Products, the Universe and Everything

The Riverblade Developer's Blog

Beth demonstrating Visual Lint at the ACCU Conference 2008  Anna taking part in a discussion panel at the European Software Conference 2007 

Welcome to our developer's blog. We hope that this forum provides an insight into us, our products and how we develop them. Please feel free to write to us if you have anything to add to any of the posts here.

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Visual Lint 1.0 has been released
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I'm happy to be able to announce that our Online Store is now up and running and Visual Lint 1.0 is now formally available.

You can now download the current build ( from the Downloads page.

If you wish to buy one or more licences, we can take orders by credit card, fax or email as appropriate. We've spent the last few days placing test orders to ensure that there are no hiccups in the merchanting or registration process, and I'm happy to say that everything seems to be working perfectly.

One thing I've not talked about previously here is the licencing model for Visual Lint. Although it is a shareware product with a 30 day trial licence, we do support a minimum level of functionality on unregistered copies for which the trial licence has expired. In such cases the software reverts to a "Free Edition" which still allows you to perform manual analysis within the IDE, although of course advanced features such as background analysis and reports will not be available unless a licence is purchased (which it can be at any time later).

We will of course continue to refine and improve the product, so if there is something you feel should be included or could be improved upon please let us know. We welcome your feedback.

Finally, we hope you will find Visual Lint to be as big an asset to your developer toolbox as it has to us.

Posted by Anna at 20:50 | Get Link


Are we nearly there yet?
Friday, November 25, 2005

I'm happy to say the answer is 'yes'. After just over a year of development (we started in October 2004) Visual Lint 1.0 is ready to go!

Since the beginning of the month we have shifted from our usual fortnightly build cycle to a weekly build in preparation for the release. Although during that time we have mostly focused on fixing bugs and minor inconsistancies, we have also taken the opportunity to add some minor enhancements (such as more detailed reports and additional information in the Analysis Status Display). If the feedback we've received from our testers is anything to go by these are proving to be a very useful addition to the product.

Although the Visual Lint Downloads page on this site has not yet been updated and we are still in the process of setting up our online store (a saga in its own right, due to the lack of clarity in EU VAT regulations), we are now in a position to make Visual Lint available.

The direct link to the download is: v1.0.0.40.msi.

The cost for a single Visual Lint Standard Edition licence will be $139 US or £79 GBP, with appropriate quantity discounts available for those who require 5 licences or more. If your organisation wishes to purchase licences, please contact us. Remember that you will need a valid PC-Lint licence for each installation of Visual Lint.

Note that any direct orders we receive for licences will be invoiced for payment directly, using currency rates in effect at the time we receive the order. We regret that we do not have the facilities to accept direct credit card orders, although we will be able to accept them through our online store when it goes live.

We hope you find Visual Lint to be a useful addition to your Visual Studio toolkit, and welcome your feedback.

Happy Linting!

Posted by Anna at 21:12 | Get Link


Watching MS push Visual Studio 2005 down a greasy slipway...
Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Yesterday was an interesting change from our usual routine - we took a day out to travel up to London to attend one of the Visual Studio 2005/SQL Server 2005 launch events. It's actually the first time either of us has attended a Microsoft event, so we didn't know quite what to expect other than it would probably be a busy and interesting day.

Attending a developer conference is usually a pretty expensive undertaking (a full 5 day registration costs for VSLive costs an amazing $2,795, for example), but with this being a launch event Microsoft did the decent thing and made it free. The carrot (if one were needed) to get everybody's interest came in the form of rumours that MS would give a free licence for Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition and SQL Server 2005 Standard Edition to each attendee. Given the value of the software, that's a pretty big carrot for anyone who doesn't have a current MSDN subscription and would like to use the new tools.

The event was held at the Novotel centre in Hammersmith, which was thankfully (given the temperature) only a short walk from the tube station. We actually arrived a little early at 11am (registration was from 11:30am) so we had to wait around for a short while. We weren't the only ones by a long way!

The day began with registration and lunch (quite healthy, all things considered) while everyone wandered around the various booths on the ground floor (Team System, SQL Server, BizTalk and as well as launch partners such as HP, SAP and Microsoft Dynamics) and a stall selling technical books. After a short while it became obvious that a long queue was forming at one table labelled "Please help yourself". No doubt others (as we did) wondered if complimentary software was being distributed there, and didn't want to miss out. In the event, with the exception of Beta copies of BizTalk Server 2006 it was just blurb. Then again, we do queues well in Britain.

