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The Heunis Chronicles

Our Journey

Office 365: Is Teams cannibalizing Yammer?

Yammer was acquired by Microsoft in 2012 for US$1.2 billion and I think they had great expectations of it becoming a corporate social network. Equivalent to Facebook for companies.

But I doubt that this has realized for them. Yammer’s integration with Office 365 is confusing and flawed. For instance creating groups in Yammer has no correlation to Office 365 groups unless you specifically set it up that way. In this video Office Guru Darrell shows how to do this. But be very careful doing this, because once you’ve done this you can’t undo it (except by creating a Yammer ticket – and even that’s not straightforward).

Also you would think that once you’ve set this up, you should be able to join existing O365 groups. You’d be wrong! Enabling O365 connected groups allows you to create new O365 groups through Yammer which is then appropriately surfaced to SharePoint & Teams as well, but despite a popular UserVoice idea from 2018, you still can’t join existing O365 groups. For me and I suspect many others that’s a fundamental flaw.

I think there’s a lot of value in a fully integrated Yammer especially in light of the recent Facebook Workplace launch, but even after being part of Microsoft for 6+ years, Yammer just doesn’t have the maturity to realize the value. I also don’t see there being much momentum in terms of developing this product if one looks at the frequency of feature releases over the last 18 months.

Teams: Microsoft’s Killer App

That is juxtaposed to the fantastic value that Microsoft Teams provides. And I wonder if that is not the underlying issue. Teams is a runaway success for Microsoft – it is in fact their fastest growing app in Microsoft’s history, an incredible statistic! It is set to surpass Slack in short order.

I wonder if teams aren’t so enamored with the incredible integration, functionality and value of Teams, that Yammer’s use case isn’t immediately clear anymore and that for that reason it’s not being adopted anyway. Which means that Microsoft are hesitant to invest and develop this product. And as Teams continues to grow, I struggle to see a clear path forward for Yammer.

Philadelphia between Christmas & New Year

Yesterday we took a(nother) Philly sightseeing trip. This time we took the train with SEPTA’s Independence Pass. Friends informed us of this pass and for folks in the suburbs like us, it’s perfect for a day-trip to Philly. I always say this when we go in to Philly for fun, but it’s a great city. So much to see and do there at any time of the year. But between Christmas & New Year’s the city makes an extra effort.

We went to China Town, Macy’s (saw the Christmas show) & Dilworth Park where Elke – always up for a challenge – went ice skating. Then we had dinner at El Vez, an outstanding Mexican Restaurant.

It was such a nice day. And to top it all the Eagles won their game to reach the NFL playoffs so that added to the great vibe.

Fly Eagles Fly!

Enterprise-level web application architecture on Azure

Having been in software for 20+ years, the one thing that remains consistent is change. As soon as you think you have a technological stack working perfectly something new is released and disrupts it all! New technology often provides significant value so developers & architects are eager to utilize it, but it’s not always clear where “things go”.

I also understand very well that technology preferences are like the proverbial religious wars. Azure vs AWS, Angular vs React, Java vs C#, Linux vs Windows and so forth. And that’s OK. However this post is for people like myself, who feel comfortable with Microsoft’s .NET stack. The .NET Framework has been around since 2002 and that has allowed it to gain a lot of maturity. With .NET Core, Microsoft have applied the many lessons from .NET Framework to build a new & better platform. Read more about why enterprises are turning to .NET Core. I have no hesitation in recommending .NET Core for your enterprise-level web application.

I do also think it’s worth mentioning that Azure is purposefully not positioning themselves as Microsoft only providers. In fact, there’s a recent stat that shows how Linux now dominates Azure – who would’ve predicted this only a few years ago!?

So, at this moment time, I would use these components to build a brand new enterprise-level web application.

Infrastructure

Azure Web App on Azure App Service

Yes I know, what about containers? I love containers! Containers are great if you want to avoid maintaining an OS in the broad sense and you want to build for different OSes and providers. Docker has wonderful products and is fully supported in Azure with both Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS) and App Service.

