Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

C# and WebAssembly

I’m honored to be able to post in Matt GrovesAnnual C# Advent again this year, and today… December 22nd, 2018, is my second year contributing to it.

Last year I talked about ways to unload the main UI thread in WPF/.NET apps.

This year, I want to call attention to the Uno Platform tools I’ve been evangelizing for the past six months or so. 

Silverlight is dead – Long Live Uno Platform!

To understand this perspective, we’ll need to walk through some key terms….

What is Silverlight?silverlight

For those who don’t know, about ten years ago, Silverlight was the way to write C# and XAML to run in the web browser. It required a plug-in to run, much like Adobe Flash Player. Unfortunately, Microsoft announced the…. untimely demise of Silverlight in 2012. Silverlight, to some extent, seemed a more catchy term than other related technology names, so Microsoft used Silverlight as the name for mobile platforms that are also now depricated. As a result, it became almost synonymous with XAML.

What is XAML?

XAML, “eXtensible Application Markup Language” is the markup language behind a few great UI / UX layers in various Microsoft .NET-oid languages.  For those who’ve used it, it’s an addictively cool language family.  Using Visual Studio, Blend, and Adobe DX, you can create first-class UI.  With features like Storyboard animation, basic animation becomes child’s play. Composition makes fast, dynamic animations easy. Once you’ve gotten the basic idea of it, one finds themselves wanting to use it anywhere they can…  or at least that’s been my experience through WPF, Silverlight, Silverlight for Windows Phone, Silverlight for Windows Phone 8 / 8.1, Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and probably others.

The “code behind” XAML is typically C#, and historically .NET based.

What is Universal Windows Platform (UWP)?

UWP is the native platform of Windows 10.  It’s similar to classic .NET in a few ways.  First, UWP feels a lot like Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and .NET, being XAML and C# based, respectively.  It differs from classic .NET because it has a lot of fixes, both in terms of security and performance, that .NET can’t afford to apply for various reasons.  More simply put, .NET had some serious technical debt built up, so the easiest way to forgive that debt was to build a new platform based on the old languages.  Your XAML and C# skills are the same, but the namespaces and supporting framework libraries are different.

Don’t fret, though…  UWP runs natively on over 800 million devices (as of today, December 22nd, 2018), and that number continues to grow.  UWP is the native platform for all Windows 10 devices.  This means desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, HoloLenses, Xbox consoles, IoT embedded devices, and more. 

What is WebAssembly?webassembly

WebAssembly is a relatively new bytecode language specification… a virtual machine specification, similar to the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), that is fully supported by most modern major web browsers.  It allows near native performance in the same sandbox that javascript apps run in.  When you run javascript in a web page, the jit compiler in the browser converts the code into tokenized bytecode in order to execute it quicker.  WebAssembly improves on this significantly by pre-compiling the code.  Because the code is pre-complied, it doesn’t have to be sourced from javascript.  It can be compiled from just about any programming language.  Wasm, as it’s called, went from a specification just a few short years ago to being well supported in all major modern web browsers.

What is Uno Platform?uno platform

Uno Platform, for our purposes, is not really a new platform, but an extension to UWP. 

You write your UWP application for your Windows 10 devices the same way you always have.  Uno provides a mechanism to re-compile that UWP app to Web Assembly (and… by the way… using Xamarin tools, also to iOS… and also to Android!)

In a sense, Uno Platform is to UWP as Xamarin is (roughly) to classic .NET.

See the connection? 

Let’s do some math…

UWP = C# & XAML for Windows 10.  (800,000,000 devices)

Uno Platform += UWP for iOS (Millions more devices), Android (over a Billion devices), and WebAssembly (every modern major PC in the world)

Now factor in this…

.NET Core 3 += UWP for services

What does all that add up to? 

One skill set… 

UWP (C# & XAML) = FULL STACK, on all major platforms

From data access layer to REST API to UI canvas.

Wait a minute…  What about Xamarin?

Xamarin is the older way to do C# for cross platform / mobile.  

Coincidentally, just this past Thursday, Carl Barton, a Microsoft MVP for Xamarin presented the Xamarin Forms Challenge at the Windows Platform App Devs users group. The goal of the meetup was to demonstrate creating a simple app in C# and running it on as many platforms as we could in the hour.  He easily pushed ran the app on over a dozen platforms in the hour.

Uno Platform actually depends on Xamarin libraries to support iOS and Android. 

The main differences between Xamarin and Uno Platform are these:

  • Xamarin encourages you to use a Xamarin-specific dialect of XAML, including Xamarin Forms to express your cross platform UI.
  • If you already know & understand Microsoft’s UWP dialect of XAML, Uno Platform uses that dialect.
  • Xamarin enables you to produce binaries for dozens of different target platforms, reaching a billion or more devices.  These include .NET, UWP, iOS, Android, Tizen, Unity, ASP.NET, and many others.
  • Uno Platform only enables you to reach three additional binary output targets…  iOS, Android, and WebAssembly…. but WebAssembly can or likely will soon cover most of what Xamarin Forms covers.

