WebsiteSpark and What It Means

Yesterday Microsoft made an announcement that has extremely important implications if you are into Web application development. The WebsiteSpark program offers a ton of Microsoft software for free for web developers and web development companies that qualify. You get all these software for 3 years for both development and production usage. The list of software is:

  • 3 licenses of Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition
  • 1 license of Expression Studio 3
  • 2 licenses of Expression Web 3
  • 4 processor licenses of Windows Web Server 2008 R2
  • 4 processor licenses of SQL Server 2008 Web Edition
  • DotNetPanel control panel

You can read more about the program on Scott Guthrie’s blog post and at the main site.

What I want to explore in this post is what it means for Web development in general. Currently, there is a trend or impression that if you need to create a software for a SME, you need to use the LAMP stack to remain competitive cost-wise. While true to some extent, what you do lose out is in terms of productivity and time-to-market with tools such as VS2008 and the Expression suite. But the cost of entry to use these has often been a pitfall to getting individual Web developers or smaller Web project companies as well as for the SME.

With WebsiteSpark this so-called “advantage” of the LAMP stack goes for a toss. Not only do you get all the tools you need for free for developing projects for SME companies you also get a number of other additional options that help ease your development, such as:

  • The Web Application Toolkits: A set of pre-packaged templates, samples, source code, etc. that can be simply plugged into your site to extend it with some extra features.
  • The Web Platform Installer: Allows you to quickly set up a developer or even production machine with not just the base requirements but also a number of free Web Applications such as WordPress, Umbraco, SugarDRM, DotNetNuke, Moodle etc. by simply following the setup prompts. Take a look at the Web Application Gallery and see how easy it is to setup these without having to mess around with configuration files and database connection settings on Windows.

This basically means that setting up and using Windows as a platform for Web application development not only is easier and faster but also is now available for free! You can also run most of the open source Web apps on Windows with better performance and scalability. So is there any real reason to still go for the LAMP stack? Try the above stuff out and then decide.

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Categories: ASP.NET | Development | Internet | Microsoft | Rave

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Blog Upgrade

I finally upgraded my blog with the latest version of BlogEngine.NET. This is a free, open source, implementation of an ASP.NET 2.0-3.5 blog. I was running v1.3 till now and have now upgraded to v1.5.07. There are a ton of new features in this release including new widgets, nested comments and more. I’ve implemented these features on the left column as you can see.

The theme that I use is called StarGazer created by Jason Lay. I’ve made massive modifications to this theme for my blog including:

  • Moving the right side column completely to the left using CSS. This is because I sometimes have code and images that flow across the page and in the case of a right side column would cause the layout to go for a toss.
  • Added the ability to use the first post as a Internet Explorer 8.0 WebSlice. This also requires a code change in the BlogEngine.NET core. I’ll be submitting this patch to the developers of BE soon.
  • Changed a bunch of ASPX layout to add the nested comments feature of v1.5 of BE.
  • Changed a huge bunch of CSS to get the styles correctly setup for different elements that didn’t even exist in the original theme but now appear due to structural changes in BE’s rendering.

For doing all this, it took me less than a couple of hours which included downloading, setting up and understanding the changes in BE1.5 on my local machine. I was greatly helped in the entire endeavor by Visual Studio 2008 and the Internet Explorer 8.0 Developer Toolbar. The latter was exceptionally useful in figuring out the classes and styles being used in any page and on the fly changing them to see what happens. Clearly a great tool to have for Web developers.

There are still some small changes that I need to do. The visitor info widget has a annoying icon that I want to get rid of and the Twitter widget doesn’t refresh automatically and the “Follow me” gives an error. I’ll need to look into this soon – but for now the blog is back up and running.

For anyone who is interested in the StarGazer theme, I’m putting it here to download:

UPDATE: I've now used a different Twitter widget called TwitterFeed. This allows a little more customization than the default one. Also, I made some changes in the styling by adding CSS classes for the date, feed and links shown in each Twitter.

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Categories: ASP.NET | Internet | Personal | Rave

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Twittered Up

So finally I’ve too jumped onto the Twitter bandwagon. I did have an account for a while, but never really went around using it. But Shekhar convinced me to try it out during a “presentation” to convince someone else.

After some initial hiccups of logging in, I went ahead and downloaded a bunch of Twitter clients for different things.

  • Blu: This is one of the best looking Windows Twitter clients. Using WPF, it has a really slick interface and requires .NET Framework 3.5. On Windows 7, it just works out of the box perfectly. You’ve got to try this one out to see the power that WPF can provide.
  • Chirpr: This is a Windows Vista Sidebar / Windows 7 Desktop Gadget that lets you not only view your Twitters but also send updates all from the convenience of your desktop.
  • PocketTwit: This is a great Twitter client for Windows Mobile phones and lets you customize the look as well. A completely touch friendly interface lets you manage your tweets quite easily.

I’ll also need to see if there is a BlogEngine widget for adding tweets on my Blog page and update it sometime. For now, you can just go ahead and follow me directly.