Before the Keynote address at 1pm we did manage to collar a couple of MS people regarding Visual Studio and VSTS. Of course, there was no-one there who knew anything significant about extensibility, but we didn't really expect to find that at a UK event anyway. One of the SQL Server guys did admit to having dabbled and had a hard time with it though, so maybe we shouldn't feel so bad on those days when we feel like we're banging our head against a DTE-shaped brick wall...

What I did find disappointing however was that once again, Microsoft people were evidently forgetting that managed code just isn't appropriate for everything. When I asked the inevitable question about C++ support in the VSTS Designer (which isn't exactly UML it seems - another disappointment) her face dropped and I was told they only supported C# and VB.NET. Given that I wouldn't be at all surprised if the VSTS unit testing fails to support unmanaged projects, too. That's a real shame...and one that just reinforces the impression that parts of MS have forgotten that there are plenty of projects for which managed code is simply not the right choice.

Even if that wasn't an issue, the product split and pricing is - as many others in the industry have pointed out all to eloquently. Suffice it to say that if your team includes developers who also architect systems and perform unit testing and wish to migrate to Team System, it is going to cost you £7,222.11 per developer for the first year of a Team Suite Subscription.

It's clear to me that MS have gone wholehearedly for the Enterprise with this one. As a direct result, I suspect a lot of developers working in smaller teams are going to miss out. Bad call, Microsoft.

Incidentally, there's a good overview of Team System in the article Lap Around Microsoft Visual Studio Team System 2005.

Anyway, back to the day. The Keynote address was everything you'd expect from MS. A huge plasma screen dominated the auditorium (it would have to be big, with 1000 people in there. The chairs were pretty narrow though. Even with my fairly small frame, I was jammed up against my neighbours), and the presentation and those that followed it were impressive. Although the presenters once again assumed that it was ".NET, the Universe and Everything" what they had to show seemed to me to almost justify their enthusiasm. Aside from the major overhaul that Visual Studio has undoubtedly had (with the risks that brings) the one thing that stood out was integration. Even BizTalk (which I've not seen before, but which certainly is impressive when looked at from a business perspective) uses the Visual Studio interface.

I was particularly impressed by the improvements made to SQL Server 2005 in the area of fault tolerance and improved availability. Also of note is that the Standard Edition now supports two low end clusters can be produced at lower cost than with 2000.

There was little time to break between sessions, so it was a pretty intense experience overall. We did get one bit of light relief when Outlook crashed during one of the sessions though! Of course that was met with laughter and applause - after all, we've all been there...

The only session I attended which wasn't on the main Technical Track was the Chalk n Talk session on Visual Studio Tools for Office. Given that the automation model for Visual Studio is closely related to that of the Office products, I was expecting the material to be pretty familiar...

It wasn't. MS are investing heavily in "Click Once" technology for managed Office extensibility and the results are impressive to say the least. Imagine extensions that can be deployed inside Word or Excel documents and automatically update via the corporate intranet when necessary and you aren't far from the truth. The one big downside I can see if that this works only with Office 2003, and doesn't yet support Access. I can't help but think of the parallels with Visual Studio Solution add-ins, so maybe we'll see some innovations in that area in future too. Incidentally, the presenter was plugging a book called Visual Studio Tools for Office as the best reference to the new stuff pretty much all the way through the session. If you're into Office extensibility, it might be worth a look.

When the last session finished at 6pm we all headed back down to the ground floor for the "Community Reception" which was to close the day. As well as the bottled water, juice etc. which had been provided free throughout the day they'd also laid on chilled bottles of (not very nice, I have to say) wine and beer.

More importantly, at one of the stalls in the centre of the room MS representatives were collecting our passes in exchange for an "Orange Voucher" entitling the holder to a complementary copy of Visual Studio 2005 Professional * and SQL Server 2005 Standard.

    * Attendees at the US launch events received VS2005 Standard Edition, so it's to Microsoft UK's credit that they actually included the Professional Edition.

