The big announcements on the new ASP.Net runtime were made a couple weeks ago, but I write very slowly these days, so here’s my delayed reaction.
Less Friction and a Faster Feedback Cycle Maybe?
I’ve started to associate .Net “classic” with seemingly constant aggravations like strong naming conflicts, csproj file merge hell, slow compilation, slow nuget restores, and how absurdly heavyweight and bloated that Visual Studio.Net has become over the years. Plenty of it was self-inflicted, but I felt at the end that way too much of our efforts in FubuMVC development was really about working around limitations in the .Net ecosystem or ASP.Net itself (the existing System.Web infrastructure is awful for modularity in my opinion and clearly shows its age and the MSBuild model is just flat out nuts).
In contrast, my brief exposure to Node.js development has been a breathe of fresh air. My preferred workflow is to just start mocha in “watch” mode in a terminal window with Growl notifications on and continuously code in Sublime. The feedback cycle between making a change in code to test results is astonishing fast compared to .Net (admittedly less awesome when using lots of generator functions or using WebPack to bundle up React.js JSX files or running tests in Karma) and the editor is snappy.
ASP.Net vNext is very clearly a reaction to the improved development workflows you can get with Node.js or Golang. In particular, I’m positive or at least hopeful that:
- The Roslyn compiler is fast enough that auto-test tools in .Net “feel” much snappier
- The new package resolution functionality is much faster than the current Nuget
- The new runtime is much more command line friendly. I do particularly like how easy they’ve made it to expose commands from Nuget packages in the project.json declaration. That was a big irritation to me in the existing Nuget that we eventually solved by moving to gems instead for CLI tools.
- The new project.json model is so much cleaner and simpler than the existing MSBuild schema. I hope that translates to easier tooling for scaffolding and much less merge hell than .Net classic
- I’m impressed with how much activity is happening around the OmniSharp project, because I’d like to be productive in C# without having to fire up Visual Studio.Net at all — or at least only when I want ReSharper to do a lot of heavy refactoring work.
- The abomination that was strong naming is gone
The Spirit of Openness
I like that the ASP.Net team has posted their code for their next generation work on GitHub. The best part of that for me is that they moved the code over before it was completely baked and you can actually see what they’re up to. Even crazier to me is that the ASP.Net team seems to actually be listening to the feedback (I’ve felt in the past that the ASP.Net team hasn’t been all that receptive to feedback).
Compare that to how the tool that became Nuget was developed. Nuget was largely conceived and built in secret at the same time that a pair of community efforts were trying to build out a new package management strategy for .Net (Seb’s OpenWrap and the Nu project to adapt RubyGems to .Net that I was somewhat involved in). Contrary to the pleasant sounding legend that’s grown up around it, Nuget is not a continuation of a community project. Nuget partially took over the name and asked the guys doing Nu to just stop.
The Nuget episode is irritating to me, not just because of how they de facto killed off the community efforts, but because I think they made some design decisions that caused some severe problems for usage (I described the problems I saw and my recommendations for Nuget earlier this year). Maybe, just maybe, the usage and performance problems could have been solved by more contributions, awareness, and feedback from the larger community if Nuget had been built in the open.
Kill the Insider Groups
Most of us didn’t known anything about Nuget or the new ASP.Net vNext platform before it was announced (I did, but not through official channels), but Microsoft has several official “Insider” groups that get much more advance warning and theoretically provide feedback to Microsoft on proposals and early work. I’d like to propose right now that these self-selected “insider” groups be disbanded and much more of these conversations happen in more public forums. My reasoning is pretty simple: there are far more strong developers outside of Redmond and that list than there are on the official list. My fear is that those types of insider, true believer clubs can too easily turn into echo chambers with little exposure to the world outside of .Net — and I feel that my limited involvement with that list frankly confirms that suspicion.
I was not a member of the ASP.Net Insider list until somewhat recently. If I had been aware of the plans for “Project K” earlier, I would have shut down FubuMVC development much earlier than I did because so much of the improvements in ASP.Net vNext make some very large development efforts we did in FubuMVC irrelevant or unnecessary.
OSS and the Community Thing
I’m guilty of spreading the “.Net community sucks” meme, but that’s not precisely true, it’s just different than other communities. What makes .Net so much different than many other development communities is how the majority of it revolves around what one particular company is doing.
So much of .Net is open source now and they even take contributions. Awesome, great, but my very first reaction was that it doesn’t matter much because the .Net community as a whole isn’t as participatory as other communities and that would have to change before ASP.Net vNext being OSS matters. It’ll be interesting to me to see if that changes over time.
With few exceptions (NancyFx comes to mind), OSS projects in .Net struggle to get an audience and build a community. I just don’t think there are enough venues for community to coalesce around OSS efforts in .Net, and I think that’s the reason why we have so much duplication of OSS projects without any one alternative getting much involvement beyond the initial authors. I do suspect that the .Net OSS community is much better in Europe now than North America, but that might just me having become such a homebody over the past 5 years.
Mono is More Viable and Docker(!)
I thought that trying to support running FubuMVC on Mono was a borderline disaster, to the point where I didn’t want to touch Mono again afterward (it’s a longer conversation, but beyond the normal aggravations like the file system differences between Windows and *nix we hit several Mono bugs). With the recent announcements about open sourcing so much more of the .Net runtime, the PCL standardization, and the better collaboration between Microsoft and Xamarin on display in Miguel de Icaza’s blogpost on the .Net announcements, I think that building applications on server side Mono is going to be much more viable.
Like just about every development shop around, we’re very interested in using Docker for deployments. The ability to eventually deploy our existing .Net applications as Docker containers could be a very big win for us.
We wanna code on the Mac
I resisted switching over to Mac’s for years, even when so many of my friends were doing even .Net development on their Macs, just because I was too cheap. After a couple years now of using a Mac, I’d really prefer to stay on that side of things and hopefully give my Windows VM much more time off. Mac OS being a first class citizen for the new .Net and the progress on the OmniSharp tools for Sublime or MacVim is going to make the new ASP.Net vNext runtime a much easier sell in my shop.
I think we might just head back to the new .Net
We’ve been working toward eventually moving off of .Net and I have been trying to concentrate my side work efforts on Node.js related things, but the truth of the matter is that we have a huge amount of existing code on .Net and a heavy investment in .Net OSS tools that we just can’t make go away overnight. If the feedback cycle is really much better in the new runtime, we can code on Macs, and use Docker, our thinking is that we’re still better off in the end to just adopt the better .Net instead of rewriting the existing systems on another platform.
vNext & Me
I have no intentions of restarting FubuMVC itself, but we’ve put together a concept for a partial reboot called “Jasper” that may or may not become reality someday. I do want to move our FubuTransportation service bus to vNext next year. At work we *might* try to extend the new version of ASP.Net MVC to act more like FubuMVC to make migrating our existing applications easier if we don’t try to do the Jasper idea. StructureMap 3 is already PCL compliant, so it *should* be easy to get up and going on vNext.
In the meantime, I think I’m going to start a blog series just reviewing bits of the code in the ASP.Net GitHub organizations to get myself more familiar with the new tooling.