SharePoint in Office 365. Coding in Visual Studio and deploying to Azure, both for Cloud Business apps and ordinary web applications, is now an easy process, reducing friction for developers deploying to Azure.

More information on Visual Studio Online is here.