Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Now on Kindle: The Programmer's Guide to Quality Assurance

The Programmer's Guide to Quality Assurance is now available digitally on Kindle.

As I mentioned in my original announcementThe Programmer's Guide to Quality Assurance is a book on testing and quality assurance aimed at programmers, not quality assurance professionals. It's about software developers taking ownership of the quality process instead of merely reacting to it. It covers your role in software quality, building in quality, testing your own work, functional testing, hostile testing, automated testing, analyzing & debugging, fixing bugs completely, and bug causes & remedies. Lack of software quality is a rampant problem; programmers need to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

The Kindle edition of this 275-page book is only US $9.99, which makes it very affordable to give each developer on your team a copy. If you've already purchased the paperback edition, you can get the Kindle edition at a lower price through Amazon's MatchBook program.

Friday, February 26, 2016

My New Book: The Programmer's Guide to Quality Assurance

I'm pleased to announce the availability of my latest book, The Programmer's Guide to Quality Assurance. This is something I've been working on for a long time, and I'm happy to finally see it published.

This is a book on software quality that targets programmers, not quality assurance professionals. Why did I write it? Simply put, the state of software quality today is, well, pretty awful. Your average software project has far too many bugs—and far too many developers willing to accept that as normal. After three-and-a-half decades of developing software and managing teams, I've grown weary of projects where everyone works really hard but no one is satisfied with the results. It doesn't have to be that way: programmers can and should take ownership of the quality process instead of merely reacting to it. My book is about programmers becoming part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Part I is about taking ownership of the quality process. As a developer, you are the key ingredient in software quality. While others on your team can influence quality, what you do matters most since you actually produce the software.

Chapter 1: Your Role in Software Quality
Chapter 2: Building in Quality

Part II is about testing your own work, and testing it well. Failure by developers to sufficiently test their own work is the reason projects have high bug counts: the software entering formal test is frequently incomplete and unfinished.

Chapter 3: Testing Your Own Work
Chapter 4: Functional Testing
Chapter 5: Hostile Testing
Chapter 6: Automated Testing
Chapter 7: Analyzing and Debugging

Part III is about learning from your bugs. Those who fail to learn from their bugs are doomed to repeat them. Only by making changes can you escape from a chronic bug problem.

Chapter 8: Fixing Bugs Completely
Chapter 9: Bug Causes and Remedies

The support site for the book is http://programmerquality.com.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bringing Back the XBox

I was recently happy to make the purchase of a used Xbox. No, not an Xbox One or even an Xbox 360. I'm talking about an original, black Xbox.

Original Xbox

If it seems odd to go back two generations, allow me to explain.

The Way It Was: XBox in the early 2000s

My history with the XBox starts when I lived up in Washington and worked for Microsoft. I won a contest testing employees' knowledge of EAI, and the prize was an XBox. I brought it home, along with several XBox games purchased at the Microsoft Employee Store. At the time, my girls were 6 and 4 and my son was an infant.

The games we found most compelling on the original XBox were Midtown Madness 3 and Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb.

Our Favorite XBox Games

Midtown Madness became an instant family favorite. It has a lot more humor than most driving video games, and lets you drive around (or smash up) Paris or Washington DC in great detail, by yourself, with a second player, or with robot players. You can race, perform challenges, or just cruise around. It's a hoot.

Midtown Madness

Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb is also great fun. Who doesn't want to be Indiana Jones? You go through a series of levels in the jungles of Ceylon, then in a castle in Prague, later to Istanbul, and finally to various parts of China. You fight, whip, explore, make discoveries, battle monsters, and have to solve puzzles. It's epic and captures the experience of being Indiana Jones very well. It took me 4 months of weekends to get through all of it, and I loved every minute of it.

Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb

Aftermath: The Later Generations and No Backward Compatibility

As much as we loved our XBox, it eventually died. The logical thing to do was get an XBox 360, which is what we did. The 360 had some nice improvements, such as wireless controllers... but also one big, glaring flaw: it wouldn't run games for the original XBox! No Midtown Madness, no Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb.

I was stunned. In the computer hardware industry, it's the norm to retain compatibility with earlier platforms so software applications will continue to work. Not doing so disrespects the customer's investment and doesn't give customers any incentive for brand loyalty. Microsoft certainly understands this principle well in general, but not at all in the XBox division.

