Category Archives: Development Toolbox

About open community – a tale of two tools

When you take a step back from a community for spell after being in the thick of it for some time, it’s interesting to see what you find upon return.

In this case, I’m referring to the .NET community and there are two stories that I want to highlight:

  • Documentation automation
  • Decompilation

Town of NDoc

Once upon a time, there was NDoc, a convenient tool to help developers produce reference-level documentation for their .NET assemblies and solutions.

A force from the Pacific Northwest determined that there was much value in NDoc, and Sandcastle was born. (Note: The chapter on NIH isn’t covered here, nor are the alleged actions of an individual in the NDoc “community.”)

Sandcastle was more about the command line than NDoc, and eventually Sandcastle Help File Builder arose:

Sandcastle was originally created by Microsoft back in 2006. The last official release from Microsoft occurred in June 2010. Until October 2012, it was hosted at the Sandcastle project site on CodePlex. In October 2012, Microsoft officially declared that they were ceasing support and development of Sandcastle. The Sandcastle tools have been merged into the Sandcastle Help File Builder project and all future development and support for them will be handled at this project site. The Sandcastle tools themselves remain separate from and have no dependency on the help file builder. As such, they can be used in a standalone fashion with your own scripts and build tools if that is your preference.

Assuming that Kevin Downs and others who originally contributed to NDoc are happily pursuing new ventures (and satisfied to see their initial efforts validated by SHFB et al), it seems like documentation automation is alive and well in the .NET community.

City of .NET Reflector

Once upon a time, Lutz Roeder authored and maintained the most excellent .NET Reflector decompilation tool for the .NET developer community. At its prime, I didn’t know a .NET developer who wasn’t actively using the tool and who wouldn’t readily nominate Lutz for knighthood.

But then .NET Reflector’s future changed

Red Gate will continue to provide the free community version…

Well, until they didn’t!

Other than referencing ZDnet’s coverage at the time, I’ll leave you to Google the rest of the flames that resulted from this decision. Suffice it to say that it got ugly, and the $35 price is now no less than $95 and as high as $195.

The severe curve in price hikes tends to indicate a sharp drop in demand. Furthermore, the original Reflector add-ins portal seems to have been abandoned, which is a shame–lots of solid contributions were made therein that I use to leverage frequently (er, once upon a time)…

So, in the face of a tool that was free but now costs almost a benjamin for the basic version, what to do?

Two potential alternatives quickly present themselves: Telerik JustDecompile and JetBrains dotPeek. Let’s start with dotPeek

I’ve had some experience working with JetBrains in the past to establish a more open stance. Unfortunately, that didn’t result in any great or lasting success:

It’s interesting to see other potential similarities, too, between the Omea progression and the dotPeek progression. For example, JetBrains originally realized Omea by hiring Dmitry Jemerov who authored Syndirella–ironically an open source project. More recently, the first dotPeek plug-in author, Matt Ellis joined JetBrains as a .NET development tools evangelist. Assembly list support is already baked into dotPeek 1.0 directly.

As I remarked on Twitter, I sincerely hope that JetBrains has embraced open development for dotPeek; otherwise, I fear reactions to dotPeek such as this one for Omea.

Switching to JustDecompile, one of my first (positive community-oriented) impressions came from reading the (timely) comments on this blog post.

Even the blog’s first criticism–needs registration for download–has been addressed. I agree that this was a bit heavy-handed, but now you can download JustDecompile straightaway and only provide/create account information if you want support for the free tool (during JustDecompile installation).

Telerik has posted two, free plugins, which installed easily (after I realized that you have to expand the .sflb files for JustDecompile to find the entry points as otherwise instructed). (Telerik, please update your instructions to make this clear.)

Time will tell if the .NET community will rally around this tool by submitting new plugins. It’s clear that Telerik is listening to the community it has (e.g. this feature came directly from the UserVoice site for JustDecompile), and that is a good start.

I wonder if things would have worked out differently if GitHub had been around at the time the original transitions for .NET Reflector and NDoc had occurred. (Lutz is on GitHub, just not including .NET Reflector due to its aforementioned transfer.)

Is it too late for .NET decompilation to become truly open, supported by a vibrant community?

In the tale of two tools, the formative city of decompilation could take some cues from the happy town of documentation.

Adventures with Twitter in Groovy

Have you ever wanted to get a better sense of an event’s commentary on Twitter? For example, a subset of your following may be attending an event in your periphery but making interesting enough comments to warrant a closer look.

Well, I’ve had these thoughts on an increasing basis lately so I thought I’d dive into the Twitter stream a bit to see what I could learn.

Fortunately, I was aware of a gist to query Twitter by @pmonks, and this Groovy script became the foundation for my exploration.

Since I don’t normally program in Groovy, I had to setup Groovy on my MacBook Pro. (To be clear, I went for “get this to work” rather than “accomplish your configuration with all best practices incorporated.” I’m sure there may be better techniques where Groovy setup on MacOS is concerned, and I thank you in advance for any comment-based pointers.)

