Friday, March 18, 2005

C# Express and other stuff

I downloaded and installed the C# express beta on my home development machine. First thing to note is that even on my old 400MHz hp (with 256M ram) I get acceptable performance from C# express. I was also able to install service pack 4 for win2k even though I am not connected to the internet. I did it with my 128MB USB key and the new winzip 9 where I can easily partition a big file into 128 MB chunks. The sneaker net lives!

Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed with C# express. I tried to install the SQL server and even though I (think) it installed correctly I was unable to connect or create a new database... I did notice an error in the event log, but at is was just a long string of numbers, so I decided to ignore it. This was annoying, but the thing I found really disappointing is really the lack of features of C# express itself.

My context is someone who uses eclipse quite a bit and netbeans a little. These are free products with what I consider to be very good features for the professional programmer. The best things are continuous compiling with clickable correction hints, refactoring and history. Since these products have captured a large portion of the developer mindshare, I was more or less convinced that the next version of VS was going to have to attempt to include these new features. My experiance with VS.NET 2003, had been mixed. It has a good debugger and adequant code completion, but thats where the list of features ends. The class "wizards" can barely be called that and there is not even support for managing translation resources (this is the first thing that made us question whether or not we could even use VS). Add to this, a brain-dead builder and you have an IDE that is "mostly useless", expensive and that can trash a machine just by installing it.

With this in mind I approached C# express with hope. Perhaps they would have to mimic other popular IDE's and provide some real features. After using it for a couple of days I see why it is called a beta. No doc and I can't even find MSBUILD. This was the feature I installed the product for. Result, I don't think we will be upgrading the 2005 version of VS any time soon and certainly not for this price.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A Quiet Day at Home

There is a big public service strike in France today. I was "forced" to take the day off and stay with this kids. Of course it is a crisis at work, so I was in (almost) constant touch with the office via phone and email. The boys were a bit wild this morning, but in the afternoon I exchanged a little boy for a girl and everything is much more quiet (even tib has found new maners since Valetine is here).

Checked out some cool stuff today. I downloaded the .NET framework beta 2 and installed it on my development machine. No problems. I see there is the new MSBUILD delivered with it. This seems to be quite interesting. I would like to hack up a build script to build our current release (just to see if it is going to be good enough to replace our Nant builds). I don't mind Nant (and I like Ant), but it is a bit rough around the edges sometimes and I don't know how actively it is being developed. I have the impression that it is hard to gain any mindshare in the Microsoft world, because if people start to use your product Microsoft will deliver a clone of it just to wipe you off the face of the earth. I fear that MSBUILD is going to do this to Nant. On the other hand, Nant exists because VS.2003's build infrastructure basically sucks. I think it is completely, totally, 100% useless (and I mean that in the nicest way possible).

I was hoping for anoymous inner classes in the .NET framework version 2, but I notice they just have anoymous methods. These methods would be able to be used anywhere a delegate would be used. I find this sucks a bit, since I don't really think delegate are such a good idea. When will Microsoft enter the Object Oriented world and give up on function pointers! I was planning on using anoymous inner classes to implement interfaces, but this seems to not be possible (I will have to look further and perhaps think a bit).

I might try to install VS C# express to see if it is as good as VS 2003 (which I think sucks). This would allow me to get rid of VS from my work machine.

I spent a good part of the afternoon writing a proposal using arbortext's Epic editor. Maybe I just hate Microsoft, but I do find this editor to be sweet. I wrote my last two proposals with MS word and I planted far too often (I even sent the client a crashed version of some installation documentation, that was missing the last 3 pages - after this event, which resulted in a 2 day misunderstanding on how to install the product - I vowed never to use word again). As an aside, I have installed open office on my development machine and it seemed to handle my word documents okay. It even gives me our custom styles, I was quite surprised. I did use OO on linux about 6 months ago - and I did have a few problems, so I am not really ready to switch to OO yet. I have epic and it is a great editor, so I don't really need to look further.

Finally, I had another problem with XML encoding. This is got to be the most annoying problem we have ever had. That is the '&', '>' and '<' characters in XML streams. I think the current problem was that we have an encoded xml stream that is read by a filter that is suppose to extract some information and re-stream the xml. Unfortunately it removes the encoding and streams the pure text. Will we ever get this right? Between that and the character encoding (i.e. iso-8859-1, UTF-8 and unicode) I don't think that XML is that easy after all!

Friday, March 04, 2005

End of another week

Well, this has been an eventful week, even if I did not get many lines of code done. Five days in Prague was a bit much. It is a beautiful city and I drank my share of beer and I love the food, but after only 3 days of conference, I'm all bentleyed out. Not much interesting at the conference (which is a bit of a surprise when you consider that 4 months ago they were talking about a looming MS pre-release in Feb/March).

The other big news is the weather. In Prague everything was good, -7 to -12, a bit of snow and everyone knows how to live with it (it was a bit cool for a stroll on the bridge in my little jacket, but like any canadian - I'm tough, I can take it). But getting back to Paris, was a mess. Snow, slush, crappy roads, slick summer tires and bozos everywhere. In the end, I left my car at the office and came home on the train. Then I did the two ways to the in-laws to pick up the boys (a seven hour stroll across half of france).

In business, we talked seriously to two groups. First the holland group that manages the web application. I can see they are going to suffer with this "what do we do for clients who want to use linux/firefox or macintosh/safari" question. I am not dedicated to serving these clients, but if we abandon them, I would prefer to do it with our eyes wide open.

The second group was a german organization that we may be able to cooperate with. Given the size of our two companies, a shared source solution might make a lot of sense. I don't know if we have the technical and legal savey to pull it off however.