Monthly Archives: June 2010

Update to Windows Azure Tools for Visual Studio

Microsoft has released an update to the Windows Azure Tools for Visual Studio. The big news of course is that it now includes .NET 4.0 support which means we can start to use our .NET 4.0 only application components in the hosted environment. But if you look a bit deeper there are some other enhancements in the package (copied from the Microsoft downloads site).

  • Visual Studio 2010 RTM Support: Full support for Visual Studio 2010 RTM.
  • .NET 4 support: Choose to build services targeting either the .NET 3.5 or .NET 4 framework.
  • Cloud storage explorer: Displays a read-only view of Windows Azure tables and blob containers through Server Explorer.
  • Integrated deployment: Deploy services directly from Visual Studio by selecting ‘Publish’ from Solution Explorer.
  • Service monitoring: Keep track of the state of your services through the ‘compute’ node in Server Explorer.
  • IntelliTrace support for services running in the cloud: Adds support for debugging services in the cloud by using the Visual Studio 2010 IntelliTrace feature. This is enabled by using the deployment feature, and logs are retrieved through Server Explorer.

Its good to see Microsoft continue to invest in the tooling around Azure, especially for .NET developers. The IntelliTrace support is significant since you can’t actually attach a debugger to an Azure compute node directly – so IntelliTrace gives you the visibility into the internal execution of your application without having to do a painful amount of logging (not that logging is a bad thing mind you ;}).

SketchLoop: Next steps?

Whilst I didn’t attend REMIX10 this year in Melbourne due to travel commitments I did spend a fair amount of time working in the background to prepare a SketchFlow prototype publishing platform that extends Microsoft Expression Blend 4.0 RC – we called this extension SketchLoop.

What is SketchLoop?

SketchLoop extends Expression Blend and SketchFlow by enabling user experience designers and developers to publish their SketchFlow prototypes to the web quickly without requiring any special infrastructure. To get started all you need to do is download the special SketchLoop client and install it on your machine that is running Expression Blend 4.0 RC.

Once installed, you can publish your prototypes to the web using the File | Publish to SketchLoop menu option within Expression Blend. Currently SketchLoop is just in the concept stage and is setup to make all prototypes published public to anyone who visits the SketchLoop website.

At REMIX10 we asked attendees to create a prototype for a Lunar Lander. We ended up with six prototypes being published:

Although the number of responses wasn’t huge it proved that the technology could be used and now I’m interested in where we should be taking this technology next.

SketchLoop – the product?

We really used REMIX10 as a way to get the idea for SketchLoop out there because it had been bubbling around inside Readify ever since SketchFlow was shipped with Expression Blend 3.0. We originally had two thoughts, the first was that SketchLoop could become a “prototype server” which belongs inside your enterprise and is connected to systems such as Team Foundation Server, but to be honest I think tools like SharePoint will take that role. The second and probably most interesting thought was that SketchLoop could be the way to quickly publish something out to project stakeholders outside your organisation who may not have access to your internal infrastructure.

SketchLoop customers would be able to define projects which contain multiple prototypes, and each prototype would have associated versions and feedback items. It would manage e-mailing reviewers to acquire their feedback, and collecting feedback so that it could be pulled back down into Expression Blend.

Business Model – Freemium

I’m currently considering a freemium based model where users can download and use SketchLoop for free provided the prototypes that they publish are publically accessible. This would encourage people the try it out and also provide a mechanism for supporting various open source projects who might like to use SketchFlow. As an example I would have loved to have used SketchFlow to explain the concepts in this blog post that I wrote back in 2006 about “the Digital Native Platform”. I could have done that then published to the web using SketchLoop.

We would then charge a subscription fee for those organisations who want to host provide prototypes (where reviewers are by invitation only and the content is protected with some kind of access key). The fee would cover ongoing product development, support and ongoing monthly hosting costs.

Features and Benefits?

Rather than reel of a list of features and benefits I thought I might just publish the SketchLoop prototypes that we developed early on last year. If there is some interest in this stuff (please leave comments) then I’ll look at taking SketchLoop further.