Tomorrow is April 1, also known as April Fools’ Day.
As a result, you should expect that anything I say on this blog is fabrication, fantasy, foolery and snark.
Apparently, this hasn’t previously been completely stupidly blindly obvious.
Here’s some of the things I expect to happen this year as a result of the leap year:
And then there’s the ordinary issues with dates that programmers can’t understand – like the fact that there are more than 52 weeks in a year. “ASSERT(weeknum>0 && weeknum<53);”, anyone? 52 weeks is 364 days, and every year has more days than that. [Pedantic mathematical note – maybe this somewhat offsets the “employer’s extra day” item above]
Happy Leap Day – and always remember to test your code in your head as well as in real life, to find its extreme input cases and associated behaviours. They’ll get tested anyway, but you don’t want it to be your users who find the bugs.
Version control is one of those vital tools for developers that everyone has to use but very few people actually enjoy or understand.
So, it’s with no surprise that I noted a few months ago that the version control software on which I’ve relied for several years for my personal projects, Component Software’s CS-RCS, has not been built on in years, and cannot now be downloaded from its source site. [Hence no link from this blog]
I’ve used git before a few times in professional projects while I was working at Amazon, but relatively reluctantly – it has incredibly baroque and meaningless command-line options, and gives the impression that it was written by people who expected their users to be just as proficient with the ins and outs of version control as they are.
While I think it’s a great idea for developers to build software they would use themselves, I think it’s important to make sure that the software you build is also accessible by people who aren’t the same level of expertise as yourself. After all, if your users were as capable as the developer, they would already have built the solution for themselves, so your greater user-base comes from accommodating novices to experts with simple points of entry and levels of improved mastery.
git, along with many other open source, community-supported tools, doesn’t really accommodate the novice.
As such, it means that most people who use it rely on “cookbooks” of sets of instructions. “If you want to do X, type commands Y and Z” – without an emphasis on understanding why you’re doing this.
This leads inexorably to a feeling that you’re setting yourself up for a later fall, when you decide you want to do an advanced task, but discover that a decision you’ve made early on has prevented you from doing the advanced task in the way you want.
That’s why I’ve been reluctant to switch to git.
But it’s clear that git is the way forward in the tools I’m most familiar with – Visual Studio and its surrounding set of developer applications.
It’s one of those decisions I’ve made some time ago, but not enacted until now, because I had no idea how to start – properly. Every git repository I’ve worked with so far has either been set up by someone else, or set up by me, based on a cookbook, for a new project, and in a git environment that’s managed by someone else. I don’t even know if those terms, repository and environment, are the right terms for the things I mean.
There are a number of advanced things I want to do from the very first – particularly, I want to bring my code from the old version control system, along with its history where possible, into the new system.
And I have a feeling that this requires I understand the decisions I make when setting this up.
So, it was with much excitement that I saw a link to this arrive in my email:
Next thing is I’m going to watch this, and see how I’m supposed to work with git. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I happened upon a blog post by the Office team yesterday which surprised me, because it talked about a feature in PowerPoint that I’ve wanted ever since I first got my Surface 2.
Here’s a link to documentation on how to use this feature in PowerPoint.
It seems like the obvious feature a tablet should have.
Here’s a video of me using it to draw a few random shapes:
But not just in PowerPoint – this should be in Word, in OneNote, in Paint, and pretty much any app that accepts ink.
So here’s the blog post from Office noting that this feature will finally be available for OneNote in November.
On iPad, iPhone and Windows 10. Which I presume means it’ll only be on the Windows Store / Metro / Modern / Immersive version of OneNote.
That’s disappointing, because it should really be in every Office app. Hell, I’d update from Office 2013 tomorrow if this was a feature in Office 2016!
Please, Microsoft, don’t stop at the Windows Store version of OneNote.
Shape recognition, along with handwriting recognition (which is apparently also hard), should be a natural part of my use of the Surface Pen. It should work the same across multiple apps.
