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Archive for September, 2009

I’ve used SSRS multiple times in the past and know of at least one instance where I’ll be using it again in the future so I was quite pleased to stumble upon Paul Litwin’s recent article regarding the current state of SSRS.

We’ve all heard that version 3 of a Microsoft product is when that product really hits its stride. And while I’m not sure of the truth of that software urban legend, I do have to say that Microsoft, with the release of SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services (which happens to be its 3rd major version), has released a gem of a reporting solution that is sure to please users of prior versions and bring more converts into the Reporting Services fold. The newest version of SQL Server Reporting Services is faster, can handle larger reports, supports a wider variety of browsers, and is more flexible thanks to the new Tablix data region, support for rich text content, and Microsoft Word as an output format.

One of the biggest, yet mostly invisible, changes Microsoft has made to SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) for SQL Server 2008 is that it has decided to ditch Internet Information Services (IIS).

I was dismayed to find that Reporting Services still doesn’t support a form-based security model out of the box.

One of my favorite improvements to SSRS is hardly mentioned by Microsoft but I know it will be very exciting for organizations like mine that need to support multiple browsers and platforms: the HTML rendered by Reporting Services renders nicely in most major browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari.

Speaking of rendering, Microsoft made a number of other improvements in this area too, including improved output to Excel and Text formats.

However, the big story here is the newfound support for the Microsoft Word format.

The Visual Studio-hosted report designer has gotten a significant makeover in this version.

Reporting Services textbox control now supports rich text formatting… Now imagine using the rich text support in SSRS to replace all of your desktop-based mail-merge solutions. In fact, when combined with SSRS support for scheduled subscriptions and the Word output format, one can easily envision a mail-merge operation that runs in the middle of the night and e-mails the “merged” documents to users or drops the documents in a network share folder. The only thing left to do is to print the documents!

A number of new chart types are also supported by the new release including stepped line, polar, Gantt, funnel, pyramid, histogram, and box charts.

via CODE Magazine – Article: SQL Server Reporting Services Hits its Stride.

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Just a reminder for myself on how to create a directory and copy a renamed file into it using the post-build event of Visual Studio.

rd /s /q "$(TargetDir)Temp"
md "$(TargetDir)Temp"
copy "$(TargetDir)$(TargetName).exe" "$(TargetDir)Temp"
rename "$(TargetDir)Temp\$(TargetName).exe" "SomeCustomerUsefulName.exe"
copy "$(TargetDir)Temp\SomeCustomerUsefulName.exe" "$(TargetDir)"
rd /s /q "$(TargetDir)Temp"

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Microsoft just announced a tasty new program that offers quite a bundle of free software to individual and small development companies. Sure it’s a shameless attempt to get people hooked on Microsoft products but I can’t fault them for it, they’ve got some good stuff and this will give more people access to it. Sweet!

WebsiteSpark is designed for independent web developers and web development companies that build web applications and web sites on behalf of others. It enables you to get software, support and business resources from Microsoft at no cost for three years, and enables you to expand your business and build great web solutions using ASP.NET, Silverlight, SharePoint and PHP, and the open source applications built on top of them.

via Announcing the WebsiteSpark Program – ScottGu’s Blog.

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Given the need of my “customers” to have something visual I started looking at wireframing and rapid prototyping tools. I wanted to be able to give them a rough sketch to spur discussion and ideas without the sketching method taking too much time and being more trouble than it was worth.

Back in the 1990s, when wireframing was a niche activity, you were pretty much limited to Visio or Illustrator. Nowadays there are a huge number of alternatives

via Help, we’re drowning in wireframing apps!- 90 Percent of Everything.

Turns out I didn’t know what I was getting into as there’s a ton of tools available! Fortunately, I found a few posts trying to make sense of what’s available.

http://ciohappyhour.com/wireframing-marathon-starts/
http://www.dexodesign.com/2008/11/07/review-16-user-interface-prototyping-tools/
http://articles.sitepoint.com/article/tools-prototyping-wireframing
http://www.adaptivepath.com/blog/2009/09/16/rapid-prototyping-tools-revisited/

So far, one of the market leaders appears to be Balsamiq, notable for what they don’t include as much as what they do. It doesn’t hurt that they gave me a free license! I’ll be giving Balsamiq a try for the near future, though I’m hoping the web version is released soon as I think it would make collaboration much easier.

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Heard about this via a software podcast over the weekend, definitely want to try it out.

# Create software mockups in minutes

# Collaborate with your team

# Focus on creating your product

via Balsamiq Studios.

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Quick pointer to a particular TortoiseSVN feature I wasn’t familiar with for some reason. This enables reverting to a previous revision easily.

The easiest way to revert the changes from a single revision, or from a range of revisions, is to use the revision log dialog. This is also the method to use of you want to discard recent changes and make an earlier revision the new HEAD.

via Roll back (Undo) revisions in the repository.

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The topic of a recent discussion, Doc-To-Help appears to be a documentation authoring tool. It does NOT appear to be a documentation generating tool. For documentation of .NET assemblies Doc-To-Help will take the output of Microsoft’s Sandcastle and add formatting, TOC’s, etc. As a quick reminder… “Sandcastle produces accurate, MSDN style, comprehensive documentation by reflecting over the source assemblies and optionally integrating XML Documentation Comments.”

The next question becomes whether Sandcastle can be run against Sql Server? The answer seems to be not exactly, based on this MSDN forum post. Fortunately, that post references the Sql XML Documentation article on CodeProject, which was mentioned during the discussion that started this post, and that details the intermediary tools required to extract the XML documentation and then import it into Sandcastle. The output of Sandcastle can then be fed to Doc-To-Help if something beyond the MSDN style output of Sandcastle is needed.

Reviewing the CodeProject article it quickly becomes apparent this is all very much a hack, even if it’s a thoughtful and best guess of what’s to come hack. The steps outlined in the article will of course need to be tested, and hopefully wrapped up into something easy to integrate with our development process. The MSDN forum post also suggests a tool I’ve previously reviewed, DocumentX!, but it’s currently unclear how well this tool handles the xml documentation most of the rest of the team would like to use.

As a disappointing final note, searching for “sql” onSandcastle’s CodePlex forum only returns one thread which suggests the same CodeProject article already discussed. Searching for the same on the official Sandcastle blog which has entries all the way back to 2005 returns “No Results”. I wouldn’t have thought Sql documentation would be so hard…

Sandcastle Project Blog
Latest Sandcastle Release on CodePlex

From Doc-To-Help’s website…

You only need one application to serve all your documentation and information needs. That is only one application to purchase and only one application to learn. With Doc-To-Help, you can write (or import), edit, and publish to multiple types of commercial quality desktop, print, and Web output right out of the box.

via Doc-To-Help Overview.

Microsoft’s Sandcastle utility automatically creates MSDN formatted reference documentation from .NET source code and XML comment files. Doc-To-Help integrates Sandcastle’s XML output into your projects, automatically creating topics, index, TOC, and other Help elements. You can build on this information by editing/adding your own topics, and linking to namespaces. This content integrates with the Help system in Visual Studio .NET (Help 2.0).

via Doc-To-Help Features.

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