There was some outcry about this, and Microsoft did institute a compatibility program where some games were updated to work on the XBox 360. But the games we loved were not included in this effort.

And so we bought some new games that worked on the XBox 360, but none that we liked as much as the original XBox games. The makers of Midtown Madness 3 did not come out with an XBox 360 version. The makers of Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb had plans to come out with another Indiana Jones game title for the newer videogame platforms, but ended up scrapping those plans in favor of a Star Wars themed game.

Highly, highly disappointing. As years went by, my family continually reminded me of how they missed those original XBox games.

More recently, Microsoft announced their third generation gaming platform, XBox One. I paid much attention: would they change their tune about maintaining compatibility? No such luck: XBox 360 games do not run on the Xbox One, Microsoft had learned nothing. I decided then and there I wouldn't be getting an XBox One or any future Xbox platforms. It's bad enough to have been burned once.

Getting a Used Xbox: The Magic is Back

Recently, I had the opportunity to pick up an original first-generation Xbox -- and we love it. We're happily ripping up Paris again in Midtown Madness 3. I've been able to introduce my 11-year old son to Indiana Jones and we are now going through it together level by level.


Follow-up - 6/17/15:

It seems there's been feedback from enough people who feel like I do that Microsoft has decided to change its stance on backward compatibility. They have announced XBox 360 compatibility for the XBox One. This will only be for a select subset of titles, however, so whether your favorite 360 game makes the cut or not remains to be seen. There's nothing here for compatibility with original Xbox games.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Moto X Gen 2 Phone

I just upgraded to a new phone, the second-generation Moto X from Motorola.

Back in November 2013 I blogged about my experience with Motorola's first-generation Moto X phone. I've used that phone for the last 15 months, and like it a great deal (with one notable exception: the grass cracked just a month after I got the phone which has been a bummer. Then again it was probably my own fault for not being more careful with it.) I've really come to value many things about this phone. I especially like its size and hand feel, and its innovative active notifications feature, which updates just a few pixels of your turned-off screen to give you notifications in a super battery-efficient way.

Active Notifications

Recently, I decided to upgrade to the new second-generation Moto X, which I received one week ago. When I got the previous first-generation phone, Google had purchased Motorola which was one of the attractive features since I'm not a fan of carrier bloatware on Android phones. Motorola was since sold off to Lenovo, but I ultimately decided to stay with the Moto X family since I liked the first generation so much. Fortunately, the customer ordering experience, phone quality, and very-latest-Android aspects of the Moto X have not been impacted.

The ability to custom-design your phone remains a compelling feature of the Moto X. After ordering my new phone at my local AT&T store, I received a voucher card. At home, I connected to  the Moto Maker site at https://www.motorola.com/us/motomaker, entered my upgrade code, and proceeded to design my phone. There are some nice new options available, including several wood and leather back choices (wood or leather costs an additional $25, and you need to be careful where you put your phone to avoid stains). I ultimately chose a white front, bronze accents, and a cognac leather back with my name inscribed.

Lots of choices to customize your phone

Moto Maker online designer

Less than two weeks later, my phone arrived. After following a short online procedure with AT&T, my new phone was linked to my existing number. I did not have to relocate any SIM cards.

Moving to a new device always raises the question of how much work you'll need to do to get your apps and data and configuration replicated. I'm happy to report that not only is that well-addressed by the phone, but three different parties are all looking out for you. Google, Motorola and AT&T all provide software/services to assist in phone upgrade data transfer. My first inclination was to use the Motorola Migrate application, which moves apps/data/configuration from old phone to new over your WiFi network--and that's largely what I did. Since contacts are managed by my carrier, I also utilized AT&T's facility to move my contacts over. While I was doing all this, Android on the new phone automatically prompted me to restore backed up apps and data from my old phone. Motorola Migrate is easy to use: the new phone scans a QR code displayed on the old phone and they communicate over your WiFi network. All in all, it only took about 15 minutes to move everything over and it was painless - everything was done for me automatically.