That’s only going to happen if it’s present in multiple apps, and is a documented API which developers – of desktop apps as well as Store apps – can call into.
Well, desktop apps can definitely get that.
I’ll admit that I haven’t had the time yet to build my own sample, but I’m hoping that this still works – there’s an API called “Ink Analysis”, which is exactly how you would achieve this in your app:
It allows you to analyse ink you’ve captured, and decide if it’s text or a drawing, and if it’s a drawing, what kind of drawing it might be.
[I’ve marked this with the tag “Alun’s Code” because I want to write a sample eventually that demonstrates this function.]
TL;DR – hardware problems, resuming NCSAM posts when / if I can get time.
Well, that went about as well as can be expected.
I start a month of daily posts, and the first one is all that I achieved.
Perhaps I’ve run out of readers, because nobody asked if I was unwell or had died.
No, I haven’t died, the simple truth is that a combination of hardware failures and beta testing got the better of me.
I’d signed up to the Fast Ring of Windows Insider testing, and had found that Edge and Internet Explorer both seemed to get tired of running Twitter and Facebook, and repeatedly got slower and slower to refresh, until eventually I had to quit and restart them.
Also the SP3 refused to recognise my Microsoft Band as plugged in [actually a hardware failure on the Band, but I’ll come to that another day].
Naturally, I assumed this was all because of the beta build I was using.
So, I did what any good beta tester would do. I filed feedback, and pressed the “Roll back” button.
It didn’t seem to take as long as I expected.
That’s your first sign that something is seriously wrong, and you should take a backup of whatever data is left.
So I did, which is nice, because the next thing that happened is that I tried to open a Windows Store app.
It opened a window and closed immediately.
So did every other Windows Store / Metro / Modern / Immersive app I tried.
Including Windows Store itself.
After a couple of days of dinking around with various ‘solutions’, I decided I’d reached beta death stage, and should FFR (FDISK, FORMAT and Reinstall).
First, make another backup, just because you can’t have too many copies of the data you rely on.
That should have been close to the end of the story, with me simply reinstalling all my apps and moving along.
In fact, I started that.
Then my keyboard stopped working. It didn’t even light up.
Plugging the keyboard (it’s a Surface Pro Type Cover) into another Surface (the Surface Pro Type Covers work on, but don’t properly cover, a Surface 2, which we have in my house) demonstrated that the keyboard was just fine on a different system, just not on my main system.
So, I kept a few things running by using my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and once I convinced myself it was worth the trip, I took my Surface Pro 3 out to the Microsoft Store in Bellevue for an appointment.
Jeannie was the tech assigned to help me with my keyboard issue. Helpful and friendly, she didn’t waste time with unnecessary questions or dinking around with stuff that could already be ruled out.
She unplugged the keyboard and tried it on another system. It worked. No need to replace the keyboard.
Can she do a factory reset?
Be my guest – I made another backup before I came out to the store.
So, another quick round of FFR, and the Surface still doesn’t recognise the keyboard.
Definitely a hardware problem, and that’s the advantage of going to the Microsoft Store.
Let me get you a replacement SP3, says Jeannie, and heads out back to the stock room.
Bad news, she says on coming back, We don’t have the exact model you have (an i7 Surface Pro 3 with 256 GB of storage).
Is it OK if we get you the next model up, with twice the storage?
Only if you can’t find any way to upgrade me for free to the shiny Surface Book you have on display up front.
Many thanks to Jeannie for negotiating that upgrade!
But now I have to reinstall all my apps, restore all my data, and get back to functioning before I can engage in fun things like blogging.
I’ll get back into the NCSAM posts, but they’ll be more overview than I was originally planning.
I’ve updated from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 Enterprise Insider Preview over this weekend, on my Surface Pro 3 and a Lenovo tablet. Both machines are used for software development as well as playing games, so seemed the ideal place to practice.
