Revisiting Microsoft Forms: WinForms

This is a series of posts on older Microsoft forms technologies and reflections on what is really good about them. When I first used these platforms, I had strong biases against them, which were encouraged by co-workers and friends. Having spent over a decade building software in .NET, I’ve come to appreciate at least certain aspects of these tools, some of which are moving forward to .NET 5. Windows Forms, or WinForms, is one of those platforms, and I would like to spend some time talking through some really nice aspects of the framework.

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Onboarding API Sequence Diagram

State Transitions through Sequence Diagrams

This post is my contribution to F# Advent 2018. For years I’ve contributed here and there to a large number of projects, so it is hard to pick a topic. I decided to choose something that cuts across all my various hobby projects through the years and in which I recently found inspiration and practical value when designing software systems, specifically those portions of software systems that want to expose and/or enforce a correct sequence of user actions.

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Framework Design

I’ve been spending some time lately reading and listening to talks on Framework Design and Language Design. In particular, I’ve found Krzysztof Cwalina’s blog and PDC talk very enlightening. I also rather enjoyed the PDC panel discussion on the Future of Programming Languages. I find this all very fascinating, but in a recent desire to apply pragmatism, I wondered how any of this could really help me in my day-to-day development tasks. Except to program to the framework’s design for efficiency and consistency, I had a hard time with that question.

However, with regard to my new hobby of extracting reusable patterns from apps I’m building, I really appreciate the idea of extracting these patterns into small, reusable and interoperable parts. In the Future of Programming panel, Jeremy Siek noted the importance of libraries working with other libraries (e.g., ASP.NET with ASP.NET MVC or ASP.NET AJAX with many Javascript libraries). Some libraries, however, implement their patterns too tightly around certain patterns to the exclusion of others. This can increase speed—Ruby on Rails comes to mind—but removes the ability to use other patterns or pluggable libraries–such as with Merb or Ramaze–to keep to the Ruby frameworks.

JB and I are attempting to extract patterns from our current project to enable faster development in future WPF/Silverlight projects. The current plan is to build our library around Composite WPF, an excellent library from Microsoft’s Patterns and Practices group for building rich client applications in WPF, and soon in Silverlight. We’re planning to build a business layer framework with service interfaces to the Composite WPF library and use the Repository pattern to allow for various data access methodologies.

That’s a loose description of our plan. What do you think? Do you see any flaws? For instance, we are currently not thinking about interchangeable UI libraries, even though a few, such as Silverlight.FX, have started to appear. Are we missing any existing business layer libraries? (I am not familiar with any myself, but I imagine someone has created one somewhere.) We are interested in your thoughts!