Today was my first ever experience with Microsoft Tech Ed and it was a great one, what a fantastic conference! Across the course of the day, I attended a few different presentations:
Microsoft CRM 4.0 (Codename: Titan)
Across the course of the day, I attended three different presentations for CRM 4.0:
- reporting and business intelligence
- technical presentation aimed at developers to extend and enhance Microsoft CRM 4.0
The presenter noted that the difference between CRM 1.x and CRM 3.0 was a revolution, while the CRM 4.0 is more of an evolution. The majority of the functionality from Microsoft CRM 3.0 exists within the updated version, however with a lot of improvements along the way. Some of the items which caught my attention during the presentation:
- Brand new user interface, it looks fantastic. I actually thought Microsoft had released a winform application when he first opened it up and then I realised that it was running with Internet Explorer and my jaw pretty much hit the floor.
- Judicious use of AJAX throughout the product to reduce the number of popup windows and form postbacks required to get things done. Some of them are so subtle that you won’t even notice them (the best kind), such as an input box which turns into a drop down list when you enter a string and the AJAX’d response contains more than a single item.
- The entire work flow pipeline from CRM 3.0 has been replaced with the newly released Windows Workflow Foundation that ships as part of .NET 3.0. It isn’t possible to write your own custom work flow and deploy it into Microsoft CRM 4.0 just yet, however it’s a feature that they are well aware of and plan to implement soon. In the mean time, the presenter thought that if you implemented all of the appropriate interfaces in the WF component and edited the XAML manually that it’d probably ‘just work’. Of course, until it ships with the functionality to load in your own custom work flow components, they are never going to suggest that as a recommended strategy.
- To support the service based environment that most organisations operate within now, it is possible to implement asynchronous activities. Of course, you could then implement an activity when the data relating to the asynchronous event completes.
- Since Microsoft CRM 4.0 is going to be deployed as a Microsoft Live product, significant work has taken place to increase the performance of the application. Considering the presenter was running it on his notebook, with two virtual PC’s running and all the associated server related services; it was very fast – so I can only imagine how fast it’d feel deployed on quality server hardware.
I’m very pleased that I attended the Titan presentation, even if I’m not going to use it immediately. It has really opened my eyes as to what the product is capable of and I can already see fantastic applications of it within our business.
Internet Information Services 7 (IIS7)
IIS, the Microsoft web server, has been undergoing heavy surgical procedures since version five. IIS5 was a horribly slow, hard to configure product that no one wanted to use and the market share that Apache held reflected that. With the release of IIS6, many of the problems of IIS5 were resolves or at least reduced – however what they had still felt as though it was largely IIS5 with some spit and polish. The release of IIS7 feels as though they have finally unshackled themselves from their forefathers and are starting fresh.
The big highlights in IIS7 which I love are:
- A fully integrated request pipeline, which means that all requests (static, .NET, PHP, CGI, ..) all take the same path through the server.
- IIS7 is built around a modular architecture, much like Apache. This is a good thing on a few levels but primarily for security, memory consumption and performance.
- Developers are able to extend/enhance IIS7 through the use of modules and handlers, which can intercept the requests at virtually any point in the request/response cycle. The modules can be written in managed or unmanaged code using languages such as C, C++ or .NET.
- Configuring IIS7 is a snap with its new web.config inspired configuration. Everything about the web server is configured within these XML files, even the loading and unloading of modules from each virtual host.
- A new kernel level output cache is available, which can cache any response regardless of how it was generated. No longer are you limited to using the output cache which is part of ASP.NET, using the kernel level output cache you can just as easily cache PHP, CFML, CGI and so on.
- Performance improvements across the board, especially for filters which were utilising the CGI interface within IIS. IIS7 now implements the Fast-CGI interface which has dramatically improve performance. During the presentation, the presenter compared a PHP photo gallery running under CGI, Fast-CGI and Fast-CGI with kernel output caching which results in 13, 57 and 920 requests per second on his laptop.
There were a lot of other very cool things which are available in IIS7, unfortunately you need to be running Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 to get access to it; of which we’re not just yet.
Windows Communication Foundation
Daniel Crowley-Wilson gave a quick half hour presentation on using Windows Communication Foundation to deliver RESTful web services. For a long time, .NET developers have really only been able to deliver remote services through SOAP and WS-* which work however aren’t the nicest things to deal with. I was very excited to see what looked like a clean implementation of REST; in fact I would have loved if Daniel had of had an hour or so to provide a little more comprehensive presentation but it what he delivered packed a good punch for 20 minutes!
Windows Workflow Foundation
Throughout a few different presentations, Workflow Foundation was demonstrated. As mentioned toward the top, Microsoft CRM 4.0 utilises Workflow Foundation for all of its workflow components and individual presentations demonstrated it directly. Developing against a framework like Workflow Foundation to perform complex flow related tasks just makes sense as it removes so much of the complexity. After talking to a few people and seeing it in action a handful of times in the last month, I can see clear advantages in upgrading certain components of our enterprise stack to use Windows Workflow Foundation.
I can’t wait for Tech.Ed day two, I’m going to really enjoy attending another IIS7 presentation and I hope to find the time to get in a couple of the fast paced half hour Chalk Talks.