However if you only require an application host and you know you’re going to stick with Windows OS and Azure, I would still recommend Azure Web App. It’s Infrastructure-as-a-Service, which makes it so simple. You can think of this as the same concept as a container, but it’s a little lower-level; so containerized IIS almost.

Azure Web Apps also provides everything you would need to run mission-critical web applications for the enterprise like scaling up and out, high availability, geo-replication and so forth across multiple slots (for dev, test & production environments for instance). It also has excellent insights (analysis) with almost zero setup. Not to mention real-time debugging with Visual Studio.

Server-side Framework

ASP.NET Core 2.2

Although the .NET Framework (currently at version 4.7.2) has been a very successful framework for a very long time, but for any new applications I would strongly recommend .NET Core (currently at version 2.2, although version 3 is in Preview at the time of writing).

.NET Core is a vastly refactored framework that is open-source (a fact often lost on many people), more compliant with better performance. It also has a great CLI for folks who prefer CLI and text-based editors over the powerful, yet bulky Visual Studio. I talk about IDEs and tools below.

To code the on the server-side you should use C#. VB.NET is not worth a long-term investment; despite Microsoft’s assurances I see this as a declining language. C# is a wonderful, continually evolving language that is as good if not better than any of the others.

Data Store

Almost all web applications require a data store. A common use case for web applications is dashboards, reporting or Business Intelligence (BI) from big(ger) data sets (often in Data Warehouses Blob Storage, Data Lakes etc.), but those data sets are mostly unrelated the web application itself and therefore falls outside the scope of this post. I might talk more about that in a future post.

Azure Cosmos DB

For web application data storage, I recommend Azure Cosmos DB especially if you’re comfortable with JSON and have an adequate understanding of document-based databases, also referred to as NoSQL. These databases are not relational like SQL Server or Oracle. But very often, especially for web applications, relational models don’t offer any extra value but add complexity and reduced performance.

Cosmos DB is enterprise ready with a great SLA.

Azure SQL Database

If you’re already comfortable with relational databases and don’t want to invest in learning NoSQL then you can’t go wrong with Azure SQL Database. It’s not exactly the same as SQL Server, but very similar. However it has significant enterprise-level benefits like scaling, availability, backups etc.

Be careful with security though. Microsoft’s suggested access pattern has it’s critics. Just ensure you’re compliant within your industry. Azure SQL Managed Instance (MI) might be a better choice if you require a more conventional VNET/Subnet security model.

JavaScript Framework

Angular 7+

For the client-side implementation of your web application, I confidently recommend Google’s Angular (also known as Angular.io or Angular 2+). Avoid AngularJS (also known as Angular 1); it’s a relatively easy framework to learn, but has some issues around performance and challenges with maintainability. With Angular’s tight integration with TypeScript it’s easier to maintain and safer to code with. It does take a little longer to set up, but it’s worth it.

React

Facebook’s React is also very popular and if you’re comfortable with it, use it. I’ve used both and I prefer Angular because of it’s tight integration with TypeScript as well as its clean patterns. React also has a TypeScript implementation, but it’s as well-supported as Babel, it’s own type engine. And I don’t see Babel as being as having the industry adoption that TypeScript has.

But they’re both excellent, well-supported frameworks. Vue.js is also getting a lot of attention nowadays, but it’s not one I’ve used. There has been so much written on choosing one so I won’t go into that again. I prefer Angular, but they all work fine with ASP.NET Core. Pick the one you want as indicated in the screenshot below.

Choose SPA Framework

Blazor (Web Assembly)

There is another experimental platform called Blazor that one should definitely be aware of for the future. It will build to a WebAssembly which is now supported by the mainstream browsers. This will mean you can code C# for the client-side! I think Blazor will be a major player in client-side development in the future. Very exciting indeed, but it’s too early at the time of this post.

CSS Framework

Bootstrap 4.1+

Bootstrap 4.1 is a very powerful and extensible CSS framework developed originally by Twitter, specifically with Responsive web design (RWD) in mind. Version 4.1 has some great improvements over the very popular version 3 and version 4.

