Getting to Know Microsoft ALM

Modern practices for software development and support are centered around four tenants of wisdom:

  • Agile – a methodology based on iterative development
  • Continuous Integration – frequent code commits, automated builds
  • DevOps – increased collaboration between development and operations
  • ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) – the management (governance, development, and maintenance) of software applications

In my earlier article, I explored the evolution of software development practices and how these new approaches have helped reshape and improve the quality, accuracy, and timeliness of software development.

Microsoft has invested heavily in creating tooling to support these modern techniques of software application lifecycle management. The company has embraced and promoted the capabilities of their products to support these strategies, so let’s take a look at what they actually offer, minus the jargon and marketing hype.

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The Evolution of Software Development Practices

The last twenty years has seen major changes in the technologies we use to build software, but most significantly, the way we build software has fundamentally evolved to improve the quality, accuracy, and speed of delivered software. This article takes a look at changing philosophies and strategies that has driven these improvements.

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A Brief History of Microsoft Azure

Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, Azure, is now five years old. I remember reviewing an early version of Azure in 2011, and my major takeaway was that the documentation describing Azure services and capabilities was incomprehensible, and the web-based user interface was difficult to use. Having had experience with Amazon Web Services, I thought Microsoft was going nowhere in their efforts to deliver a competitive alternative.

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Domain Registration Prices

I buy domains from time-to-time for potential resale value. The total annual cost is the most important factor when choosing a domain registration company. I usually use 1&1, but I’ve had a tricky, on-going customer service issue with them recently, which has given me cause to evaluate other options. The chart below summarizes recent findings for .com prices. I only considered well-known companies. I included the private registration option because I like to have this feature included on domain purchases.

First Year
Special Pricing
1&1 (pricing) $10.99 $3.99 Free
Namecheap (pricing) $10.87 No Free
Name (pricing) $10.99 $9.99 +$3.99/year
GoDaddy (pricing) $13.17 $7.99 +$9.99/year
Network Solutions $34.99 No +$9.99/year $38.00 No Free

From a value perspective, 1&1 remains the top-choice, with Namecheap a close second. Since I’ve had some issues with 1&1 and their domain management tools are not great, I’ll be giving Namecheap a try.

To Apple: How To Improve iOS

iOS, the operating system that runs on the iPhone and iPad, provides a pretty good experience for getting the most out of mobile device. iOS is at version 5 now, and while innovation continues unabated, there are some day-to-day annoyances that still haven’t been addressed. In this post I’ll share some simple (and a few not so simple) improvements that I’d like to see implemented to address some remaining usability issues.

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SharePoint and Chrome

I’m a SharePoint user and a Chrome user. Unfortunately, that’s not a good combination.  With the release of SharePoint SP1, Chrome joins that crowd as “officially supported, with limitations”. The limitations refer to some enhanced browser experiences that depend on ActiveX controls aren’t available. Not a big deal. I sometimes miss the Datasheet View, Explorer View, and Multiple File Upload, but I don’t use those features very often.

What’s more annoying is the file open functionality. Chrome insists on downloading files first before they are opened, which is at odds to SharePoint’s approach for editing a document. When I open a Word or Excel file stored in SharePoint from IE, the file path remains the http path to the document in SharePoint. This enables the transparent experience of checking out and in, and saving the document directly back to SharePoint. In Chrome, I have a document stored in my local Downloads folder, so I have to save it and then manually re-upload it. Yuck.

To workaround this, I would just remember to use IE when working with SharePoint. But the problem is that Chrome is my default browser and I get a lot of links to SharePoint documents that are sent to me by email. My workflow has been to click on the URL (which launches Chrome), remember I need to use IE, copy the URL, open IE, and pase the link into it.

So, I tried an IE Tab extension for Chrome today. I evaluated a few that were available and settled on IE Tab Multi. This extensions provides the ability to launch IE as a tab within Chrome. It has an ability to auto-detect URLs, so I entered the SharePoint site I use. It works great. Unlike the other, more download IE Tab extension, this one doesn’t suffer from a double authentication side-effect.

So, now my workflow is simple: click on the link. Chrome opens and my document launches just the way it would if I was using IE directly. As a bonus, I now get to use the full SharePoint experience without those “limitations”.


Firefox-Specific Problem with Google Font API

We started using the Google Font API recently to present our websites with type faces that are a bit more interesting that the standard Arial, Georgia, Verdana, and Times New Roman font available in all browsers. It’s very easy to use and the performance overhead is relatively small. Plus, the font choices are very high qualify and free.

However, for some reason, it wasn’t working in Firefox–even though it’s documented to be supported in version 3.5 and above. The odd thing was that the fonts rendered correctly from Google’s website, but not our own. We created the following simple test page to test in a variety of circumstances, and found that the problem only existed within our corporate network:

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="utf-8">
    <title>Font-Face Test</title>
    <link href="" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" />
    <style type="text/css">
        h1 {font-family:"Lobster", Arial, serif; font-size:200px;letter-spacing:-1px;line-height:1;margin:0;-webkit-text-stroke:1px transparent}
        Testing 1, 2, 3.</h1>

After a little investigation, we found the culprit. Our firewall is configured to automatically strip any HTTP headers that are not in a recognized list. For Google Font API to work in Firefox it is important that the Access-Control-Allow-Origin header be present. After adding this to our allowed headers list, the problem was solved.

Better Looking Documents in Google Docs

I use Google Docs on a regular basis, and decent looking documents are important to me. Not fancy, just professional.

The document editor in Google Docs is decent enough for productive use. It has a bit of friction though; it’s easy to create incorrectly formatted text, but it can be hard to fix the mistake.

This post distills some knowledge I’ve gained, and techniques I’ve adopted, for maximizing my productivity when writing Google documents.

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