| Comments

Ok I’ve seen all the announcements and read all the buzz.  I know some folks on the team as well and had heard all their raving about their offering.  It wasn’t until today where I really realized what was going on.  In fact I was thinking about titling this post: WordPress installed and configured in under 5 minutes, but it’s much more than just that.

Introducing: Web Platform Installer 2.

The team at Microsoft has been working hard to make getting your web platform (server and client) up and running quickly and taking any pain out of the process.  In one click you can have Visual Studio and Silverlight Tools installed, IIS7 configured, Smooth Streaming enabled, etc.

But it’s much more than just that.  You see the team partnered with the community and popular Open Source projects to provide much more than just Microsoft offerings.  Earlier today I wanted to check out WordPress templates in more detail and wanted them on my own server.  Let me set the stage for you.  My server is Windows 2003, IIS6, and has no SQL Server installed.  That’s it…a bare web vanilla front end.  I fired up WebPI (as it is affectionately known) and look what you see:

Web Platform Installer Applications

That’s right, WordPress as an offering.  No, not some hacked “run as .NET” version of WordPress.  The real deal from the WordPress project site…Microsoft hosts nothing but a simple manifest describing the project.  I selected WordPress and the tool knew what was missing from my environment: MySQL, PHP, FastCGI, etc. 

WordPress Install dependencies

I clicked “install” and literally in about less than 10 minutes I was running WordPress.  I’m not saying “installed” or downloaded.  In fact most of the time of that 10 minutes was from downloading the various bits.  When the “You’re finished” message came up, I had a working WordPress site, configured to MySQL, configured with a content database, etc.  I had to do nothing to configure my MySQL settings, I had to do nothing to my get PHP running on my site…WebPI did it all for me.  It was totally friction free.

It’s not just WordPress either.  Drupal, Umbraco, DasBlog, Subtext, ScrewTurn Wiki, etc.  And you can put your app there as well.  It really is a great resource not only for server components but also for client web platform stuff like I mentioned previously for Visual Studio and Silverlight developer tools.

Great job to this team and you all should definitely check it out.  They really did a good job.  My server didn’t get screwed up at all and everything “just worked.”  I think this installs WordPress faster than WordPress instructions! :-)

| Comments

I’m sure you’ve heard of the IIS7 Smooth Streaming information and perhaps even experienced it if you watched some of the NBC Olympics streams last year or the Presidential Inauguration this past January.  It’s a great experience for online media being able to seamlessly deliver quality media online without constant buffering when latency occurs in networks you don’t control, such as your customers’ ISP accounts.

You may have wanted to try out this experience yourself to see exactly what it does and how it works…as well as to simulate bad/good bandwidth.  Well, you can.  Here’s what you do:

  1. Ensure you have an IIS7 environment
  2. Download and install the Web Platform Installer which is an easy way to pick the package and have it (and any dependencies) installed for you
  3. Download the sample content (Big Buck Bunny – an digital cartoon rendered in various bitrates to simulate the experience).
  4. Download the UX Simulator player starter kit (this is the player shown below to simulate the experience)

Once you have all that installed and working, the sample content also installs a UX Simulator application which is a Silverlight application that uses one of the Expression Encoder player templates and also adds some nice features to simulate latent/changing network bandwidth speeds. 

NOTE: If you don’t have access to a server and want to try out this simulator yourself you can visit http://www.iis.net/media to see it live.

Here’s a screenshot of my session running.  The graph below shows what bitrate is being delivered.  Notice the marks where I indicate where I was seeking the media.  It drops down to that the user doesn’t get the dreaded buffering pause, but still continues immediately and then scales back to the highest quality media it can deliver.  The slider on the top right allow you to simulate a drop/increase in available bandwidth:

Smooth Streaming UX Simulator

Try this out if you are interested.  It’s a very high quality sample content, but you can also try out the UX Simulator on your own content if you use Expression Encoder and choose the adaptive profile to generate the Smooth Streaming files.  Watching the content via this simulator is a very cool experience to see it happen as it really does seamlessly change bitrates without impact to the user and without using a new stream.

| Comments

Apparently “soon” means “the next day” to the Encoder team :-).  On 28 OCT James Clarke told us all about the goodness that is coming to Encoder SP1 and noted it would be available “real soon.” Little did we know he had already clicked the publish process to the download servers. 

What are you waiting for, go start the download for Encoder SP1 and I’ll share my thoughts on some things here.

