Microsoft's coding for noobs hits 1.0, decompiling to C# in Visual Studio, and Windows 10X makes its debut... on Mac

Also: No HoloLens 2 at Barcelona

Roundup While Windows wobbled under the weight of patches, the Microsoft gang updated development tools and buffed up a lure for startups among other shenanigans in this past week.

Small Basic Online turns 1.0

Microsoft's introduction to programming, Small Basic Online, has reached version 1.0 with a bucketload of updates to the editor.

In an effort to get users ready for the world of the Visual Studio IDE, the Small Basic team has made it a bit easier to check out available objects and methods through the Libraries Pane. The web interface also improves "auto filling" to pop in elements such as parenthesises and end quotes as well as an array of cleaner icon designs and hints when hovering over an object.

More usefully, debugging (stepping through code) has arrived, as well as better error handling and the ability to save and load files in .txt format. Handy for sharing files, but perhaps a missed opportunity to have students collaborate using a simplified GitHub.

It's a fun release and, since BASIC was something that this hack cut his teeth on many decades ago, amusing to see just how much wrangling is needed to get that old TI-BASIC procedural code up and running in the online editor (spoiler: quite a lot).

However, whether it makes sense to teach BASIC in this modern age is debatable. The likes of Scratch are a neat introduction to programming while the more ambitious might want to skip on to something like Python (or JavaScript for the true masochist).

Otherwise, three new languages are promised with version 1.3 of the desktop version followed by code parity across both Online and Desktop incarnations.

Decompiling with Visual Studio

Microsoft highlighted the ability of the Visual Studio preview to decompile managed code in order to take a peek at what might be going on in the depths of the source. Describing the function as a new "decompilation and symbol creation experience", the function is available in version 16.5 (and later) of Visual Studio 2019 and is based on the open-source ILSpy project.

Developers will be all too familiar with the scenario where the source or symbols for a given .NET assembly is not present, making debugging infuriating. As if to emphasise the point that there is no such thing as a binary nowadays, the decompilation functionality will have a crack at generating source code from the intermediate language (IL) format used in .NET assemblies.

When it works, it is both impressive and a little disturbing (if you'd not fully grasped what IL is). Alas, the generated code doesn't really look too much like the original source, since the likes of whitespace and original variable names aren't needed at run-time and so aren't preserved. There will obviously also be no comments – so you won't be able to see the original programmer's apology for the carnage that is unfolding.

While symbol files (represented by program database files suffixed with .pdb) have long been around, third parties don't always include them, making debugging tricky. The decompilation option will therefore be a handy weapon to have in the toolbox. Unless one can go full open source, of course.

Windows 10X makes the leap to laptops

From the department of "just because you could doesn't mean you should" comes news that Microsoft's latest attempt to drag its venerable operating system kicking and screaming into the modern age has made the leap from emulator to hardware.

In this case, the dual-screen OS (aimed at the proddable Surface Neo) has turned up on that bastion of never-going-to-have-a-touchscreen devices, Apple's Macbook Pro.

The developer responsible is the inveterate firmware fiddler Ben Imbushuo, who managed to boot the new OS on his Macbook a scant two days after Microsoft emitted the very, very preview code.

While we would not advise trying this at home (not least because the code itself is a bit wobbly at this early stage and there is the very real risk of a device being bricked), it appears to run OK, with the trademark dual screens spread across a single display.

Imbushuo's achievement is not entirely surprising – he has managed to boot Windows on a variety of devices in the past, from a calculator to a mobile phone. However, it is interesting to note how comparatively simple the installation was.

It bodes well for upgrades should the container-happy OS succeed, instead of doing a "10S" or "RT" in the Windows popularity stakes.

New toys for startups

Microsoft has added GitHub Enterprise and the Power Platform to its package aimed at startups while claiming that those on the programme are on track to notch up $1bn in the last year.

Microsoft for Startups is a cloudier version of the axed BizSpark, which shut up shop in 2018. The latter was all about giving startups access to software via MSDN while the former is, as is the way of things in Redmond nowadays, an altogether more Azure-heavy proposition.

Qualifying companies must have been around for less than seven years, take less than $25m in annual revenues and have "an innovative technical solution that supports customers in their digital transformation". You also need to be developing a "software-based product or service".

Those that get approved receive five subscriptions to Visual Studio Enterprise and 25 Office 365 seats for two years. $120k of Azure services is also up for grabs.

Alternatively, startups could dispense with Microsoft's wares completely and dodge the risk of being locked in from the outset. The need to run Visual Studio and Office 365 is less clear-cut than in the heyday of BizSpark thanks to free alternatives.

The addition of GitHub enterprise, however, represents quite a tempting proposition as teams scale.

Microsoft opts to skip Barcelona this year

After making a splash at 2019's Mobile World Congress, Microsoft joined the army of companies saying "no, gracias" to Barcelona as this year's event was called off.

With the HoloLens 2 facing its own issues, it was probably for the best.

And to be frank, sharing a sweaty set of idiot visors is icky enough without the thought of someone smearing new and exciting diseases on the things.

However, the cancellation does present an opportunity for those flogging the mixed, virtual or augmented reality headware. If popping on the gear could make one a virtual attendee, the current rash of conference cancellations might make visitors ponder alternatives to the soul-crushing travel normally involved. ®

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