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Categories: Internet

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Silverlight and the Indian Premier League

Well, after a ton of delays and discussions, the Indian Premier League Season II has finally kicked off in South Africa. The IPL is rated as the biggest and most expensive Cricket league in the world and is watched by not only most Indians but also by most of the cricket playing countries as well.

It was great to see that the IPL official website not just contains all the latest news and live match scores, it also has the matches streamed live as well as archived highlights. And the best part is that the video is shown to you through the Silverlight player.

IPL 2009

The player allows you to watch high definition video with almost no buffering and gives an extremely smooth playback. I’m really glad to see that Silverlight is being used in such a way and in something that will ensure that a lot more installs of the Silverlight runtime.

Whether you are a designer or developer, Silverlight is something that you should be looking at seriously. With an established set of credentials (the Olympics, Obama’s presidential inauguration, and many, many more), Silverlight seems to be the future for both Web and Windows based applications.

Update: Added new links and a screenshot of the interactive Silverlight player.

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Categories: SilverLight | Internet | Rave

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Tech Crystal Ball 2009

As the year is truly under way now, here are a few predictions I can think of in the technology world that is going to happen this year.

Hardware/Gadgets become cheaper and more powerful

We’ve seen this happen the last couple of years – with dual, quad and now oct-core systems readily available. Devices such as high end mobiles are also becoming quite popular as are Netbooks and LCD TVs. All of these will continue to grow as well as becoming more affordable – both to beat the recession as well as due to innovations in this area.

Hosted Paid Services or Pay-Per-Use Model becomes more popular

Most small to medium companies will start finding value in using hosted services for many of their IT infrastructure requirements rather than doing it all themselves. Hosted Exchange, SharePoint and CRM are going to take off this year in a large way – even in India. (Believe me, I recently moved to this model and it’s not just cheaper, it’s much lesser headache to manage.)

The Pay-Per-Use model will also catch on – for services that are required on a less frequent use basis. For instance, in companies that do not require all the high-end features of Office installed on every desktop, it might make a lot of sense to have a PPU model for certain advanced tasks that can be used as and when required by designated people.

Online Storage Balloons Up

Currently you get a good 5-25 GB in most online storage areas – however I see this to grow to the range of 100-250GB this year for free storage and practically unlimited for paying customers. Everything – documents, photos, music and movies will be allowed to sync back to the “cloud” as it were.

Corollary: Optical Media Starts to go away

As the online storage area heats up, I predict that the requirement for offline optical media will go away – may not happen completely this year – but this year will be that start to the end of optical media.

FOSS vs. Microsoft – the war continues

We won’t see a real respite from the FOSS/MS war. The FOSS camp is going to play the “free” card in these recession times to a lot of people, while MS will need to pull up their socks and show a more cautious approach to handling sales of their products. The PPU and Hosted models will be a great help to them in this war. MS of course has a number of products in the pipeline that can make a huge difference. FOSS does have its own set of drawbacks – like stagnating product lines (OpenOffice for e.g.) and TCO for subscription based supports being higher than MS costs. Both sets will need to offer much better value proposition to customers.

Microsoft - Winners: Windows 7, Office 14, Visual Studio 2010

Windows 7 is going to be the big hype product of the year. The “mistakes” of Vista are hopefully soon going to be forgotten with the pre-beta and the leaked beta already getting excellent reviews. If MS pushes it out this year especially giving a better value proposition including hyping cost savings thanks to “GREEN” systems, it will have a sure-fire winner in it’s hands.

Office 14 hasn’t got too much coverage – but a web-based version – with almost all the features makes perfect sense for the PPU/Hosted model and can help drive up adoption. We’ve yet to see other features that make it into this release, though.

Microsoft – Losing Ground: Windows Mobile, Internet Explorer

I predict that WM and IE will continue to lose ground to others – unless MS does something very, very innovative in both of them. WM is a great platform for business users. However, the interface clunkiness as well as long time gaps between updates don’t let it really go the way it should.

Internet Explorer 8 is right round the corner and is a great browser. But I still feel that there is so much more that it could have done than Web Slices and Accelerators. Hopefully it won’t be plagued with bugs once it comes out.

GREEN Computing

A lot of companies are going to go GREEN – it terms of energy efficiency of their infrastructure. Both hardware and software can help this out tremendously. Vista and Win7’s “sleep” functionality, Hyper-V based server consolidation, efficient cooling and other technologies will become part of mainstream and recommended to use.

All-in-all, this year will have its own ups-and-downs. These are my (current) predictions. I might revisit them 6 months down and see if there are any changes I think that might happen. Here’s wishing you a Happy, Prosperous, Productive and Safe New Year 2009.

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Categories: Microsoft | Windows 7 | Windows Vista | Internet | Gadgets

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A great time to be a Computer Science student in India

As is usual to a slightly long post, I start with a bit of historical context. In the days back when I was a student in school, computers were a fairly new thing. I was lucky to have started early on BBC Micros and having access to the Internet waaaay before most people had heard of it thanks to growing up in one of India’s premier universities. In school, our PCs, PC-XTs and PC-ATs were major drool points for us geeks.