What’s in it?  I’ll pick my favorites: New Silverlight output templates, H.264/AAC support and IIS7 smooth streaming support.

H.264/AAC Device Encoding Support

SP1 brings the promise made earlier of supporting encoding profiles for H.264 and AAC.  For now we’re supporting two device profiles: 320x240 for smaller flash-based devices and 640x480 for larger displays (output container is single MP4).  As previously note, Silverlight will continue to evolve the codec support in the runtime and you should expect to see broadening support in Encoder for that as well.

I think this is a nice added value to a “service pack” for Encoder (I like how service packs are starting to introduce new features in some of our products).  Hopefully you can integrate this into your encoding workflow as well as one of your outputs.

New Silverlight 2 Output Templates

I personally know that this has been a desire of James and the team for a long time.  One of the things the team wanted to do was provide Silverlight 2 templates but also create a base that people can extend to their specific needs.  Here’s the new “Silverlight 2 Default” template:

It exhibits all the core features you’d expect in a media player base as well as things like closed captioning support and playlist support if needed.  As you can see the UI is also base.  The great thing is that the source for these templates is also provided.  The templates get dumped in the same location as the previous and in each new Silverlight 2 template you’ll also see a folder called “Source” that contains the source for that particular template.  If you look at the ExpressionPlayer folder in these templates you’ll see some of the base functionality that you may extend for your needs.

There are 6 new Silverlight 2 templates in all, with 2 audio-only ones for your podcast embedding in your blog and such.  The new output options provides a listing of the templates in the template directory separated by Silverlight 1 and 2 versions so you can quickly see them grouped by Silverlight version.  The preview window is still there and will provide you a preview of the template regardless of which version you select.  The advantage of using the Silverlight 2 templates is that you can quickly use the <object> instantiation methods and there is no dependent Javascript files associated.  The output of a typical encoding is: your media, default.html host page, and the XAP.  So if you want to swap out a different media player XAP based on an Encoder template, it is a cut/paste operation.  Take a look at the default.html page generated to see some of the initParam usage to drive the initialization of the media.

IIS7 Smooth Streaming Support

Additional support has been added to provide container output support for IIS7 smooth streaming, which provides a container for each bitrate to enable that adaptive streaming affect in delivering your media.  An example of this can be seen at the new SmoothHD.com site, which is using IIS7 smooth streaming and a delivery network provided by Akamai.  It’s some great video on good bandwidth, and even on non-high bandwidth you can see it scale quality as needed.

There are some additional enhancements that come with Encoder SP1 for your media so beyond these two features I’m highlighting here, you should definitely download the Encoder SP1 and take advantage of the features.  Hat tip to James and the Encoder team for this service pack and providing us improvements as well as new features!  Check out their team blog for a detailed post on all the new SP1 features.

| Comments

In IIS7 you can do very simple testing for SSL related site hosting.  It literally is like a 2 click process:

Enter a name for the cert and done, you now have SSL on your box.  Of course this is a self-issued/signed certificate so it will do you know good in the real world, but for most of the developer world it will work fine.  There may be those times, however, where things may not be quite working right and you want to eliminate the self-signed cert form the equation to make sure it isn’t the issue.

This was the need in my case.  I’ve been doing some messing around with secure services and Silverlight scenarios and ran into one issue that I needed to eliminate the self-signed cert and get a ‘real’ one.  Self-signed certs have a quirky behavior in browsers and I just wanted to eliminate that in my test.

I shouted out on Twitter an ask of “cheap ssl providers?” and got a few responses:

I always forget about GoDaddy when it comes to anything but domain registrations but they do have a lot of other services and this reminded me that they do have a good price on SSL certs ($30/year).  Having had previous experience (and happy with) InstantSSL I knew of their offering as well.  My goal was not to secure a beefy e-commerce system, or help secure personal information, etc.  I needed “https:” and that little icon :-) -- that’s it.  So for me, low cost was what I was seeking – I had no need for any of the deluxe offerings.

With that in mind I didn’t want to purchase a cert from each on of these just to see what the deal was.  That being said, this isn’t all too fair of a comparison of them all, but only 2.  Please keep that in mind.  GeoTrust was by far the most expensive and I can’t quite tell why to be honest.  RapidSSL was pretty on par with everyone else.  OpenSSL.  Well, it’s free if your time is.  I mean it isn’t necessarily integrated into every server environment (yes I know it likely is in Linux), so be aware that there is some setup there.  Remember my goal: fast and cheap.

