Wednesday 29 October 2008

PDC Day 2: Windows 7, VS2010, Office 14 and Oslo

I’m dedicated. While all the other PDCers are still out partying at Universal Studios, I came back to my hotel room in order to bring you the news from the PDC. Or to put it another way, I wasn’t really taken with the chainsaw-wielding zombies lunging at the legs of passing guests, or the ghouls that lurked behind pillars and leaped out to induce a scream. I picked up a free meal at Pizza Hut, including the biggest Funnel Cake I’ve ever seen, and then snuck my way back to the bus, making sure to keep well away from the scaries.

But lets go back to the start. For me, Day 2 of PDC tops Day 1 by some margin. Yesterday’s Keynote by Ray Ozzie on Azure was heavy on marketing but light on the interesting stuff. Today’s all-morning-long keynote was packed with geekness.

Windows 7

The first new thing to be demoed was Windows 7 (that’s not a codename by the way. They’re actually calling it that). Although they’re positioning it as “Windows Vista done right” there’s actually some cool new stuff here – features that should be really useful. New Window Management features for a start. How much time do you waste positioning your windows so that you can see them side by side? Now you can drag them towards the top or sides of the screen, and they will dock – rather like in Visual Studio. “Jumpers” on menu bars is another. These are little application specific tasks that an app can display hanging off its icon in the start menu even before it’s launched.

All the utilities, like Paint and Wordpad, get an overhaul (“we’ve decided we’ll do it once every fifteen years, whether they need it or not”, said Steven Sinofsky). They are all Ribbonified, and Wordpad gains Open XML and ODF support. For developers, there’s the nice feature of being able to mount Virtual Hard Disks (VHDs) from within Windows, and even boot from them. And then there’s finally proper multi-monitor support for Remote Desktopping.

And Microsoft would not like me to forget multi-touch. If you have a touch enabled screen you’ll be able to use multiple fingers to manipulate things. They demoed all the cool zooming and scrolling and gestures stuff that we’ve envied on the iPhone.

Lastly, but not leastly, one that the UK government will surely appreciate: BitLocker encryption for USB memory sticks. I need say no more.

.Net and Visual Studio

Scott Guthrie came on to the stage next, to much cheering and clapping, and it was well-deserved. He brought news of a new set of controls for WPF being released to web today. Amongst those going live are the DataGrid, a new DatePicker, a Calender control, and the Visual State Manager that has been ported from Silverlight. All these can be found on Codeplex. They’ve also released a CTP of an Office 2007-style Ribbon Control and RibbonWindow that they’ve been promising for a little while; this is apparently to be found on the Office UI site, but I couldn’t see it!

On the .Net 4.0 front, the Gu-ru announced that CLR 2.0 and 4.0 will run side by side in process. This is good news for Addin developers, and may also hold promise for those that want to develop shell extensions in .Net. There will also be improvements for WPF such as DeepZoom integration (bringing parity with Silverlight) and improved Text rendering. Other than that, they’re being rather vague. I went to a whole presentation on WPF Futures later in the afternoon, only to discover that they didn’t really have any firm plans they wanted to talk about beyond the controls they’ve already announced.

The most exciting news in this area is that Visual Studio 2010 is going to be rewritten to use WPF and managed code. They’ll be making use of the Managed Extensibility Framework (MEF) to allow anybody to create extensions to it. As an example, Mr Guthrie created a new ScottGu mode for code comments. He used managed code to write an extension to the text editor that displayed the xml comments above a method in a rich WPF view – including Bug numbers formatted as hyperlinks that could be clicked to see full details.

Office 14

The big news for Office is that there will be new web based versions of Word, Excel and One Note, written in Silverlight. These will allow collaborative editing of documents, with automatic synchronisation of changes when multiple users are editing a document. They demoed a spreadsheet being edited in the browser, complete with charting and formulae support. The UI looks much the same as in the Desktop, because they’ve created a Ribbon control for Silverlight.


Oslo, for me, was the wildcard of the PDC. It sounded exciting, but would it be useful? I was expecting that this would feature in a keynote, especially when I saw that Chris and Don were scheduled for a slot in Hall A. But they spent that time doing a live coding exercise in Azure which was interesting, but not what I hoped for. Instead we had to wait till the afternoon to discover what it is all about. And I’m still not quite sure!

What I saw this afternoon was a new language called “M”. This M allows data to be defined and stored in a database (a repository, as they call it), and allows queries to be written on top of this data in a strongly typed fashion. Don Box used the analogy that M is to T-SQL what C is to assembler. The idea, it seems, is to make it very easy to write applications that are configured, and even driven by data. One example might be a business rules application, where the rules are written in M and pushed into the repository. The application can then query the repository, and determine how it is supposed to behave.

Another component to Oslo is another language galled MGrammer. MGrammer is a language for defining Domain Specific languages: in fact, the M language itself is defined using MGrammer. MGrammer allows the syntax of a language to be defined (in a way similar to ANTLR, if you’ve ever used that) along with projections that map from the DSL to M so that your DSL can then be interpreted by querying the repository.

There’s a nice text editing tool for this (IntelliPad), and a graphical tool (Quadrant) as well, though I’ve not seen that yet. Everything, including the compiler, is in managed code, and it is all highly extensible.

I will freely admit that, at the moment I only have the edge pieces of the jigsaw, and a few loose floaters in the middle. I’ll let you know when I’ve slotted everything into place. Fortunately they were handing out free copies of a new book, The “OSLO” Modelling Language. I got Don Box to sign my copy, so that must surely help me understand it!


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