Monthly Archives: March 2007

Dynamic Languages on the CLR

Jim Hugunin and John Lam

Jim created Jython and IronPython.  John is working on Ruby for the CLR, but has only recently transitioned to working for Microsoft.  I get the impression that Ruby for the CLR will be released Really Soon Now.

Just as I was getting grumpy about not having an interactive conversation, Jim and John came on to do the Dynamic Languages on the CLR talk. They turned it into a completely interactive conversation with no Powerpoint. They even turned some of the questions around to the audience, asking for our input. This was SO much more interesting for me, at least, and for the speakers as well, I expect.

The guys took questions:

1.Ruby or Python: Which sucks less? Use the language that fits your mind best. Some people work well in Python. Others have that same experience with Ruby. It’s not necessarily a fundamental difference in languages, but rather a difference in minds. Not a huge argument that one is superior to another. But comparing either to Javascsript is a different question. That language is impoverished. Doing DSL tricks is easy in Ruby and allows people to write closer to the problem domain.

2.How are you going to lock us into your platform? IronPython has always been about being completely compliant implementation of Python and completely integrated with .NET. To do both is a lot of work. So, in Python “strip()” removes whitespace, but in .NET “Trim()” removes whitespace but is illegal in Python. But if you import clr, then for that file ONLY it is allowed to run s.Trim(). So the parts of your code that are doing pure data structures or pure algorithms can ignore whether you’re working in IronPython. Being up front about wanting people to lock into .NET. By providing really cool libraries, they will lock programmers into .NET? Strength is that you can write Mac-specific or .NET-specific code. Pure Python code works everywhere. Python has a huge wealth of pre-existing modules. Those written in Python will work (or it’s a bug in IronPython). Those that are written in C are more problematic. FePy project is a community based project that includes a lot of modules that fill in these gaps.

3.What is the plan for PHP? Would PHP running on .NET, would that be convincing to switch. Not really, so it doesn’t really look like there’s interest. Microsoft is doing dynamic languages because it’s interesting to a group of developers.

4.What is it going to take for Rails to run on top of .NET? Imagine it happens. Is it a good idea? Deployment is a pain in Rails. Want to sell into .NET companies in the enterprise. What it’s going to take is a good business reason to want to use it. Developers need to want it.

5.When is the veil of silence going to be limited? Jim went dark for 8 months after coming to work at Microsoft. IronPython is being run as an open source project with an open mailing list. IronPython 1.1 was just released. Incremental releases were driven by user bug reports in an open, interactive way. Python 2.0 more modules, end of year. John’s only been at Microsoft for 2 months, so he will start becoming more open soon.

6.Why dynamic languages? There are millions of programmers who clearly love dynamic languages. It works for them. Let them program in a way that they enjoy and can be productive. More expressive. First refactoring tool written for Smalltalk. First unit testing framework written for Smalltalk. Good ideas have come out of the dynamic language community.

7.Do we want to run the CLR in IE? Killer fast Javascript and Ruby in the browser would be compelling. Performance is the big thing. Testing, running javascript on IE. As we create more sophisticated apps, there’s no visibility in the CLR. But, would you put it in Firefox too?

8.Mono? Mono doesn’t work well. Winforms and GTK# and supposedly it’s compatible. Some say it runs beautifully and some say it doesn’t run at all. Mono regularly runs IronPython.

9.Should dynamic languages be an Intro CS100 language? Yes, dramatically lower barrier to entry. Number of things you need to know to write a program in a static language: classes, methods, static method calls. In dynamic languages only need a function call or statement to write Hello World. If you want to talk about the essence of programming, it’s about control flow and data structures, not types. But the lower concept count means that people with less programming experience can write in dynamic languages. Means that it might have an impact in terms of nonprogrammers writing code. Introducing patterns on top of the language adds a different level of complexity. Malleable syntax in Ruby allows for custom languages like Rails DSL. The ability to create DSLs in Ruby is interesting.

10.What about IDE support? Today, for IronPython, Visual Studio SDK shows people how to extend Visual Studio. It includes IronPython integration (all written in C#). Minimal intellisense support, ships as a sample. Left to developers to extend. The lightweight solution to an IDE is a real challenge. Can use the debugger today. The best part of IronPython/.NET integration is availability of the debugger. Profiler works poorly. Infrastructure issue that needs to be solved fairly soon. RubyCLR: John demo’ed an IDE that he worked on before he came to Microsoft. He was running on a Mac, running RubyCLR. He used WPF with Ruby, using Ruby metaprogramming stuff. This enabled him to reduce the number of things he had to type.