Unfortunately version 4.1 still relies on jQuery and other 3rd party JavaScript libraries, but the intention is to rid the framework of these in version 5. So do look out for that.

With ASP.NET Core the client-side libraries have to be installed and updated with NPM packages. That’s a big topic on it’s own, so I won’t cover that in this post.

Real-time communication

SignalR

For real-time communication (chat, tickers etc.) use SignalR either in the application or better yet SignalR on Azure. It is a very specific use-case, but this is very cool technology that I’m very fond of.

Editors and other Tools

Code Editor

For folks who have been on the Microsoft stack for a while, Visual Studio is the go-to IDE. It’s a very powerful, rich & full-featured IDE that comes in 3 editions; Community, Professional & Enterprise. Community is free and fine for most cases. Visual Studio is now available on Mac, but it’s not open-source. The Enterprise edition is very expensive.

However unlike the old days, you don’t need Visual Studio to develop .NET applications any more. Because .NET Core was developed with a CLI, you can use any text-based editor to code for it. Notepad++, Sublime Text or, my favorite, Visual Studio Code all do the trick.

VS Code is also open-source and can run on all the OSes. It’s extensibility platform is quickly making it a developer favorite across tech stacks. It really is a great product. I’ll do a follow-up post on it at some point.

Data Access

If you’re using Azure SQL Database (or any other SQL Server-based data store) most people use SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). It’s a very powerful, but bulky application that does all one needs. It’s free, but not open-source and only runs on Windows.

More recently Microsoft has released Azure Data Studio. I really like this tool. It’s a much lighter open-source multi-OS application that is also free. See if you can spot the trend here! ūüôā

If you’re targeting Cosmos DB, you can use the Cosmos DB emulator for local development.

DevOps

Over the years, we’ve all seen these buzzwords. Web 2.0, Big Data, Machine Learning and so forth. It feels like DevOps is the trending buzzword currently! For those of us who have been using this for years (who remembers CruiseControl.NET?) it is encouraging.

I very strongly recommend DevOps and particularly the CI/CD part of it, but this is also a very big topic that I may post about in the future. For now though, look to Azure DevOps for all your needs.

Overview

Using these services, tools & frameworks you can develop web applications that can scale up and out to whatever you’re likely to need. With the knowledge that you’ll have the support of industry leaders like Microsoft, Google (or Facebook for React) and Twitter.

Happy coding!!

Girls on the Run 2018. Well done Cara & Len√©!

Elke’s team wins the league

It’s taken a few years, but today Elke and her team finally won an EBYA soccer league. Although she’s been playing for a few years now, this was Elke’s first year in the Girls 6th – 8th Grade division.

Coach Ron and the assistant coaches were fantastic. Elke learned a lot and the team had a great spirit throughout the season. The girls trained & played hard, especially in the semi-final. The final was a little bit easier, but the girls did very well to stay focused.

Great job y’all!!

Solved: IdentityServer’s RequireNonce is ‘true’ error.

My team has implemented the excellent IdentityServer3 for our Single Sign-On provider but we kept running into a very irritating and intermittent issue for some of our users:

IDX10311: RequireNonce is 'true' (default) but validationContext.Nonce is null.

The error occurred when our users were navigating to the https version of the site but they were being redirected by IdentityServer back to the http version of the site. They did this because some of them had the browser caching the https url and so they selected that instead of typing/selecting the http url.

The fix was simply to have them initially browse to the same url and protocol (http/https) that IdentityServer redirects to after log in.

Surface Book vs Dell XPS 15

I needed a laptop and so after doing some online research decided on Microsoft’s¬†Surface Book. Touted as a laptop first and a tablet second, it seemed¬†perfectly aligned for my requirements. The model I picked had¬†good specs (although a little light on the hard drive) and good reviews and I didn’t pick up on any of the Surface Pro 4’s well documented power issues. So it was with much expectation that I went ahead and bought one at a Microsoft Store.