So here’s some initial impressions:
I’ve mentioned before (ranted, perhaps) about how the VPN support in Windows 8.1 is great for desktop apps, but broken for Metro / Modern / Immersive / Windows Store apps.
Still, maybe now I’m able to provide feedback, and Windows is in a beta test phase, perhaps they’ll pay attention and fix the bugs.
It’s a beta, but just in case you were persuaded to install this on a production system, it’s still not release quality.
Every so often, the Edge browser (currently calling itself “Project Spartan”) will just die on you.
I’ve managed to get the “People Hub” to start exactly twice without crashing immediately.
Download the most recent version from the Insider’s page, and you still have to apply an update to the entire system before you’re actually up to date. The update takes essentially as long as the initial install.
Hey, it’s a beta – what did you expect?
Things will break, you’ll find yourself missing functionality, so you may need to restore to your original state. Update before you install, and fewer things will be as likely to go wrong in the upgrade.
They won’t fix things you don’t provide feedback about.
OK, so maybe they also won’t fix things that you DO provide feedback on, but that’s how life works. Not everything gets fixed. Ever.
But if you don’t report issues, you won’t ever see them fixed.
The People “Hub” in Windows 10, from the couple of times I’ve managed to execute it, basically has my contacts, and can display what’s new from them in Outlook Mail.
I rather enjoy the Windows 8.1 People Hub, where you can see in one place the most recent interactions in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype. Or at least, that’s what it promises, even if it only actually delivers Facebook and Twitter.
It’s always possible to delete a video file, of course, but in Windows 8.1, after you’ve finished watching a video from the Videos app, you had to go find some other tool in which to do so – and hope that you deleted the right one.
In Windows 10 you can use the context menu (right click, or tap and hold) on a video to delete it from your store.
Still needs some more work – it doesn’t display subtitles / closed-captioning, it only orders alphabetically, and there’s no jumping to the letter “Q” by pressing the “Q” key, but this app is already looking very functional even for those of us who collect MP4 files to watch.
I really, really liked the Media Center. More than TiVo. We have several Media Center PCs in our house, and now we have to figure out what we’re going to do. I’m not going back to having a made-for-purpose device that can’t do computing, I want my Media Center. I’ll try some of its competitors, but it’d be really nice if Microsoft relents and puts support back for Media Center.
Excellent HTML5 compatibility, reduced chance of being hit by third party vulnerabilities, F12 Developer Tools, and still allows me to test for XSS vulnerabilities if I choose to do so.
Pretty much what I want in a browser, although from a security standpoint, the choice to allow two third party
vulnerabilities add-ins into the browser, Flash and Reader, seems to be begging future trouble.
Having said that, you can disable Adobe Flash in the Advanced Settings of your Spartan browser. I’m going to recommend that you do that on all your non-gaming machines. Then find out which of your web sites need it, and either fix them, or decide whether you can balance the threat of Flash with the utility of that service.
The F12 Developer Tools continue to be a very useful set of web site debugging tools, and assist me greatly in discovering and expanding on web site vulnerabilities. I personally find them easier than debugging tools in other browsers, and they have the benefit of being always installed in recent Microsoft browsers.
The “Reader” view is a nice feature, although it was present in Windows 8.1, and should be used any time you want to actually read the contents of a story, rather than wade through adverts and constant resizing of other content around the text you’re actually interested in.
Because, you know, I’m all about the XSS.
Internet Explorer has a pretty assertive XSS filter built in, and even when you turn it off in your settings, it still comes back to prevent you. I find this to be tricky, because I sometimes need to convince developers of the vulnerabilities in their apps. Firefox is often helpful here, because it has NO filters, but sometimes the behaviour I’m trying to show is specific to Internet Explorer.
Particularly, if I type a quote character into the URL in Internet Explorer, it sends a quote character. Firefox will send a %22 or %27 (double or single quotes). So, sometimes IE will trigger behaviour that Firefox doesn’t.
