An Update on Microsoft’s New Casablanca Release

A little over a month ago I wrote a post entitled, “Microsoft’s New Casablanca Release” about Microsoft’s newest Casablanca product. Niklas Gustafsson, a member of the Microsoft Visual C++ Team was kind enough to contact me and answer a few questions about this release. I decided that you also need to know the answers to these questions so that you can make an intelligent decision about Casablanca. As a quick recap, Casablanca is a new product that lets C++ developers interact with the cloud using REST.

The first thing Niklas pointed out is that Casablanca isn’t precisely a product—it’s what is termed as an incubation effort, something to see what is possible and will work. Casablanca is early in its life cycle and doesn’t provide either the quality or maturity that a released product would provide. to me, this means that you need to be careful using Casablanca. For the time being, it’s probably an interesting technology to play with, but you probably shouldn’t employ it in your production application because it will change quite a lot.

Even though I use C++ for utilities and low level program (as described in C++ All-In-One Desk Reference For Dummies), Niklas pointed out that many organizations use C++ for larger, line of business applications. In many cases, the reason for using a language like C++ for this purpose is that the organization has already made an investment in C++, so the language is familiar and the organization already has the required resources. I still can’t imagine creating a large scale user application using C++, but I’m also not the one trying to forge ahead in a large organization. It seems to me that using other languages would be simpler and less error prone, but I’m well-versed in using a number of languages, so I have the option of using the best tool for a specific task. In fact, Niklas summarized C++ usage for larger applications in the following points:

 

  • Raw performance
  • Portability
  • It’s what they know

To make his point clearer, Niklas provided me with a link to a whitepaper entitled “C++ and Cloud Computing” that makes a number of points clear. I encourage you to download this whitepaper and give it a read before you make any decisions regarding C++ and the cloud. It certainly helped me envision how someone might use Casablanca a bit better. For example, even a low-level application could need access to an online storage provider in order to access the information it needs. I also hadn’t considered some special areas of program, such as gaming, when I wrote my original post—I was thinking more along the lines of what a business developer would need.

With regard to my question about using REST, rather than SOAP, Niklas pointed out that REST currently enjoys far wider support than SOAP and that it’s simpler to implement. If Casablanca becomes a success, SOAP support could follow. So, at least the team is thinking about SOAP as a future addition.

It’s also important to remember that many organizations are only starting to think about cloud computing, so technologies such as Casablanca are still well ahead of the curve. Sometimes in reading the technical articles online, you get the idea that cloud computing is already well entrenched in the enterprise. The truth is that many enterprises are only now experimenting with the cloud and some will never use the cloud due to regulatory or other concerns.

I was really happy that Niklas took time out to contact me regarding Casablanca. I’ll be taking another look at this technology as the Visual C++ Team works on it and will likely provide you with an update sometime in the future. In the meantime, let me know how your organization is working in the cloud today at [email protected].

 

Microsoft’s New Casablanca Release

When I wrote C++ All-In-One Desk Reference For Dummies, I provided the reader with a view of C++ as a low-level language. It’s true that most developers use C++ to create command line utilities, drivers, embedded systems, libraries, and even operating systems. While I might use C++ to create a database engine, I probably wouldn’t use it to create a database application. I’d probably lean toward some combination of a procedural language such as C# or Visual Basic and a declarative language such as SQL or LINQ for the purpose. I’ve written database applications using PHP, Java, and a host of other languages, but never in C++ because C++ isn’t the optimal tool for the job. If you have a lot of apps to develop, you are probably better off using an online database software like Kohezion. Build your own online database application today without using outside vendors to cut your online database app development time.

Many developers have written about the strength of C++ being the flexibility it provides to perform amazing tasks. So, I was a bit surprised to learn that Microsoft has delivered a new product codenamed Casablanca that lets C++ developers interact with the cloud using REST.

In reading the blog post announcing Casablanca, I detect a lack of direction. I understand that C++ currently lacks library support for any sort of Web service access without buying a separate third party product. However, that’s all that the blog post tells me. It doesn’t provide me with any ideas of how Microsoft sees the developer using this library. Given that some people do write C++ applications, I imagine that Microsoft envisions developers creating full-fledged applications with their product, but the intent is a mystery (and will remain so until someone at Microsoft speaks up). The last paragraph of the blog post says it all, ‘We would love to know whether you’re interested in using C++ to consume and implement cloud services, and if so, what kind of support you want in order to do so, whether “Casablanca” is on the right track, and how you’d like to see it evolve.’ Apparently, Microsoft is hoping that the development community will come up with some ideas on using this product.

Casablanca also comes with some significant restrictions. The most important of these restrictions is the platforms that support it:

 

  • Windows Vista
  • Windows 7
  • Windows 8


This means you can’t use Casablanca to create a library for all of those Windows XP users on your network. It doesn’t surprise me that Microsoft would place these platform limits on the product, but I’m wondering just how many developers will be able to use Casablanca in today’s enterprise environment for a product application. The fact that Microsoft’s Casablanca site heavily promotes its use with Azure leaves no doubt that this product is designed for the enterprise (or at least, a larger business).

Another strange limitation is that the product only supports REST. At one time, Microsoft was promoting SOAP and many Web services still rely on this protocol. In fact, it’s actually easier to create a connection to a SOAP Web service in Visual Studio than it is to create a REST connection. I’m sure that Microsoft will address this limitation at some point, but for now, this remains a problem for developers.

