Tag Archives: MTS07

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