Summary of the first morning at the Microsoft Technology Summit

This has been an interesting day so far. There were a lot of interesting topics, and the speakers were very knowledgeable (and all have very cool jobs). Unfortunately, I have been spoiled by the Open Spaces conferences that I have attended. While many of the speakers provided ample time for questions, there’s still the sense that there is a speaker and an audience. There’s a stage, and powerpoint. There’s a presentation. This is NOT a conversation such as I am used to in Open Spaces. I’m not just picking nits here. I’ve been spoiled by the idea that it’s a democratic conversation where opinions are freely exchanged rather than topics are handed down. There’s clearly a leader directing questions. And I’m pretty sure that the speaker isn’t getting much out of the conversation either. If the goal here is to get opinions from the non-believers in the group (and I think that’s part of it), then this isn’t going to serve Microsoft as well as having an open conversation with the participants in discussions where the participants set the agenda and we all sit around in a circle and talk. I had many interesting conversations last night at the evening reception and some today at breakfast too. Looking forward to the breaks and lunch and while I’m actually learning things in the session, I’m not actively engaged. I’m sitting here, taking notes. And reading email.

Day 1: MTS07 – Kevin Schofield, Microsoft Research

Kevin Schofield, General Manager, Microsoft Research

The second session of the day was given by Kevin Schofield, General Manager, Microsoft Research. He has a cool job!

Microsoft Research was modeled after research at Carnegie Mellon University. Researchers pick the problems, independently, across the breadth of computer science.

Microsoft Research is very aggressive about publishing papers (3700 papers in 15 years). Now that it’s a mature organization, it releases hundreds per year.

Academic programs – don’t tell researchers who to work with, and encourage publishing. They are trying to drive forward through research and they also hold workshops, to which a lot of people are invited.

Microsoft Research Mission:

  • Advance the State of the art in our chosen areas of computer science
    • Making computers easier to use
    • Reducing the cost of computing
    • Making software developers more productive
  • Transfer the resulting technology to Microsoft businesses
  • Ensure that Microsoft has a future

·         Provide Corporate agility – rapid response to change

    • New Technologies
    • New competitors
    • New Business models

·         Reservoir of technology

 ·         Pool of Expertise and smart people

He did a demo of Gigapixel panoramic photography. The zoom was incredible! We started out by looking at a photo of the Seattle skyline and ended up zooming far enough in to see 9 people standing on the observation deck.

Looking at surfaces with Vision.

He also showed us some research that Andy Wilson has done, prototyping interacting between the physical and virtual worlds. The video was cool, but I think that this demo, which was done by a separate company about which I know very little, was better. I had previously seen this demo at the Java Posse Roundup.

He also showed us some data from a study that they did using a “Sense-cam” with memory impaired subjects. These people were recorded for 1 day using a sense-cam (that video-recorded everything that they did, and then they were told to watch the sense-cam recording every day for 2 weeks. Not only did their memory of that day improve, but they were able to recall more and more details as time progressed. The surprising result was that they could still remember for 3 months after stopping. This was a small study, but it had some interesting results (not known if they would be repeatable). Microsoft is now working with memory researchers around many different memory impairments to see how this might help people maintain memories.

Microsoft Research addresses challenges for the company. Kevin described some of those challenges as follows:

  • Today’s CPU architecture: heat becoming an unmanageable problem
  • Power density too much of a problem. That’s why going to multi-core.
  • But, no generalized models for highly concurrent software.
  • Third problem: code is too big


How to fix:

Build smaller components that are loosely connected. Achieve verifiable composability

Loosely coupled, asynchronous, concurrent, composable, decentralized, resilient systems

Video for Kids about careers in CS

Day 1 at the MTS07: Keynote


They keynote was delivered by Bill Hilf. Bill comes from the open source community but now works for Microsoft, as the General Manager of Platform Strategy. His intent is to build the community, for the benefit of the software community as a whole as well as for the benefit of Microsoft. Bill seems to get the idea about how open source can benefit Microsoft, and how collaboration can help as well.

Bill is unapologetic. Microsoft is in the OSS to make more money. For him, this is not an emotional process. By building partnerships with other companies, he can sell more software (licenses, etc.). They sponsor every open source conference, to some extent. They will speak and sponsor at every event.

Port25 is the community front end for communicating the strategy and intention coming out of the open source lab.