Sadly, although Spartan does seem to still be useful for XSS testing, the XSS filter can’t be specifically turned off in settings. I’d love to see if I can find a secret setting for this.
Windows has needed a PDF printer since, oh, Windows 3.1. A print driver that prompts you for a file name, and saves whatever you’re printing as a PDF file.
With Office, this kind of existed with Save as PDF. With OneNote, you could Print to OneNote, open the View ribbon, and hide the header, before exporting as a PDF. But that’s the long way around.
With Windows 10, Microsoft installed a new printer driver, “Microsoft Print to PDF”. It does what it says on the tin, allowing you to generate PDFs from anywhere that can print.
I use a Surface Pro 3 as my main system, and I have to say that the reversion to a mainly desktop model of operations is nice to my eyes, but a little confusing to the hands – I don’t quite know how to manage things any more.
Sometimes I like to work without the keyboard, because the tablet works well that way. But now I can’t close apps by sliding from top to bottom, even when I’ve expanded them to full screen. Not sure how I’m supposed to do this.
Yesterday’s unexpected notice from Micro$oft that I am not being awarded MVP status this year has caused me to take stock of my situation.
Now that I’m no longer a paid shill of the Evil Empire, and they’ve taken away my free Compuserve account, I feel I can no longer use their products – mainly because I can no longer afford them if I can’t download them for free from MSDN and TechNet.
Microsoft has been widely derided in the security community for many years, and despite having invented, expanded and documented several secure development processes, practices and tools, it seems they still can’t ship a copy of Flash with Internet Explorer that doesn’t contain rolling instances of buffer overflows.
Microsoft make a great deal out of their SDL tools – documentation and threat modeling guides – and yet they still haven’t produced a version that runs on Mac or Linux systems, unlike Mozilla who’s been able to create a multi-platform threat modeling tool, called Seasponge. Granted it only lets you draw rudimentary data-flow diagrams, and provides no assistance or analysis of its own, requiring you to think of and write up your own threats – but it’s better than nothing! Not better than a whiteboard, granted, but vastly better than nothing.
Active Directory is touted along with its ability to provide central management by Group Policy Objects simply isn’t able to scale nearly as well as the Open Source competition of Linux, which allows each desktop owner to manage their own security to a degree of granularity that allows for some fantastic incoherence (ahem, “innovation”) between neighbouring cubicles. This is, after all, the Year of Linux on the Desktop.
Unlike Windows, with its one standard for disk encryption, and its one standard for file encryption, Linux has any number to choose from, each with some great differences from all the others, and with the support of a thriving community to tell you their standard is the de-facto one, and why the others suck. You can spend almost as much bandwidth discussing which framework to use as you would save by not bothering to encrypt anything in the first place – which is, of course, what happens while you’re debating.
Something something OpenSSL.
IPv6 has been a part of Windows since Windows XP, and has been enabled by default for considerably longer. And yet so very few of Microsoft’s web properties are available with an IPv6 address, something I’ve bugged them about for the last several years. Okay, so www.microsoft.com, www.bing.com and ftp.microsoft.com all have recently-minted IPv6 addresses, but what about www.so.cl? Oh, OK.
Then there’s the Windows TCP SYN behaviour, where a SYN arriving at a busy socket was responded to by a RST, rather than the silence echoed by every other TCP stack, and which was covered up by Windows re-sending a SYN in response to a RST, where every other TCP stack reports a RST as a quick failure. I can’t tell you how many years I’ve begged Microsoft to change this behaviour. OK, so the last time I spoke to them on this issue, my son was eight, and now he’s driving, so perhaps they’ve worked some more on that since then. It is, after all, a vital issue to support correct connectivity.
Finally, of course, the declining MVP swag quality has hit me hard, as I now have to buy my own laptop bag to replace the MVP ones that wore out and were never replaced, a result of Microsoft’s pandering to environmental interests by shipping a chunk of glass instead of a cool toy or bag each year.