  1. Visit the Groovy website and understand basic Groovy installation instructions.
  2. Downloaded the binary release (Zip) of Groovy 1.8.6 (i.e. latest available version of the stable branch at the time of this post).
  3. Extracted Zip contents and moved (via Terminal) them under my up-to-date Java distribution:
    prompt$ sudo mv ~/downloads/groovy-1.8.6 /usr/share/java

    (I’ve seen apparent best practice guidance to create a symlink that allows you to access Groovy without referencing the version number, but I’ve skipped that here.)

  4. Edit your .profile file to point your environment to your new Groovy installation. (If you don’t have a .profile file, read and follow this.)
    prompt$ open /Applications/ .profile

    Add (or confirm) the following lines in your .profile file:

    JAVA_HOME=/Library/Java/Home; export JAVA_HOME
    GROOVY_HOME=/usr/share/java/groovy-1.8.6; export GROOVY_HOME
    PATH=$GROOVY_HOME/bin:$PATH; export PATH

    Save your .profile file, exit TextEdit, close all open Terminal windows, exit Terminal and open a new Terminal window to enable .profile changes to take effect.

  5. Confirm that Groovy is ready to act on your script:
    prompt$ groovy -v

    My confirmation looked as follows:
    Groovy Version: 1.8.6 JVM: 1.6.0_31 Vendor: Apple Inc. OS: Mac OS X

For this particular script, queryTwitter.groovy, you need to provide a peer file that will provide to Twitter your username and password. Once that’s ready,

prompt$ groovy queryTwitter.groovy %23interesting_event

The results are ready to be nested within a table element, if you want to produce HTML for display as-is. However, you could also modify the script to render JSON output and pursue alternative visualizations (e.g. rate of tweets over time, geolocation of individuals in the tweetstream, word clouds for the event, influencer status, etc.)–something for D3.js.

D3 (Data-Driven Documents)

Examples of D3-based visualizations

“D3.js is a small, free JavaScript library for manipulating documents based on data.” -

Since I’ve been trying to spread the word with colleagues about this powerful, expressive visualization technology, I thought it might be worth sharing similarly here.

The following tutorials have been helpful in ramping folks up on D3:

D3’s creator, Mike Bostock, has published a white paper on D3 (Stanford Visualization Group) and presented D3 during the most recent W3Conf (browser-based slides).

A couple of spotlights on D3 include one by Flowing Data and another by SVG Magazine.

Flowing Data also posted an application of D3, “How Americans Spend Their Day” (background context).

If this whets your appetite, visit the D3 wiki for a whole lot more goodness (documentation, additional tutorials, example visualizations, etc.).

Update 8/30/2012: Mike Bostock posted his 3/5/2012 D3 workshop given at VIZBI 2012. Also since my original post, I discovered D3 for Mere Mortals and Christophe Viau’s Try D3 Now post.

Day community now a part of Adobe Enterprise Café

A little over a month ago, I encouraged my readers–many new from the Day Software (now Adobe) community via the Ignite conference in Berlin–to download and leverage Adobe Enterprise Café.

…the Café is hard at work to integrate the Day community as well. However, you don’t need to wait for that new version of Café; you can install Café today and when the Day community is integrated, you’ll receive that update the next time you launch the Adobe AIR application.

Hopefully you’re already receiving value from Café. If you held out for the Day community integration with Café, that day has arrived.

Presenting Adobe Enterprise Café 1.6!

Update 7/29/2011: Now that the Adobe® Digital Enterprise Platform (ADEP) has been announced, I recommend that you upgrade to Adobe Enterprise Café 1.8, which features a new ADEP community that is the combination of the previous LiveCycle and Day Communities.

Adobe® Digital Enterprise Platform community within Adobe Enterprise Café (since v1.8)

For technical insights on ADEP, please follow the ADEP category and/or ADEP tag herein. Thanks.

When content meets apps, Berlin edition

Thanks to everyone at Day Ignite Berlin 2010 who came to the technical track session that I presented this afternoon. In order to keep the conversation going, I’ve uploaded this presentation as follows:

During this presentation I recommended that you consume my “Realizing great customer experiences with LiveCycle ES3″ presentation from Adobe MAX 2010, if you’re interested in more details about the architecture and capabilities of LiveCycle ES3. You will find that presentation here.

I also asked you to consider downloading and installing Adobe Enterprise Café. Café, as we like to call it in Adobe, helps you stay in touch with the enterprise community, receive news, find information and aggregate content related to Adobe LiveCycle ES (Enterprise Suite), Acrobat, Connect, ColdFusion, the Adobe Flash Platform, and (since its v1.5 release) the Omniture community. Targeted at the general developer ecosystem, Café is the one tool you need to search across the entire community knowledge base and stay in touch with the Adobe teams. Furthermore, the Café is hard at work to integrate the Day community as well. However, you don’t need to wait for that new version of Café; you can install Café today and when the Day community is integrated, you’ll receive that update the next time you launch the Adobe AIR application.

When I presented this session with Alex Choy in Chicago, Irina Guseva of CMS Wire published her thoughts on the session: “Apps as Content, or How Day and Adobe May Fit Together.”