Motorola Migrate

Hardware-wise, the phone has a powerful processor and a good camera, two areas for which the original Moto X was sometimes criticized. The processor is a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801. The rear main camera is 13 megapixels (previously 10) with a circular dual-LED ring flash (previously single-LED). The front camera is 2 megapixels. There are a lot of nice features in the camera, and they have been thoughtfully engineered.  I don't know about  you, but it usually takes me some time to get acquainted with phone camera features and I often end up not using many of them because they can be cumbersome to get to. That's not the case here: camera features and settings are discoverable and easy to get to. Touch the camera to take a photo, or hold your finger down to capture photos in burst mode so you can select the best shot(s) afterward. You can take Ultra HD video and slow-motion video. You can even quickly summon the camera app with a double shake of the wrist.

Moto X Camera Settings

One concern I had was with the size of the phone. As is common right now, phones are getting larger and the Moto X is no exception: it's gone from 129.3 x 65.3 x 10.4 mm (gen 1) to 140.8 a 72.4 x 9.97 mm (gen 2), and the screen from 4.7 to 5.2 inches with a beautiful AMOLED display. Admittedly, a larger display would be easier on the eyes, but would the larger phone be more difficult to handle? The original Moto X was just perfect for your hand and allowed many things to be done with just one hand. As it turns out, I've had no problem with the larger size phone. It still goes in and out of my pocket easily and has not been cumbersome to use.

My favorite feature is still there, Active Notifications, along with a great new feature that complements it well called Attentive Display. The phone has low power IR sensors on the front and can recognize when you wave your hand or a face is looking at it. This means you can wake up the time and notifications display by simply waving your hand. When looking at the phone (for example reading messages or an e-book), the screen won't time out and go dark on you. It may sound a little spooky that the phone knows when it is being looked at, but this feature is really well-implemented.

Last but not least, there's Android Lollipop. Android prompted me to upgrade to the "L" release (Lollipop) the first day I had the phone, which I proceeded to install. I like the new Android release and its "material design" UI very much. Big UI changes are not always pleasant to adapt to, but this one was.

It's only been a week, but so far I'm loving this phone. It's really a pleasure to use, thanks to the features and little refining touches Motorola has added and the careful way they've been engineered for usability.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Azure Storage Explorer Preview 3 Now Available: Queue Support, Blob and Table Enhancements

I'm pleased to announce that the next installment of Azure Storage Explorer 6, Preview 3, is now available. Preview 3 adds Queue support along with expanded blob and table features. We've already posted a detailed walk-through of Preview 1 and Preview 2; now let's take a tour of what's new in Preview 3.

Queue Support

Preview 1 provided Blob support and Preview 2 added Table support. Now in Preview 3 you also have Queue support. Similar to how blob and table support work, you have a list of queues in your outline at left. When you select a queue, the top messages in the queue are listed in the main pane at right.

Message List

Actions you can take on queues include creating a queue, deleting the selected queue, or refreshing the queue list. Actions you can take on queue messages include refreshing the message list, creating a new message, creating a copy of an existing message, or popping the top message off of the queue (deleting it). When creating or copying a message, you enter or edit the message text that is to be inserted into the queue.

Creating a New Message

Enhanced Blob Support

We've made several enhancements to blob support. The earlier previews did not include the $logs container, which will exist if you have turned on logging and monitoring for your blob storage. This container is now listed if present.

Earlier previews did not show all blobs in the selected container, such as blobs with virtual directory paths in their name. The blob list is now exhaustive, showing you everything in the selected container.

Content Types

You can now configure a table of content types, which is used to set the Content Type property for a blob that you upload. This matters if blobs are read from public storage by a web browser, as the ContentType header helps the browser figure out how to handle the resource. The Content Type table is a simple table of file extensions and MIME types: if the file you upload ends with an extension listed in your table, its content type is set to the corresponding MIME type. You can view or edit the Content Types list from the top right settings menu ("Edit Content Types").

Editing Content Types for Uploaded Blobs

Enhanced Table Support

Table enhancements include a reordering of columns to put PartitionKey first, and a new upload capability. 

The table support that arrived in Preview 2 provided a means to download entities to CSV, JSON, or XML format - but had no matching upload capability. In Preview 3, you can also upload to tables.

When viewing a table, click the Upload button. On the dialog that appears, select the file containing data to upload and review the format selections and options.

CSV Upload

A CSV upload reads a comma-delimited text file for input. This is a popular simple export format that Excel can be used to edit. Azure Storage Explorer uses the CsvHelper library to parse your data file and insert entities.

