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Know thy competitor

I don’t like the use of the word “enemy” when it comes to software development, as it adds some sort of religious feeling to something that should only be matter of business and pragmatism. Just so you know.

You almost certainly know that I’m a Free Software developer. And if you followed me for long enough, you also most likely know that I’ve had my stint working with Ruby and Rails, even though I haven’t worked in that area for a very long time and, honestly, I’d still prefer staying away from that.

I have criticised a number of aspects of Rails development before, mostly due to my work on the new Ruby packaging framework for Gentoo that has shown the long list of bad practices still applied in developing Ruby extensions designed to be used by Rails applications. I think the climax of my disappointment with Rails-related development was reached when I was looking at Hobo which was supposed to be some sort of RAD environment for Rails applications, and turned out to complicating the use of non-standard procedure way more than Rails itself.

It could then be seen as ironic that, after all this, my current line of work includes developing for the Microsoft ASP.NET platform. Duh! As for why I’m doing this: money is good, and the customer is a good one, and lately I’ve been quite in need for stable customers.

A note here: I’m actually considering moving away from development as main line of work and get into the “roaming sysadmin” field. Out of the recent customers I got, development tends to take too much time, especially as even the customers themselves are not sure how they want things done, and are unable to accept limitations and compromises for most of the situations. System administration at least only require me to do the job as quickly as possible and as neat as possible..

This is not the first time I have to work with Microsoft technologies; I spent my time on .NET and Mono before, and earlier this year I had to learn WPF and I’ve always admitted when Microsoft’s choice are actually better than some Free Software projects’ ones. Indeed, I like the way they designed the C# language itself, and WPF is quite cool in the way it works, even though I find it a bit too verbose for my tastes.

But with ASP.NET I suddenly remembered why I prefer Free Software. Rails and Hobo come nowhere near the badness of ASP.NET! Not only the syntax for the aspx files, which is a mix of standard html and custom tags, is so verbose that it’s not even funny (why oh why every tag need to contain runat="server", when no other alternative is presented, is something I’ll never understand), but even the implementation of the details in the backend is stupid.

Take for instance the Accordion “control”, which is supposed to allow adding collapsible panels to a web page without having to play with JavaScript manually, so that the page does not even have to carry the content of the panes when they are not to be displayed (kinda cool when you have lots of data to be displayed). These controls have a sub-control that is the AccordionPane, which in turn has a Header and a Content. I was expecting the “Accordion’s AccordionPane’s Header” would have a CSS class to identify it by default, so that you could apply styles over it quickly.. the answer is nope. If you want to have a CSS class on the header, you got to set a property on the AccordionPane’s control (which means once per sub-pane), so that it is exported later on. Lovely.

And let’s not forget that if you wish to actually develop an externally-accessible application, to test it on different devices than your own computer, you only have the choice of using IIS itself (the quick’n’dirty webserver that Visual Studio let you use cannot be configured to listen to something else than localhost)… and to make it possible to publish the content to the local IIS you got to run Visual Studio with administrator privileges (way to go UAC!).

Compared to this, I can see why Rails has had so much success…

Comments 2
  1. A possible solution, can you abuse PortProxy or a local reverse-HTTP proxy installation (maybe Apache) to expose the VisualStudio HTTP daemon on a port that listens to [::]?

  2. I have recently installed “XAMPP”:http://www.apachefriends.or… for a similar purpose and so far it did its job pretty well. You will have to enable the module in httpd.conf and add a VirtualHost configuration for your test domain to httpd-vhsots.conf.As regards your business model – I think “roaming sysadmin” is indeed the direction to go.

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