My MVP toys were fun – a logo-stamped 1GB USB drive, a laser-pointer-pen-and-stylus which doesn’t work on capacitive touch screens, a digital photo frame – but never as much fun as those given to the MVPs in other Product Groups. The rumoured MVP compound in Florida available for weekend getaways always seemed to be booked.
So, how do I get MacOS installed on this Surface Pro 3?
Now that I have a Surface 2, I’m going to leave my laptop at home when I travel.
This leaves me with a concern – obviously, I’m going to play with some of my hobby software development while I have “down time”, but the devices for which I’m building are traveling with me, while the dev machine stays at home.
That’s OK where I’m building for the laptop, because it’s available by Remote Desktop through a Remote Desktop Gateway.
Deploying to my other devices – the Windows Phone and the Surface 2 running Windows RT – is something that I typically do by direct connection, or on the local network.
For the Windows Phone, there’s a Store called “Beta” as opposed to “Public”, into which you can deploy your app, make it available to specific listed users, and this will allow you to quickly distribute an app remotely to your device.
Details on how to do this are here.
The story on Windows Store apps appears, at first blush, to be far more dismal, with numerous questions online asking “is there a beta store for Windows like there is for the phone?”
The answer comes back “no, but that’s a great idea for future development”.
But it is completely possible to distribute app packages to your Windows RT and other Windows 8.1 devices, using Powershell.
The instructions at MSDN, here, will tell you quite clearly how you can do this.
It’s about this time of year that I think…
Ah, who am I kidding, I think those kinds of things all the time.
I often thought I’d like to have a career in 3D animation, solely so I could send out invoices with the title of this blog post as their content.
It seems a little late for me to choose that career, so I’ll have to use that title for a blog posting about my Surface, now that I am three weeks in to using it.
There’s no secret (or if there is, it’s poorly hidden) to the fact that MVPs visiting Redmond for the MVP Summit this year received a pretty sweet deal on a 32GB Surface 2 and Touch Cover. Along with hundreds of my brethren, I lined up at the Microsoft Store in Bellevue yelling “shut up and take my money!”
As an actual purchase, rather than a complete giveaway, I did have to pass the purchasing decision through my boss. Fortunately, she agreed that it was a good buy, as long as I treated it as a purchase of a toy for me, and stopped trying to persuade her it was a bona fide business investment for the company. Canny woman, my wife, and skilled at reducing arguments to their simplest and most incisive points.
So, a toy it was pitched as, a replacement for my iPad, which I also got for very little money – I won it in a hacking competition. As a toy, I couldn’t expect to get the Surface Pro, which is convenient, because one wasn’t offered.
Does it have the Angry Birds,then? Space and Star Wars versions, yes – Rovio hasn’t been paid to get around to porting the others to Windows 8 yet.
It’s also got Minesweeper and Solitaire, with the added thrill of daily challenges, and an Adventure Mode for Minesweeper that looks a little ripped off from Repton. Mahjong, Jetpack Joyride, Cut the Rope, there’s enough games that while you might find a few individual names here and there that are missing, you’ll be able to replace them with something in the same genre.
The front and back camera make for good Skype use, whether you’re having a face-to-face chat, or showing someone the view out the window.
I can read comics, whether through the dozen or so manga readers, or through the Comics app from Comixology. Books come, of course, courtesy of the Kindle app, and of course there’s a native Amazon app as well, although as usual, it’s hard to get a better shopping experience in an app than Amazon has built into the web version.
That’s right, you actually have a version of Internet Explorer 11 built specially for the touch-screen “Modern UI”, which Microsoft used to call Metro, and which thoroughly needs a new name. This version of Internet Explorer is fairly basic, but fully functional for what most people are going to want it for. For most of what I do on the web, it’s certainly sufficient.