When inserting entities, a partition key and row key are required to uniquely identify each entity. In the event your CSV file uses different column names for PartitionKey and RowKey, you can specify on the upload dialog the column names to use.

CSV Upload

Here is an example of valid CSV data that can be uploaded to a table:

Batman,DC Comics,8/6/2014 4:07:06 AM +00:00,5/1/1939 12:00:00 AM,Bruce Wayne
Green Lantern,DC Comics,8/6/2014 4:10:52 AM +00:00,7/1/1940 12:00:00 AM,Hal Jordan
Superman,DC Comics,8/6/2014 4:06:52 AM +00:00,4/18/1938 12:00:00 AM,Clark Kent
The Flash,DC Comics,8/6/2014 4:06:58 AM +00:00,1/1/1940 12:00:00 AM,Bart Allen
Iron Man,Marvel Comics,8/6/2014 4:07:58 AM +00:00,3/1/1963 12:00:00 AM,Tony Stark
The Human Torch,Marvel Comics,8/6/2014 4:13:02 AM +00:00,11/1/1961 12:00:00 AM,Johnny Storm
The Thing,Marvel Comics,8/6/2014 4:12:07 AM +00:00,11/1/1961 12:00:00 AM,Ben Grimm
Thor,Marvel Comics,8/6/2014 4:08:58 AM +00:00,8/1/1962 12:00:00 AM,Donald Blake

JSON Upload

A JSON upload reads a JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) format text file for input. JSON is a very popular web transfer format in wide use today. Azure Storage Explorer uses the .NET JavaScriptSerializer to parse your data file and insert entities.

As with CSV uploads, you can specify the field name to be used for RowKey and PartitionKey. In addition, you specify the enclosing object name for the JSON.

JSON Upload

Here is an example of valid JSON data that can be uploaded to a table:

    "Entities": [
            "RowKey": "Batman",
            "PartitionKey": "DC Comics",
            "Timestamp": "8/6/2014 4:07:06 AM +00:00",
            "Debut": "5/1/1939 12:00:00 AM",
            "SecretIdentity": "Bruce Wayne"
            "RowKey": "Green Lantern",
            "PartitionKey": "DC Comics",
            "Timestamp": "8/6/2014 4:10:52 AM +00:00",
            "Debut": "7/1/1940 12:00:00 AM",
            "SecretIdentity": "Hal Jordan"
            "RowKey": "Superman",
            "PartitionKey": "DC Comics",
            "Timestamp": "8/6/2014 4:06:52 AM +00:00",
            "Debut": "4/18/1938 12:00:00 AM",
            "SecretIdentity": "Clark Kent"

XML Upload

An XML upload reads an XML file as input, another popular exchange format. Azure Storage Explorer uses the .NET XmlDocument class to parse your data file and insert entities.

As with CSV uploads, you can specify the field name to be used for RowKey and PartitionKey. In addition, you specify the XPath path to locate entity elements in the XML.

XML Upload

Here is an example of valid XML data that can be uploaded to a table:

<?xml version="1.0" ?>
<Entities xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance">
    <PartitionKey>DC Comics</PartitionKey>
    <Timestamp>8/6/2014 4:07:06 AM +00:00</Timestamp>
    <Debut>5/1/1939 12:00:00 AM</Debut>
    <SecretIdentity>Bruce Wayne</SecretIdentity>
    <RowKey>Green Lantern</RowKey>
    <PartitionKey>DC Comics</PartitionKey>
    <Timestamp>8/6/2014 4:10:52 AM +00:00</Timestamp>
    <Debut>7/1/1940 12:00:00 AM</Debut>
    <SecretIdentity>Hal Jordan</SecretIdentity>
    <PartitionKey>DC Comics</PartitionKey>
    <Timestamp>8/6/2014 4:06:52 AM +00:00</Timestamp>
    <Debut>4/18/1938 12:00:00 AM</Debut>
    <SecretIdentity>Clark Kent</SecretIdentity>

The default option for error handling is to stop on the first error. The alternative option is to continue past errors and continue uploading.