Codeplex is open source community for developers, based on Visual Studio

Bill described a set of lessons about cooperating as well as competing with other companies, that he has taken from his favorite video game: Official Strategy Guide, World of Warcraft

Collaborate and compete, but there are challenges to doing so:

  • The Observer Effect – when you enter into an environment you change it by becoming a part of it
  • Balance – how much to compete, how much to cooperate
  • Perceptions – small but loud open source philosophers.  They believe that commercial software shouldn’t exist.  Huge base of people who write and deploy code and make policy about code: much more pragmatic.  Understanding the audience is important, and don’t target the business policy to the philosopher.
  • Red Oceans and status quo – what could you build?  Windows and Office are existing markets that make a lot of money.  Moving those markets is not a trival task. 
  • Focus – limited resources
  • The benefit and bane of history.  History of Microsoft, what has been problematic, what has been done and what they don’t do well.


Things that matter include:

  • Relationships
  • Platforms
  • Communities
  • Ecosystems
  • Value
  • Making Money



  • Patience is the key
  • Learn what you can handle
  • Invest in friends and skilled allies (hire people smarter than yourself)
  • Identify goals and suitable targets
  • The right place at the right time
  • Use all resources – “play long, play hard, and use as many sources as you see fit”


Community front end for communicating strategy and intention coming out of open source lab
Open Source Community for developers, based on Visual Studio

Bill Wagner on DotNetRocks

Check out Bill Wagner’s latest appearance on DotNetRocks, Show #223. For anyone who doesn’t know, Bill is my business partner and author of Effective C#, The C# Little Black Book, and various articles. I haven’t listened to his DNR podcast yet, but I plan to listen to it on the way home from Redmond tomorrow.

Bill on Dot Net Rocks

UI Smackdown 2007 Early Bird Expires Today

If you’ve been planning to attend the User Interface Smackdown 2007 event to explore GWT, Flex, and WPF, today is the last day to get early bird pricing. At close of business today, we’ll be updating the pricing, so if you’ve been planning to attend and have just been procrastinating, the time is now.

We’re also getting really close to reaching capacity for the event. Unfortunately, the “Buy now” buttons for Google checkout don’t seem to support limiting quantity, so we’ve been manually watching registrations.

On a more technical note, I’m going to have to look into tying into the Google checkout API, I think. My wish list for Google checkout includes support for limiting quantity, being able to specify how many items to buy at a given time, and being able to add a comment field, so that people can manually add information about who they are registering. That’s probably a bit much to ask for in the Buy Now button realm, but hey! Anyhow, I’m looking forward to diving into the Google checkout API to see what we can do with it.

And, back on topic: register now if you’ve been planning to attend. Hope to see you there!

Registration link

UI Smackdown 2007 Event Details

Day 0 : Microsoft Technology Summit

I’m here in Redmond, WA, for the Microsoft Technology Summit, an event geared toward people who have been identified as community leaders in a geographic region and who do NOT predominantly use Microsoft development tools.

Travel here was uneventful. A friend who used to live in Ann Arbor, but now works for Microsoft (Stan Kitsis) picked me up at the airport and after lunch we went off for a hike at Snoqualmie Falls. The waterfall was rushing today, and mist was reaching the observation platforms. We did the hike to the bottom of the falls (about ¾ of a mile). It was a great hike, well worth the climb back up. And the weather here was gorgeous … sunny skies with high clouds.

Tonight was the Evening Welcome Reception at a restaurant near the hotel. This was a nice small party, with most of the people in attendance. There are people here from Thailand, Malaysia, even Australia (I may have missed one country). At dinner, I sat next to Yakov Fain. He is a certified Flex instructor from New Jersey and we both know James Ward, who is a Flex evangelist. In the “small world news”, Yakov lives in a town one over from where my husband grew up. On the other side of me was Duncan Buell, Computer Science Department Chair at the University of South Carolina. We had some interesting discussions about IDEs and teaching kids computer science (in addition to other things). Also at the table was Peter Laudati, Microsoft Developer Evangelist from New Jersey, and Tanya Young, who is coordinating the event. I also met Scott Preston from Columbus who was wearing his CodeMash t-shirt! Cool!

Yakov sent some links to his eBook: "Java for Kids, Parents and Grandparents", in response to Duncan's question about the right balance between spending time introducing OOP and actual coding. I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m looking forward to it. Duncan mentioned that his university is putting together a summer program for kids, using the Alice programming language. Interestingly enough, I’m heading to the Michigan Celebration of Women in Computing conference on Friday night, and there’s a session on using Alice to teach programming at that event. One of my colleagues in Ann Arbor, Aydin Akcasu, has done talks on using the Kids Programming Language (at Day of Dot Net in 2006)

Back to this conference, events kick off tomorrow, with a keynote followed by sessions on Microsoft Research, SOA, Dynamic Languages on the CLR, CardSpace, and XAML/WF/WCF, and the day will finish off with a visit to a local restaurant.