GoDaddy was offering $15/year SSL certs and InstantSSL had 90-day free ones.  Both perfect for my needs.  I didn’t find out about GoDaddy’s deal until after I started down the path of InstantSSL (which you’ll see was quick).  GoDaddy’s $30 price tag for my purposes was enough for me to consider just doing the free 90-day one from InstantSSL. 

Both processes would require me to create a request from my server.  I’m taking that part out of the equation.  The time I’m talking about is from request to issuer to installation and operational. 

IntantSSL had a simple form.  I input my CSR text added my contact information and clicked submit. 

I was told I’d get two emails: one verifying me as the domain owner (pulling contact information from WHOIS…another reason to ensure you always keep this updated correctly) and once complete a second one with my cert.  By the time I was done reading that sentence, the verification email was in my inbox.  Click on a link, cut/paste a code, click submit.  Inbox now contained my cert and instructions.  Installation was a breeze as i just processed the request and pointed the file.  Seriously, the total time was < 8 minutes.  2 emails, one click.  Having been a previous customer I can assure you that the process is the same should I have opted for their 1 year basic SSL at $80.  Just as quick (adding the purchase step in).

In that time I saw a twitter that GoDaddy had a $15 deal promotion.  I figured, what the heck, that price removed any barrier for even my test use of the cert.  So I started their process.  It went something like this:

    1. Buy cert, add to cart
    2. Go through 3 screens of add-on service (clicking ‘no thanks’ each time)
    3. Checking out (fast/simple)
    4. Received email – instructions weren’t too clear on next step
    5. Logged into account
    6. Navigate to certificates…realized i bought a “credit”
    7. Activate “credit”
    8. Go to cert manager
    9. Enter request
    10. Wait for verification
    11. Recieve certs.

It still didn’t take very long, but was noticeably more steps and not clear direction for a lay person I’d have to say.  I received the cert in my email with a link to instructions.  I was warned of this on Twitter that there would be an extra step.  It isn’t that bad, but is an extra step.  GoDaddy needs some intermediate authorities to be on the box before your certificate is trusted.  They ship these with your cert so you don’t have to go digging.  This step does involve opening Management Console, etc.  and then going to finalize the request in the IIS manager.  Overall time for GoDaddy – I’d estimate 15-20 minutes.  Still not bad…and the price is right.

I’ll stick with my GoDaddy cert of course because at the $15 price I got a full year so no reason to change now.  I would have to say that GoDaddy and InstantSSL both offered the easiest and fastest route to request –> operational I could have hoped for in the process.  I imagine by the name ‘RapidSSL’ that they’d be similar.

One Twitter comment was:

instantssl is actually the best quality for the price I've seen.

And having seen their offerings and been through their process, I’d have to agree.  Either way there is a list of folks to look at.  I’d recommend InstantSSL first, then GoDaddy based on my experiences.

Oh yeah, OpenSSL is free…if someone can convince me that I could have set it up in < 10 minutes I would have tried.  It took me longer than that to figure out what I might even have to do!

| Comments

this morning, scottgu posted details on the roadmap for the .net web platform.  it is an exciting roadmap to me, so let me hit some of the highlights:

    • ASP.NET 3.5 Extensions - this will include the MVC framework, AJAX improvements, dynamic data support, asp.net and silverlight support, and ado.net data services (entity framework).  this release is expected to be available for download on the web next week in the first preview mode.
    • : because of the significant effort being made and features building in to the vNext version, we are changing the name going forward to reflect that effort -- thus silverlight 1.1 --> silverlight 2.0. we plan on releasing a beta of silverlight 2.0 in the first quarter of CY08 with a "go-live" license in limited scale. this silverlight 2.0 will include:
      • WPF UI framework
      • rich controls: core+some good stuff
      • networking support
      • rich base class library support
    • final release of IIS7 will be shipped as part of win2008 release early next year...for .net this is awesome as we (developers) will be able to better write code that sits closer to the pipe

i think all of these are great news.  of course i'm particularly excited about silverlight 2.0 changes/additions as i'll be finally able to start talking/showing things i've been holding back on because of the impending changes.  stay tuned to this blog for more tutorials that will encompass silverlight 2.0 features -- and of course, The Code Trip will feature silverlight and all of the above!