Casablanca does come with the usual Microsoft bells and whistles. If you buy the latest version of Visual Studio, you’ll obtain a complete set of templates that will make coding access to a REST Web service easier. I’m sure that there are developers who are working with just the supported platforms, work with Azure, and have the most recent version of Visual Studio who will absolutely love this product, but I have to wonder how many developers outside this small core group will be able to use Casablanca to do something productive.

Normally, I try to find something positive to say about new product releases, but this one has me scratching my head. I’ve downloaded Casablanca and plan to play with it some more. If there are some truly dazzling features, I’ll post an updated blog entry later. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your input. Is Casablanca an amazing new product that C++ developers must have? If so, how do you plan to use it? Let me know at [email protected].

 

Review of ADO.NET 4 Step by Step

Microsoft has created a plethora of database technologies over the years. The managed form of ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) is just another in a long series of ways to access data from within an application. Because some older technologies, such as Open DataBase Connectivity (ODBC), are so entrenched, there isn’t any way that a single book can tell you everything there is to know about working with databases from a Microsoft perspective. When you add in all of the potential database products (SQL Server, MySQL, AskSAM, Oracle, DB2, and many, many others), the task becomes impossible. So, when I reviewed this book (supplied to me by the publisher), I didn’t consider completeness from the perspective of providing a single source solution to database management. In fact, given 25 years of experience, I feel that such a book is impossible to write—at least as a single useable volume. When shopping for a database management book, be sure you look for a book that covers both the required access technology (such as ODBC, ADO, or ADO.NET) and the database manager (such as SQL Server or MySQL) that you need for your project.

Tim Patrick has written ADO.NET 4 Step by Step with ADO.NET and SQL Server in mind. In fact, the book is incredibly focused and I applaud the author’s single minded devotion to this combination of technology and product. Other database books I’ve read just don’t seem to get the idea that watering down the message won’t work. While it might be possible to include multiple products in a book, trying to cover multiple technologies seldom works because there is too much to discuss and, even if the author successfully writes about each technology in an unbiased way, the reader tends to become confused. So the first thing you must know about this book is that it’s strictly about ADO.NET and SQL Servertry another book if you need any other combination.

This is the second Step by Step book that I’ve reviewed (see Review of HTML5 Step by Step for details of the other review). As with that other book, this book is heavy on hands on involvement and light on theory, which is just fine because many people learn better using hands on tasks. However, database management is a more complex task than creating a Web page because you have data integrity rules and other issues to consider that simply don’t come into play when working with a Web site. (To be fair, Chapter 12 does discuss data integrity, but mainly from a hands on perspectiveyou end up understanding how, but not what, why, or when.) I mention this because the hands on approach in this book does help you create applications fast, but it doesn’t provide you with everything you need to know to create good applications. For example, the discussion of ADO.NET components consumes a scant two pages. Database normalization is covered in a two paragraph sidebar in Chapter 2. The author is cramming a huge amount of theory in an incredibly small space and glossing over a lot of details. I would have liked to have seen some notes, tips, or sidebars with online resources as a minimum so the reader could fill in the missing theoretical details later.

The best part about this book is the activity. I was able to create a basic application in less than an hourfar faster than any other book I can remember using, even my own books. By the time you reach the end of Chapter 1 (about 15 pages), you’ve already learned how to create a connection to your data. Chapter 2 has you creating tables using several different techniques.

I loved the quick references at the end of each chapter. They act as a quick method of ensuring you got all of the details out of each chapter. If you read the entire chapter, you can go back to the quick reference later as a reminder of the things you learned.

Patrick provides a relatively good discussion of every aspect of managing the database and the information it contains using both C# and Visual Basic examples. Support for both languages is a good addition to the book. In addition, the support isn’t sporadic as it is in many books that favor one language or the otheryou’ll find most information discussed equally in both languages so neither language feels like a second class citizen.

Chapter 8 does discuss external connectivity, but it feels like Patrick is discussing the topic from the perspective of the developer who normally uses ADO.NET exclusively, which is absolutely correct for this book. You’ll discover how to interact with OLE DB and ODBC data sources. Unfortunately, as with many other areas of the book, the author digs right into using the connections without providing any theory whatsoever. This is another area where it would have been nice to have resources provided so that the confused reader could learn more. Still, everything works as promised, so there is something to be said for that. Many readers don’t want to know how it works, they simply want to know how to do something black box style and this chapter fits in perfectly with that mindset.

For me, the highlight of the book was Chapter 16. In this chapter, the author cuts through all of the usual garbage associated with objects and shows the bare essentials to use technologies such as LINQ. This is possibly the shortest, yet best conceived, coverage of the topic that I’ve seen anywhere. Again, you’ll find yourself lacking theoretical details, but the how discussed in an elegant way that will enable most readers to make use of these newer technologies in an incredibly short time. In fact, Part IV of the book goes on to cover LINQ in detail. I’m convinced that LINQ will eventually become the data query technique of choice because it’s relatively easy to understand, requires little code, and generally produces optimized results with little effort on the part of the developer. Obviously, the author agrees with me on this matter.

Overall, ADO.NET 4 Step by Step is a fantastic book for teaching you the “how” of database management using SQL Server and ADO.NET. In fact, you’ll learn how to perform many tasks that other tomes simply leave out. However, if you want to know why you’re doing something, when to do it, or understand the theory behind a task, you’ll need another book. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to get started quickly. You can always obtain a theoretical book to fill the gaps in your knowledge and you experience programming scenarios you don’t understand. The best addition the author could make to a next edition is some online sources to help the confused reader. Writing a database management book is tough, but it’s important to recognize that there are limits to what you can do and provide the reader with help in overcoming those limitations.