All in all, a very interesting day...and it was certainly nice to be given some of the tools we will need to progress our own products over the coming months:

Posted by Anna at 18:15 | Get Link


Platforms, Platforms, Platforms
Thursday, November 10, 2005

The dilemma of which which target platforms to support is a neverending one for software developers and vendors. Inevitably, whatever conclusion you reach will inconvenience someone, somewhere. It's one tricky balancing act.
As an ISV specialising in extensibility products for Microsoft Visual Studio we are largely constrained by the platforms supported by it, which simplifies things somewhat for us.

According to Microsoft, these are the platforms currently supported by various versions of Visual Studio:

Visual Studio 6.0:

  • Windows 95

  • Windows NT 4.0 SP3

  • Windows 98

  • Windows ME

  • Windows 2000

  • Windows XP
(Visual Studio 5.0 is probably very similar - I couldn't find a readme for it).

Visual Studio.NET 2002:

  • Windows 2000

  • Windows XP

  • Windows NT 4.0
Visual Studio.NET 2003:

  • Microsoft Windows Server 2003

  • Windows XP Professional or Home

  • Windows 2000 Professional or Server
Visual Studio 2005:

  • Windows 2000 SP4

  • Windows XP SP2

  • Windows Server 2003

Supporting the most recent operating systems (Windows 2000 onwards) is generally not difficult; it's fairly unusual to come across a vital API call which is Windows XP or Server 2003 specific.

On the other hand, the legacy operating systems get progressively harder to support - and in particular the Windows 9x series is a real pig. Fortunately, few people are likely to use them for development work these days, so we are probably on pretty safe ground supporting WinNT 4.0 onwards or even Windows 2000 onwards.

Given all that, it shouldn't come as a surprise to hear that we perform most of our development using Visual Studio .NET 2003 under Windows XP Professional SP2, with testing being carried out on various Visual Studio versions under Windows 2000 or XP. With the imminent release of Visual Studio 2005 we now have a new platform to test against, and in time possibly a new primary development platform (the testing we've done so far indicates porting our VS2003 code will be almost trivial).

However, it's pretty clear from listening to the development community (just go and ask in the CodeProject Lounge if you aren't convinced) that many (most?) C++ developers favour either Visual Studio .NET 2003 or Visual C++ 6.0 on either Windows 2000 or Windows XP.

Our download Statistics for ResOrg (which has separate versions for VS 5.0/6.0 and VS2002 onwards) support that hypothesis. Over ht epast few months, our Resorg downloads broke down as follows:

PeriodVS2002 onwardsVS5.0/6.0
Nov 200558.3%41.7%
Oct 200550.6%49.4%
Sep 200555.7%44.3%
Aug 200551.2%48.8%
Jul 200545.8%54.2%
Jun 200554.5%45.5%
May 200536.0%64.0%

It's clear from this (as if we needed convincing!) that Visual C++ 6.0 is still a very heavily used platform, which poses an obvious question for us - should we support it in forthcoming products (notably Visual Lint)?

I've no doubt the demand is there at the moment, but unfortunately there are some practical difficulties. The extensibility model of Visual Studio 6.0 is feeble to say the least, and with Visual Lint relying heavily on features of the new automation model such as Toolwindows, a port would be very difficult.

It isn't impossible, however. As the articles below attest, some of the features we need are certainly possible, even if the automation model doesn't support them:
However, even with the advanced (and risky) techniques described in these articles, a Visual C++ 6.0 add-in is unlikely to be able to match the level of integration possible in VS2002 onwards. Of course, it might just be enough.

There is a maintenance issue of course. Supporting separate VS 6.0 and VS2002/2003/2005 builds (as we currently do for ResOrg) is costly and time consuming. To mitigate this one of the possibilities we've seriously looked at is producing an add-in which can support both the legacy platforms (VC 6.0 and even 5.0!) as well as the newer ones (Visual Studio 2002, 2003 and 2005).

Oz Solomon's Project Line Counter is the only add-in I'm aware of which has such capabilities, and although it is onerous to implement, the result - a single add-in binary which runs on every version of Visual Studio from 5.0 to 2005 can certainly make it worthwhile.

Of course, Visual Lint is a much more complex product than Project Line Counter, so producing a VS5/6 compatible version would be far from trivial. Nevertheless, we are more than willing to do it...but only if we are convinced there is likely to be a real market for the resulting product by the time we've produced such a version.

If you need Visual Lint to run under Visual Studio 6, please let us know. The more of you we hear from, the more likely we are to be able to do it.

Posted by Anna at 23:38 | Get Link