Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hacking the Xap for Business Intelligence (BI)

I did a post a while ago on 'Hacking Xap' files primarily around dynamical loading resources. The past few months I have been playing with another even cooler way to 'hack' xap files. In this case its about business and taking a precompiled xap file and instrumenting that xap file without recompiling your application or any code changes to the application. This kind of detailed usage information can be extremely helpful in looking at how applications are used and help identify key areas to focus on. From a hack standpoint to take a precompiled xap and put 'code' into all the method calls dynamically is just cool. Granted that collected information just doesn't show up on your desktop, you have to build a web service to collect the data but just the fact that I can take a precompiled xap and get it wired up without any jumping around is just cool.

so lets get to the meat of my experience...

I meet with a guy at PDC09 at well PDC from Preemptive Solutions http://www.preemptive.com/ and he brought up a tool that they have that is part of their 'dotfuscator' product. Most .net developers have either heard of 'dotfuscator' or seen it since its part of visual studio. But part of their main 'dotfuscator' tool is around 'Business Intelligence' and a little known additional feature that in my mind should be the main focus is my main interest and the subject of this post. In any case I got excited about this xap hacking tool er 'Business Intelligence tool' and he got myself a license.

So I got my license and found that getting it working is/was very problematic, not only a license key but an activation key and a bi key etc. I had to get a hold of tech support basically twice with an ongoing thread with their tech support... to be honest I'm no longer a fan of DRM or any other security system that prevents apps from running when installed or secures files. I understand that this is needed to keep software from being pirated and intellectual property stolen but preemptive got way overly excited with their implementation.

Install experience and setup aside it all seems pretty straight forward. The hard part of using the software is building the wcf service and collecting the data. Once you get a service up and running though you basically just need to load your xap and pick where you want to collect data in your app and point it at the web service. The fact that you don't need to re-compile your xap is just awesome. And from a ux standpoint getting this data really gives you insight into your application that you just couldn't get without writing alot of code up front.

If BI around usage of your application is important to you in building better Silverlight apps then this tool is worth the hassle of getting it setup. As a Silverlight 'guy' I would list this as a critical tool in your tool Silverlight toolbox.

So to be fair to the company they provide an endpoint that users can use and I'm told there is a codeplex project for helping you build an in house solution and put the results on a sharepoint web part. My only issue with that is having another company have my usage data which or course would be crazy. Certainly I would not want anyone having my data as I have virtually no trust in other companies and their network security... but alas others might be ok with that. and using sharepoint... well just say no ;) Sharepoint provides a great solution if you don't want to customize it too much... :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More On Pixel Shaders

So don't get to excited, I'm certainly not the apotheosis of man and pixelshaders like Walter (http://shazzam-tool.com/ ) but I do think they are really cool and along those lines I saw this great post off nokola this morning on 'Hue Shift in Pixel Shader 2.0' If your into pixel shaders this is a cool shader effict that as suggested in the title 'shifts the hue'. one of the reasons this post is cool is that it provides the shader source which makes worth while. :)


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Silverlight 4 - 3D (ish)

One of the great new features in Silverlight 3 was the ability todo psuedo 3d via what alot of us joke about as 2.5D. things like prespective transforms and the like.

One of my fellow MVP's Einar Ingebrigtsen got a bit zellous (must have been bored) and make this awesome tool kit for 3d (ish) in Silverlight 4. Granted its not native into the platform but honestly I'm not sure I want it built in. To much over head... But using a toolkit likeEinar's Balder really makes it reasonable.

Here is the Sample Browser:

and the code here:

from a ux standpoint I think the kind of visualization work for business is just awesome. Balder should be in everyones tool kit.