Social media makes its presence felt nicely in the People hub, like on my Windows Phone, where in one place I can keep up with my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn friends/followers/minions. I can also post there, although I miss my phone’s ability to post to multiple outlets at once.
If you’ve been paying attention to my gripes about podcast support on my Windows Phone, I have to say that, out of the box, I have the same – or worse –issues with the Surface 2. The native audio player does allow you to create playlists, but infallibly returns you to the start of an MP3 file almost every time you play it anew, apparently whether you played another MP3 file, skipped to a different app, or received a notification. I await the development of a good podcast / audiobook application with support for local MP3s.
On the video front, things are somewhat improved, with the Xbox Video app being the natively supported method to play my MP4s. Sadly, there’s still no subtitle support, as is the case across every single one of Microsoft’s video playing tools – if the file isn’t streaming across the web, with the closed captions in a separate stream, there’s no way to get captions to display. This is a shame, as there is good support for standard subtitles in MP4s on the Apple competition, whether it’s iPad, iPod or iPhone. Microsoft, this can’t be that hard – support accessibility on all your video players, please! [I’m not deaf, but the bus can get a little loud]
The Touch Cover is barely usable as a keyboard – but I’ve added a Bluetooth keyboard to my Christmas wishlist, for the serious typing moments, and the Touch Cover is certainly sufficient for those occasional bon mots on the bus or airplane.
Sadly, Live Writer isn’t available for Windows RT, so I’m not likely to use this for many blogs – although to keep myself honest, I am typing this on the Surface using the Touch Cover keyboard.
To write the blog entry, I’m actually using Word with its blogging template.
Why yes, yes I did – but since the presence of Office 2013 on the Surface was advertised (at least, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Word and Outlook), this was hardly a surprise to me – but it seems like a surprise to many of my Apple-owning friends who are just starting to get excited that Apple have deigned to let them have iWorks on their iPads now.
But the inclusion of Office isn’t the only thing that makes this device veer further into the territory of a non-toy.
I wasn’t really expecting that Windows RT would have a desktop mode. I pretty much thought it would be Modern UI apps and nothing else. That seemed like it would suck, because I can’t then copy files across the network for playing MP3s and MP4s on the bus to and from work.
So a friend of mine set my fears at rest before I bought the Surface, and let me know that there was indeed a desktop, and a Windows Explorer. That was the tipping point to realizing I could get along with my Surface.
Then came the surprises.
There’s a Desktop version of Internet Explorer – and this one is fully functional! It even has “View Source” and the F12 Developer Tools, Microsoft’s best-kept secret in IE for some time now. [On your Touch Cover, you get F12 by holding down the “Fn” key as you press “PgDn”] This means I can carry on my Cross-Site Scripting endeavours on my Surface – which I couldn’t do from my iPad at all.
Also not on the iPad, but present on the Surface, a full version of the Command Prompt – I can run all my old batch scripts. Notepad, too (but no WordPad, sadly). Even, and I can’t imagine using the power of this too much, PowerShell!
Flash Player, as well, which isn’t available on the iPad. Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop, so I can connect to a real computer, something that wasn’t a good experience on the iPad.
Woah, BitLocker? Wow, my hard drive is already encrypted. So too could be the 64GB MicroSD card I’ve attached for extra video and audio storage, again something I can’t do on my iPad.
PerfMon, ResMon, Event Viewer, RegEdit, Windows Scripting Host, all sorts of serious tooling works in the desktop environment. Not Visual Studio, yet, but let’s remember… this is a toy, not a real laptop.
I use my Surface 2 far more than I ever used my iPad.
Despite a few niggling sharp corners that need to be addressed, it irritates me far less than any Apple device I’ve ever owned. This just cements in my mind that, while there are many people who love their Apples, I’m just not their target consumer. I’m not sure that I’m exactly the target consumer of the Surface, but it’s inspired me and continues to grow on me. I’m even starting to write code for it. We’ll see if that becomes anything in due course.
Java not yet available for Surface – one more advantage.