I’ll leave it up to you which to choose, but for me, given the choice between Xamarin with several years of technical debt built up in a distinct dialect of XAML, and Uno Platform, using the fresher, native UWP dialect of XAML…  

Finally… 

Here’s the slides I presented most recently at the New England Microsoft Developers meetup in Burlington, Mass on December 6th (thanks again to Mathieu Filion of nventive for much of the content):

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Intro to Uno Platform

Uno’s free.  Uno is open-source.  Uno could seriously be the next significant disruption in mobile development.

Apologies that I neglected to hit on the conference call for the introductions.  We did get the bulk of the presentation recorded.

On the call:  Jerome Laban, Architect, and Francois Tanguay, CEO of nventive of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Participants of the Windows Platform App Devs (including myself) were in the audience, asking questions.

To make up for the intro missed in the call, let me begin with the elephant in the room…

What’s “wrong” with Xamarin?

The relatively well known Microsoft tool set called Xamarin enables developers to write a dialect of C# and Xaml to target a variety of platforms including Windows, Windows Mobile, iOS, Android, MacOS and others.

For that reason, Xamarin’s currently a top choice for mobile developers around the world. Xamarin enables developers to target billions of devices.

The problem Xamarin presents is that Xamarin has become its own distinct dialect of .NET-based development.  Xamarin has its own distinct presentation layer called Xamarin Forms. Xamarin Forms as an employee skill set is not the same as a classic Windows developer set.  It’s not exactly the same as a Windows 10 developer skill set.  It’s a different platform, and requires developers that understand it.

Uno Platform reduces the skillset burden in this problem by converging the main skill set on Windows 10 development. Developers with an appreciation for the future of Windows development will definitely appreciate Uno Platform.

Windows Universal Platform (UWP) targets ALL flavors of Windows 10, including some unexpected ones, like Xbox One, and IoT devices running Windows 10 IoT Core.

Uno bridges UWP to iOS, Android, Web Assembly (Wasm), on top of Windows 10. This targets a huge and rapidly growing range of devices… (currently approaching around 3 BILLION… and that might be a low estimate.)

I’d embed the video, but Blogger’s giving me a hard time with the iframe-based embed code… please click this

Link to the video:

Intro to Uno Platform Skype conference recording.

The meetup:
Granite State Windows Platform App Devs
https://www.meetup.com/Granite-State-NH-WPDev/events/251284215/

Uno Platform’s site:
http://platform.uno

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Locking Resources in C# for Read/Write Concurrency

In a previous project, I became a big fan of System.Threading.ReaderWriterLockSlim.  It was an excellent way to guard a resource against concurrency in a relatively flexible manner.  

C# has a lock(object) {} syntax for simple concurrency locks, but what if you have a resource that can sometimes be used concurrently, and other times, exclusively?

Enter System.Threading.ReaderWriterLockSlim.  This has a few handy methods on it for guarding code on a non-exclusive (Read) and exclusive (Write) mode, with an upgradeable lock, as well, so you don’t have to release a read lock in order to upgrade it.

This source works just as well in .NET as UWP.

I commented the code enough to try to make it so that someone familiar with ReaderWriterLockSlim and using(IDisposable){} would understand the rest, so without further ado…

https://gist.github.com/GraniteStateHacker/e608eecce2cb3dba0dbf4363b00e941f.js

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Live Process Migration

For years now, I’ve been watching Microsoft Windows evolve.  From a bit of a distance I’ve been watching the bigger picture unfold, and a number of details have led me to speculate on a particular feature that I think could be the next big thing in technology….   Live process migration.  

This is not the first time I’ve mused about the possibility… [A big feature I’d love to see in Windows 11] it’s just that as I work with tools across the spectrum of Microsoft’s tool chest, I’ve realized there are a few pieces I hadn’t really connected before, but they’re definitely a part of it.

What is live process migration?  Folks who work with virtual machines on a regular basis are often familiar with a fancy feature / operation known as live virtual machine migration….  VMWare’s vSphere product refers to the capability as vMotion.  It’s the ability to re-target a virtual machine instance, while it’s running… to move it from one host to another.

In sci-fi pseudo psycho-babble meta physio-medical terms, this might be akin to transitioning a person’s consciousness from one body to another, while they’re awake…  kinda wild stuff.

As you can imagine, live VM migration is a heavy duty operation… the guest machine must stay in sync across two host computers during the transition in order to seamlessly operate. For the average user, it’s hard to imagine practical applications. 

That said, live process migration is no small feat either.  A lot of things have to be put in place in order for it to work… but the practical applications are much easier to spot. 

Imagine watching a movie on Netflix on your Xbox (or maybe even your Hololens), but it’s time to roll.   No problem, with a simple flick gesture, and without missing a beat, the running Netflix app transitions to your tablet (or your phone), and you’re off.   Then you get to your vehicle, and your vehicle has a smart technology based media system in it that your tablet hands off the process to.   It could work for any process, but live streaming media is an easy scenario.

From a technical perspective, there’s a bunch of things required to make this work, especially across whole different classes of hardware…  but these problems are rapidly being solved by the universal nature of Windows 10 and Azure.