UI Smackdown 2007 Explained

Is this wrestling or deciphering software technologies? Definitely the latter!

A few people have asked me about the name we chose for our user interface event on April 4, which will include Flex, GWT, and WPF. Honestly, the name was proposed by one of the participants, and we couldn’t think of one that we liked better!

This will NOT be a confrontational event, and I hope that no one has signed up to witness the World Wrestling equivalent in the software world. Instead, like CodeMash, the idea is to bring together people interested in different technologies and learn an appreciation for what each one provides. We think that this is a huge win for the vendors involved, since it offers an honest glimpse into the perspective that programmers bring to technologies as they evaluate them.

I’m really looking forward to the event. I’ve seen quite a bit of Flex and it’s very impressive. I’ve seen enough WPF to find that compelling as well. GWT sort of serves a different purpose, but we included it because it’s a different approach to the same problem: how do we build user interfaces that customers can use, but that programmers can maintain and understand.

If you haven’t signed up yet, but have been planning to, the time is now (we had some glitches with our registration page, but I moved it to a different site and I think it’s all working now; if you have problems email and we’ll get you set up). We have had a great response, and we may end up cutting off registrations. The early bird deadline is Monday (March 26), and the fee through Monday is $75. After that, we’re raising the price to $90, but with the rate at which we’re getting signups, I may end up closing registration before we even get to that point. And from my perspective, that’s a VERY good thing. If we need to choose a larger venue for a future event of this sort, that’s just fine by me!

Microsoft Technology Summit 2007

No, you didn't stumble on Bill's blog accidentally. Really, I'm going to Redmond!

I’m heading off to Redmond on Sunday. Yes, Redmond. No, I do not typically develop on the Microsoft platform (at least not recently), but that’s the point of this conference. This is a conference targeted at community leaders not currently developing on the Microsoft platform. It’s an honor to be included (which is a response in large part, I’m sure, to the many hours I put in to help organize CodeMash). Only about 50 people have been invited and we will be meeting with the product and research teams. It sounds like we will have an opportunity to provide feedback to those teams as well as be exposed to the latest cool things that Microsoft has available. I’m looking forward to not only learning about the latest in what Microsoft has to offer, but I’m also interested in meeting the other participants and helping to build that community as well.

My involvement with CodeMash and my participation at the various Open Spaces events that Bruce Eckel has been hosting (including Programming the New Web, Web Frameworks Jam, TurboGears Jam, and most recently, the Java Posse Roundup) has given me the opportunity to realize that I really enjoy building community. I have been involved with this in the past (Ann Arbor Computer Society, and the Ann Arbor ITZone). I’m trying to work with the Ann Arbor Java User group, and I’ve been going to Python User Group meetings as well. A large part of being an entrepreneur in software is networking. I really dislike some aspects of that. I dislike going to meetings and shaking hands, and delivering elevator pitches. What I do like is getting to know people at conferences or user group meetings, learning what they do, who they work with, who they interact with in the community and what technologies they use. I LOVE meeting new people and talking geek stuff with them. I don’t like meeting business people and giving spiels. I know that this business requires a bit of both, but I would really rather spend time with the fun, cool, technical people when I can!

About a week before CodeMash, we created a google group for people to communicate with one another prior to the event. In addition to helping plan logistics, like carpooling, room sharing and such, it gave us an opportunity to build some community in advance of the event. Face it — geeks can be shy. If this helps to bring us out of our shells so that the face-to-face meeting is a little easier, then that’s great. It gives us all some context about the rest of the group, so that when we finally do meet, it’s a bit more relaxed (I think, at least).

Anyhow, I offered to create a group for the MTS2007 and the Microsoft staff took me up on the offer. People have been signing up all week and I’m looking forward to meeting all of them in person.

I’ll blog more from the event (Microsoft is OK with us blogging about it).

Sun Project Blackbox Tour

Tour coming to Southfield tomorrow!

I first heard about the “datacenter in a shipping container” on the Java Posse. Today, I got an email from a local friend that Sun is doing a tour of the “Project Blackbox” in Southfield, MI on Tuesday, March 20, 2007.

This demo/tour is open to the public and free. If you want to sign up, go to

They are holding these events all over the country.

Sounds like an interesting tour. I’m looking at my schedule to see if I have time to attend.