.net source code to be released

From ScottGu, the source code for the .net framework libraries is going to be released, and on a source code server. This is thrilling news. Makes me regret spending all this time within WPF internals through reflector! Does that include comments in the source files?


Software that sucks #1: Why you should do your testing on the train

This is a new rant series where I moan and exhibit my frustration with using some software that has been designed or tested by monkeys. I'll try as much as I can to be constructive and propose reasonable solutions, but sometimes there's just nothing to do to save software with poor design or engineering.

One more week-end, once more another 03:50 hours train trip. I do like these travel times as I feel I knock down work for this blog the most efficiently when I'm on the train.

One thing I don't have is proper connectivity. I have a Vodafone Mobile Connect ExpressCard for my beloved MacBook Pro, which does ensure a nice and easy 3g+ connection to the Internet wherever I am (how I wish apple would include a UMTS/HSDPA chip in their laptop so I could do without the express card). But you see, while France has a vast network of high speed trains on which they ensure mobile phones work (and Paris even has phone connectivity in the tube!), Shakespeare's land is not as gifted. Reception on the London - Manchester line is dreadful, with a few areas with 3G or 3G+ (if the train is stopped), some areas with GPRS, and a few areas where the signal drops too much for anything to go through. As a result, my card disconnects and reconnects every couple of seconds. And that's where I'll do my strangest assertion to date: If you develop any kind of connected application that may be used on a laptop, plan for your testing to happen on the train.

The regular loss of connection for a short while should be and is supported by the TCP stack to a certain extent. But your application *should not* rely on the connection being there. Separating the use of the data from the reception / emission of the data should be priority number one of application developers, and timeout / crash / retry management should be baked in. Outlook does this with it's offline Exchange mode, that separates the caching and receiving of emails between local and remote store, and the displaying of the local store.

However, Internet Explorer doesn't seem to work the same way. It has trouble with displaying web sites if the TCP connection gets suddenly suspended for a while: after doing a small network trace with ethereal, the data gets received again, but for some reason wininet decides to hang in there for a while and do nothing, even if you start a new tab. Closing and reopening the browser solves the issue.

Where it makes me scream is when it's not software, but drivers that encounter these issues. Like the ExpressCard driver. Has any of the engineers working on this driver ever tried it in low reception areas? Expect crashes, hangs, your mouse blocking for a few seconds. Absolutely dreadful. And all this on Windows Vista of course.

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MediaElement and MediaPlayer, and the ocx control fairy tale

As some of you know I'm always monitoring the msdn forums. I usually only step in the conversation when no one else had or when it's a complex subject I know something about. That leaves me with very few contributions :)

That said, I often read from Microsoft people and from external people that anything that plays in Windows Media Player will play in the WPF video elements, that it uses the windows media player ocx under the hood, or that the content runs in WMP in another process.

So I thought I'll clear up a bit how the rendering of video is done, from the few sources I've found and from some experimenting.

First I created a small WPF application containing a small video, and I ran Process Explorer on it to see what was actually loaded.


There's a few interesting things happening there which I think are interesting to naute. First let's review the components that are running. wmp.dll is the core library for Windows Media Player; quartz.dll is DirectShow related; evr.dll is the Enhanced Video Renderer; wdmaud.drv and dsound.dll are audio related; d3d9.dll is what is used for WPF rendering and part of Direct3D; and a bunch of filters like msmpeg2vdec.dll and some .ax splitters files that don't show on that capture. Finally, we have MilCore.dll.

We know that MilCore.dll is the unmanaged part of WPF, and is responsible for composition and rendering. It's built on top of Direct3d. We can deduct that MilCore.dll is the one implementing the audio / video playing, because it exports functions such as MilMediaSetIsScrubbingEnabled, MilMediaOpen, etc.

What we do also know is that for WPF to render video inside the composited graph, it takes whatever default DirectShow graph created automagically for a specific file, and replaces the normal rendering surface by the EVR. As explained on msdn, the EVR is a new renderer shipping as part of Vista that can be used for both DirectShow and MediaFoundation pipelines for rendering and compositing video streams. It's been said before that the renderer is also shipped as part of .net 3.0. Don't be surprised if some media center applications not built on WPF still have a requirement of .net 3.0 exactly for that reason: Leverage the EVR to replace the ageing VMR9. You can find more information on these on Msdn. Finally, the EVR supports a model where you can replace Presenters, aka the surface on which the video gets rendered. And we know from an msdn post that WPF ships its own Presenter.

In passing, that's where you may encounter scrubbing issues on XP. The presenter is the only component knowing intimately about your hardware. It's as such the one that will know about the vsync on your monitor. In XP, the custom presenter synchronizes with the composition engine, but that engine is only on one window. The windows themselves are still in GDI/USER32 land. Without knowing enough of how the composition engine works, I still assume tearing still happens exactly for this reason, even though the WPF content is a retained mode scene. On windows Vista, the same composition engine is used to do a composition for a WPF application or for the whole desktop. As I understand it, it is actually only one rendering tree, where GDI apps are just a node in the tree with a graphic, whereas a WPF app has a whole visual tree, which in turn is what lets the magnifier on Vista to properly zoom on WPF content.

Well, there you are. The difference between plain old Windows Media Player and WPF is large enough (different renderer) that there's no guarantees that a video playing in WMP will play without issues on WPF. All this still begs the question as to why is the WPF team using wmp.dll rather than go straight to DirectShow? I would place my bet on not duplicating engineering work, as Windows Media Player now supports initializing either the MediaFoundation or the DirectShow pipeline based on the file, and leveraging that support would save code duplication. Or it could be something completely different.

But what we can say is that the Windows Media Player process *is not executed*. We can also say that while it's true that there's a linking to wmp.dll and the use of COM interfaces, it is not possible to say if an actual ActiveX control or OCX is used or if some code is not leveraged for DirectShow/MediaFoundation graph construction.