It’s no secret that I am and have been somewhat of a Microsoft fan boy for a number of years, but it took me 3 weeks to realize that the Surface Book as a final product is not yet mature enough to replace a laptop of equal specs. It certainly has many very impressive features and some of the engineering is really impressive (power cord, detaching of the screen, the pen etc.). But it is not stable at all. It crashed often. When using Adobe Lightroom I was never able to work for more than an hour without a crash. I also had inconsistent battery issues, the screen would become unresponsive (similar to the Surface Pro’s issues maybe?) and the power button wouldn’t function requiring hard resets. I realize completely that some of these may be software related (the OS is predictably Windows 10), but I bought the whole system and as that it doesn’t imbue confidence.

There were also other reasons that the concept didn’t work for me and I realize this is personal preference. One of these being the pen. It is super cool when one first plays round with it, but it soon becomes a gimmick and for me didn’t add the value that I had hoped. The keyboard layout also didn’t impress me. I use PageUp and PageDown a lot but these keys have inconveniently now moved to function keys at the top. Other people may feel differently about these preferences I acknowledge.

I’m not one to easily return goods in this way, but I really regretted the purchase and so felt obliged tot return it. I did need a laptop though and, after more online research, swapped the Surface Book for the new Dell XPS 15. And I have to say that after a week’s use this was a very good swap. For slightly less ($2,099.00 for the Surface Book vs $1,999.00 for the XPS) I get significantly better specs (a 512GB SSD hard drive, 16GB RAM), an absolutely exquisite screen (the Surface Book’s was also very good) and it’s a very stable product. With all the same software, I have had zero issues. It obviously doesn’t have the tablet component, but for me this had less value on the Surface Book than I anticipated after the initial coolness factor wore off. So far, I’m very impressed with the Dell XPS 15.

It’s a pity because I can completely see where Microsoft are going and I definitely support it, but it turns out that to build a quality system takes a few iterations. I have no doubt that my guys (Microsoft) will get there in the end, but for now it’s not it.

Just a quick word about Microsoft Store. I used the King of Prussia store. I had a GREAT experience with them. The surface and their return policy is exceptional. I would without a doubt use them again and recommend them to anyone. They should continue to push forward on this concept.

A South African perspective on terror in light of the Paris attacks

I was deeply shocked and saddened by the events that occurred in Paris on Friday. Such calculated and extreme violence against an overwhelmingly tolerant and free society like France is very¬†disturbing. It doesn’t ever¬†compare to¬†the horror for the victims, but seeing it on TV¬†and social media¬†brings¬†it home in an unprecedented way. I hope France reacts decisively. On occasion¬†and reluctantly the liberties of a free nation has to be defended.

The thing¬†that has me searching for answers is the¬†following: what about the other regions¬†with similar extreme violence, but without the TV cameras? Exactly one day before the Paris attacks¬†40 people were killed by suicide bombers in Lebanon, Beirut – also by ISIS. I didn’t even know about this until- and because of the Paris attack.

In South Africa, my home country, there have been about 4,000 farm murders¬†since the end of Apartheid. These attacks¬†target almost exclusively white¬†farmers. The reasons are complicated and not always clear. My personal view is that it is a combination of greed and political/racial motivation. People are¬†murdered, raped and/or tortured after all that can be stolen has already been taken. As I’m sure it is in Paris, these events have a devastating effect on not just the victims, but so many people. I lost a great friend, a remarkable man and loving husband with 2 children and a third on the way, in a brutal unprovoked murder along similar lines 5 years ago on a day that I will never forget as long as I live.

And yet there are no prime time tears for these victims.

So while I empathize¬†completely with the Parisians,¬†I¬†can’t help but be sad that there¬†isn’t a bigger outcry over the terrors that continue to¬†play out in South Africa. I understand why; most people have no concept of farm life in South Africa whilst Paris is…¬†Paris. It’s not fair, but it is so.

Hibernia Park in the Fall

Having visited Hibernia Park in the middle of Winter and the first week in Spring, this was easily the most beautiful I’ve experienced it.

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