Commonality required:

  • Global Identity (e.g. Windows Live)
  • Centralized Application Configuration
    • Windows 10 apps natively and seamlessly store configuration data in the cloud
  • Binary compatibility
    • Universal apps are one deployable package that runs on everything from embedded devices to large desktops and everything in between.
  • Inter-nodal process synchronization
    • Nothing exemplifies this better than the 1st class remote debugging operation  in Visual Studio.  You can run an app on a phone or device from your laptop, hit breakpoints, and manipulate runtime state (local variables) from the laptop and watch the device react in real time.
  • Handoff protocol
    • I’m sure it exists, but I don’t have a good word to describe this, but it’s probably based on something like SIP
  • Runtime device capability checking (the part that sparked this blog post).
Over the years, there have been a lot of “write once, run anywhere” coding schemes.  Most involve writing a program and having the compiler sort out what works on each type of hardware…. what you get is a different flavor of the program for different kinds of hardware.  In Windows 10, it’s different.  In Windows 10, the developer codes for different device capabilities, and the application checks for the required hardware at run time.  
While the UWP does an amazing job of abstracting away the details, it puts some burden on the hardware at runtime…  the app developer has to write code to check, anyway: hey, is there a hardware camera shutter button in this machine?  If yes, don’t put a soft camera shutter button on the screen, but now the app has to check the hardware every time it runs.
I struggled a bit trying to understand this latter point…  why would Microsoft want it to work that way?  Except for a few plug & play scenarios, it could be optimized away at application install time…  unless your process can move to a different host computer/phone/console/tablet/VR gear.
While I am (more recently) a Microsoft V/TSP working for BlueMetal, an Insight company, I have no inside information on this topic.  I’m just looking at what’s on the table right now.   We’re almost there already.  Yesterday, I showed my son how to save a document to OneDrive, and within moments, pick up his Windows 10 phone and start editing the same document on it.
In my mind, there’s little doubt that Microsoft has been working its way up to this since Windows Phone 7… the only question in my mind is how many of these tri-annual Windows 10 updates will it be before “App-V Motion”-style live process migration is a practical reality.
Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Apache Cordova and SharePoint Online / Office 365

The concept came from a good place, but at this point, the story is best described as “science experiment”, as I mentioned at SharePoint Saturday Boston 2015.  I was working on a cross-platform Apache Cordova project for Windows, Windows Phone and Android when the call for speakers hit.  I said “why not?” and I signed myself up to present it…

The good news is that the story’s not without some worth to someone exploring the idea of hooking into SharePoint from an Apache Cordova-based app. Tools that exist today at least assist in the process.

The demo code is mostly about accessing files from your personal SharePoint profile document library (A.K.A. OneDrive for business) and indeed, the code is using file access code in addition to SharePoint connection.  The hardest work in a browser based app is to authenticate with Office 365, and this code does that, and then opens up to the rest of SharePoint…
Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

A big feature I’d love to see in Windows 11

With all the announcements coming out of //Build, I’m pretty jazzed about what’s coming in Windows 10.   That doesn’t stop me from wishing there were one or two other scenarios Microsoft would get to… and at this point, I’ll have to hope to see them in something after Windows 10.

“App-V-Motion” running apps, migrating them across devices. 

Enable an app running on the phone or tablet or laptop or desktop to seamlessly transition from device to device.

Imagine it’s getting late in the day…  you have a long running process on your desktop that you need to babysit.  Poor timing, sure, but it happens far too often.   Now, rather than being tethered to your desk, you can transition the process to a mobile device, and simply take it with you.   Perhaps it’ll take longer to complete on the mobile device, so when you get home, you hand it back off to bigger iron. 

or, my other favorite scenario…  you’re watching your favorite movie, but it’s time to roll…. so you hand off the movie player app to your phone, and keep watching while you’re on the go, without missing a beat.

With cloud configuration & storage, this scenario is getting more and more feasible, but given where I’m seeing Windows 10, now, this could potentially be a 10.1 or 10.2 feature.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Apache Cordova and Windows Universal (8.1)

Thanks to everyone who made it out to the Granite State Windows Platform Users Group last night (April 16, 2015) to see my presentation on using Apache Cordova to create Windows Universal (8.1) “store apps”. 

I walked away feeling like I’d helped inspire everyone who attended…  even as an “intro” level presentation, the demos seemed to keep everyone engaged, asking questions, and prompting me to go “off-roading” to check out various features. 

We really had fun with it!

So while the best part of the presentation was the demos, the slides do have some great links in them.

 
 

If you missed it, don’t worry too much…  I’ll keep this presentation dusted off & ready for upcoming events, as well…  I could imagine it fitting well into a Code Camp event or something akin to it in the coming year.  

Heck, feel free to reach out to me if you think this is something you’d like to know more about… I’m happy to have a chat about it.

Next month’s meeting is already scheduled…  we’re looking forward to Jim O’Neil coming to reprise his Boston Code Camp 23 presentation on Themes in Windows Universal (8.1).   Please join us!

Meetup:  http://www.meetup.com/Granite-State-NH-WPDev