An Hour with Dave Winer to talk about Visual Studio and Community


Recently I had the opportunity to spend an hour of time with Dave Winer to talk about Visual Studio and the community integration we are working on.  I didn't take really great structured notes but here are the fragments of the conversation I remember well.  Dave can fill in if I mis-represent anything or missed something cool.

Dave has the same problem with Visual Studio that I've been told about since I was on the academic team... There is no learning curve, there is a learning cliff.  We throw new users into an environment that is like a 747 cockpit when all a majority of users need/want is a reliable sedan... OK maybe a cool sports car that they can add on to and expand later on.  I talked to him a bit about our Express Sku plans.  I believe these will be great for people looking for that stripped down environment and cool starter kits, but I still think we need to address the learning curve problem in our higher end sku's as well.  

This led into an interesting conversation about how you can tell most IDE's are written and designed by developers because of the unnecessary levels of complexity that you can often find.  Sort of like die hard unix guys who just want complexity for job security and fear simplicity because it means they'll have to find something more creative to do with their time. 

We talked about sharing community code snippets. I envision a site where there are code snippets attached to framework classes ala the www.pinvoke.net site. People could submit their own, consume them directly from the IDE via search or an RSS feed, and even modify existing ones for the better. Of course there would be the problem of moderating this resource and somehow we would have to help users determine good versus bad code.  Dave personally wasn't to interested in this concept because he believed that it wouldn't really lead people towards generating elegant code that could be used to build platforms, but he saw it filling the need of a VB type developer who just needed examples to get work done. 

This led to a fun discussion about elegant pieces of code.  Those central pieces that are so good in a great platform that only a few people are really trustworthy enough to develop and maintain them and generally do a great job withstanding the test of time.  This is often a common complaint about Visual Studio.  We don't tend to lead people towards the development of "elegant" code because we focus so much attention on simply getting the job done.  IMO, it could also be a reason why "hardcore" developers will often prefer another tool to Visual Studio.  In reality, a tool is what you make of it, but it would be nice if we catered more towards the needs of the elegant coder to improve their satisfaction with our experience.  

As mentioned above, I'd like to see developer blog sites capable of embedding code snippets (we store them in XML format for whidbey) into RSS feeds automatically. Then, Visual Studio could always have up to date code snippets from your favorite blog authors.  Of course, you'll need a tool (why not just VS) to publish these special feeds, but if done right I think it would be really cool to "subscribe" to your favorite developer bloggers snippets feed. Dave saw this as a good use for RSS.   

I'm not sure I could gauge his interest in other potentially "built-in" community features like having IM integration with VS.  Like any other feature it might just be adding to the already complex set of menus and tool-windows unless there were some clear values provided to the consumer beyond just having their contact list visible while editing code.  Besides, who wants to be bothered when you are on a roll writing good code?

We also talked about how blogging has taken off at Microsoft. I'm of the mind that it's a culture thing.  It takes a bit of arrogance and feeling of self-importance/pride to have ones own blog.  While newsgroups offer a community channel where everyone is equal... a blog is about the main post and the author first, then comments second.  It's this sort of mentality that enables a movement like blogging to take off here. People here have a LOT of pride in their work and blogs provide a great opportunity for them to share their passion in a way it gets the right amount of attention.  We both agreed that this was, so far, only leading to good things for Microsoft. I've been amazed at the growth rate of blogs.msdn.com.  I just hope the culture keeps people interested for the long haul and it's not just the flavor of the month.  

In the end I really enjoyed our conversation and look forward to meeting him again.  I hope he could say the same and that I didn't come across as just some punk kid who wanted to stuff more buttons into the cockpit. 🙂

Comments (13)
  1. David Kyle says:

    Doing some Webcasts specifically on the IDE would be really helpful. When I started doing serious development with VS.Net, I had a great deal of trouble finding resources specifically targeting the development environment.

    It would still be helpful if you know of any good resources targeting VS.Net.

  2. josh ledgard says:

    David, is there any specific area you’d like to see us drill into in a web cast or would a more general overview be good?

  3. David Kyle says:

    Well, I have only done Windows Forms and ASP.Net projects, but some of the topics I would suggest covering are:

    -IDE configuration

    -Tools > Options… pages

    -Project configuration

    -Solutions configuration (Properties… from the solution context menu or project menu)

    -Project configuration (Properties from the project context menu or project menu)

    -Setup properties (Project > Setup Properties…)

    -Using the debugger and the debugger windows (command, autos, watch,…)

    -Using the Toolbox

    -ASP.Net

    -Layout and the HTML Designer

    -DataGrid Property Builder (or any other property builders that exist)

    -Database tools including design and query tools

    -Deployment projects including custom actions

    I know that looks like kind of a laundry list and isn’t as focused as you asked for, but those are the things I didn’t (and in some cases still don’t) understand in the IDE.

    Thank you for responding to my post.

    david

  4. josh says:

    Thanks for responding again David. I’ll see if I can’t get an IDE and project web cast setup. Would you mind if they covered the Whidbey versions?

  5. David Kyle says:

    I think showing Whidbey would be good. Thanks again.

    david

  6. Kevin Harder says:

    Josh, this a great post, and I’ve been meaning to coment on it for a few days but been too busy with work… I too am interested in sharing .NET code snippets in communities, and I’ve been tossing various ideas around in my head for the past couple months about how to implement it.

    Before .NET was born I mostly used ColdFusion to develop web applications, and one of the great features in the ColdFusion Studio IDE is a very powerful snippet window. Snippets are saved as XML, with metadata about them such as description and keyboard shortcut, and are arranged in groups by using ordinary file directories. You can easily change the location the IDE uses to reads/write the snippets to a shared network drive, so that the whole dev team has the same group of snippets.

    So anyways, I was obviously excited when I heard about the new snippets feature in VS2005, and I really want to create an add-in to VS2003 to manage code snippets. I was thinking it would save a developers personal snippets on the local machine as XML (ideally using same schema as 2005 uses), and be able to search for and add shared snippets via web services that implement a common interface and rate them. For example people could create public developer web sites or corporate intranet sites with useful code snippets that would be exposed via the web service.

    I had never thought of using RSS, but I love that idea. As you said it would fit in naturally with all the .NET developer blogs out there. Being able to bookmark a blog’s RSS snippet feed and browsing the shared code within the IDE would rock. Certainly better than searching through the HTML and then copying and pasting pieces of code to try out.

    Hopefully one day I will get around to working on this and creating an add-in and public service and/or rss snippet feed, just got to find some time. =) But when I do I’ll let you know!

  7. josh says:

    David: I’ll see if I can’t scare up a webcast or two for you.

    Kevin: Thanks for the feedback. It’s great to have ideas validated like this when I throw them out. It’s part of why I do this.

  8. Kevin Harder says:

    I have two big projects that I’m working on that will use the newly released Community Server 1.0:

    KevinHarder.com…

  9. Kevin Harder says:

    I have two big projects that I'm working on that will use the newly released Community Server 1.0

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