However, software was another issue. A few of us loved programming – but access to software was fairly impossible. Getting Turbo Pascal and Turbo C++ was quite difficult and it was usually from a (friend-of-a-friend)^n from where we would (ahem) make copies to try out our pieces of code. I remember writing (literally) entire programs on sheets of paper with dry run notations on the side for each variable for each pass and then go type it out in school to try out some new stuff that I had “created”.

These days however, access to software is much easier. Unfortunately, professional quality software is usually quite expensive and for a student in India, typically out of their budget. This is where Microsoft’s recently announced DreamSpark initiative comes to their rescue.

DreamSpark allows students in India to download or get a DVD of most of the Microsoft programming and designing stack for FREE! All a student needs to do is register at the site, get their student status verified and they can get access to the free download and go and simply pick up the free DVD from any of the over 200 locations in India and start using it.

And what is it that they get for free? The list includes:

  • Windows Server 2003 Standard
  • Visual Studio 2008 Professional
  • Visual Studio 2005 Professional
  • SQL Server 2005 Developer
  • Expression Studio
  • XNA Game Studio 2.0

Remember that these are FULL versions of these products, without any restrictions (time or uses) for FREE.

This means that computer science students can now start working with professional level tools right from the start. Also, if anybody uses the “Open Source is best for learning programming” argument, this is no longer true. The Microsoft programming stack is so much more productive and now is accessible by any student in India and all for free to. I wish this was available to me when I was in school too.

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Categories: Development | Internet | Microsoft | Rave | SQL Server

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Windows Live Mesh for Mobile

Live mesh is a great service that lets you sync devices or store it online from where you can access them from anywhere. It’s currently available as a tech preview and if you’re signed up you can sync multiple devices across.

Finally, the team has released Live Mesh for mobiles as well. Currently it support Windows Mobile 6.x. However you will not be able to access this from the usual places – that is, by either going to or by logging into your Mesh Desktop and trying to add a device. You need to go to and follow the onscreen instructions to download the installer (.CAB). You can then connect your WM device and install the software through ActiveSync/WMDC.

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Categories: Gadgets | Internet | Microsoft | Windows Live

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Office 14 on the Web

Watch out Google Apps, Office “14” is coming to the Web – and unlike the Google version, it works with the offline rich client as well as mobile devices to give a whole new set of features.

Some salient points:

  • Office 14 is going to be available in the normal rich client version
  • The Web version will be included into the applications
  • Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote are the apps that will be available in the “cloud” :)
  • Seamless syncing of content between the desktop, Web and mobile will be possible
  • Multiple people can work on the same document in different media at the same time and see changes in real-time
  • The Web version works on Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari
  • If you have the Silverlight 2 plugin installed (in any of the above browsers) you get an even richer experience than the Ajax based one which mimics the rich desktop client almost exactly
  • The rendering engines in each application is the same as the one in the desktop version and hence the document you view in your desktop will be exactly the same as the one the Web!
  • You get all the rich features – charts, tables, WordArt, SmartArt etc. on both the Desktop and Web version – YAY!

Check out the video over at Channel9 for a quick cool demo.

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Categories: Office | Internet | SilverLight

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I'm a PC - and proud of it

I always found the Apple "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" ads funny when I saw them - but not for the reasons that Apple thought. Their claims were fairly weird considering > 95% of the world uses PCs with Windows. and not only that, the PCs come in a gazillion different combinations with another gazillion types of hardware and software setups. Whereas Apple has complete control over the hardware and the software that gets installed on their machines - so making their systems work is the least they can do.

 The PC (and by this I mean the generic PC combination whether it be desktops or notebooks + Windows) is a much, much more versatile device and can do so much more. And finally Microsoft is showing people the true story with their new ads. The video ads show people from normal walks of life and some celebrities - all who use PCs for a huge number of varied tasks - showing the true power of the PC. And combined with the Windows Mobile platform (for PDA/SmartPhones) and Windows Live (for services on the 'Net), the PC is at a much more powerful stage than it ever was.

The best part is that you can upload your own videos as well to say how you have been using your PC and how it has affected your life, work and personal way of working. Think of this as a way to show your appreciation for this system.

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Categories: Internet | Microsoft | Rave | Windows Live

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This blog is WebSliced!

I've just enabled a WebSlice on this blog. You can now view the latest post on this blog by subscribing to the "Vinod's Latest Post" WebSlice if you have Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2. This can be done in two ways.

  1. Hover your mouse over the first blog post till you see a green rectangle and an icon. Click on the image icon to add the WebSlice to your favorites bar.
  2. Click on the image icon on the toolbar to add it.

Now whenever the blog is updated with a new post, you will see the subscription turn bold. Click on it to see a small preview window with the entire post. You can also click to view the entire page in a normal window - say to read the rest of a long post or to comment on it.

To create a new WebSlice for your site, you can follow these tutorials: Shekhar's Blog Post, Subscribing to WebSlices (MSDN).

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Categories: Development | Internet | Tips

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