Azure Storage Explorer 6 continues to move rapidly toward completion. There are now sufficient features in place that we've made it the default version for download on CodePlex. I hope you find it useful and productive to use.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Azure Storage Explorer 6 Preview 2 Now Available, with Table Support

I'm pleased to announce that the next installment of Azure Storage Explorer, Preview 2, is now available. The big feature in Preview 2 is table support, allowing you to create, delete, and work with with tables and entity records. In addition, we've made some UI improvements and extended our blob support. We've already posted a detailed walk-through of Preview 1, now let's take a tour of what's new in Preview 2.

User Interface Changes

Blob List and Table List Styling
The main pane list view (showing blobs or table entities) now shows alternating rows in contrasting shades of grey. Selections are highlighted in the color associated with the artifact (yellow for blobs, blue for table entities).

Updated Styling of Blob List

Blob List Filters
One thing we've been thinking about is how to limit the display when you have a large number of blobs or table entities in a container; if you have thousands of items, you likely don't want them all listed every time you click on a container or table. In version 5 we implemented results paging, but in version 6 we wanted to do something more versatile. You can limit what is displayed with the new Filter toolbar button. For blobs, this lets  you specify filters such as max records to display, blob type, search text to match, or min and max sizes. You have a similar facility for table entities.

Filter Dialog for Blob List

When filters are active, the Filter toolbar button is highlighted so you're aware you're not seeing all results.

Filtered Blob List

Error Messages
Instead of pop-up dialogs for error reporting, error messages now smoothly stack on the bottom of the main pane, just as background tasks do.

Stacking Error Messages

Table Storage Support
Preview 2 introduces table storage support. When you navigate to a table in the left pane outline, you'll now get a list of entity records and toolbars for acting on the table and its entities.You can click on a column to sort by that property; click a second time to change ascending/descending direction.

Table Entity List

Table Entity Queries
Instead of retrieving all entities from the table, you can specify a query. The Query toolbar button allows to select up to three sets of columns, conditions (equals, not equal to, contains, starts with, ends with), and values. LINQ is then used to retrieve matching entities and the list is refreshed.

Table Query Dialog

Table Entity Filters
You can further restrict your entity list by specifying filters. These include a maximum entity count to display and search text. You can also control which columns should be displayed or hidden in the result list. You can click the check box to save these filter settings as a default.

Table Filter Dialog

Filtered Entity List

Creating, Copying, Editing, and Deleting Entities

You can use the toolbar buttons to create, modify, and remove individual entities.

Creating a New Entity
To enter a new entity, click the New Entity toolbar button and complete the record definition in the dialog that appears. You can add one or more records from here. You can enter binary (01 02 03...), boolean values (True/1/Yes/On, False/0/No/Off), DateTime values, numerics (double, Int32, Int64), GUIDs, or Strings. To not store a field, either set the type to Null or remove the field from the list.

Insert Entity Record Dialog

Updating an Entity
To update an entity, either double-click it or select it and click the View toolbar button. You can modify and update the record.

Copying an Entity
To copy an entity, select it and click the Copy toolbar button. Update the record (minimally changing RowKey/PartitionKey).

Deleting Entities
To delete entities, select one or more entities and click the Delete toolbar button. Confirm the dialog to perform the delete.

Delete Entities Confirmation Dialog

Table Entity Downloads
When viewing a table, you can download selected entities, or all entities, using the Download toolbar button. On the download dialog, select a file format and an output file. You can download to CSV, JSON, or XML format.

Entity Download Dialog

CSV Download
The comma-separated values (CSV) format can be opened in Microsoft Excel.

Result of CSV Download 

JSON Download
The JSON download is one of the more popular web data exchange formats today.

Result of JSON Download

XML Download
The XML download provides another commonly-used data exchange format.

Result of XML Download

With Preview 2, we've added a significant amount of table functionality to the blob functionality from Preview 1. We hope you find Azure Storage Explorer 6 useful and productive as we continue to move it forward. Do keep in mind the software is still very new and only in preview - please exercise appropriate caution as you use it.

Next: Azure Storage Explorer Preview 3

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Tour of Azure Storage Explorer 6 Preview 1

I recently announced that work had resumed Azure Storage Explorer and that a new version (v6) was in the works. In this post, we'll take a tour of Preview 1, which is available now at AzureStorageExplorer.codeplex.com.

Let's start by reminding ourselves how important the Storage Service is. The Storage Service was one of the first services available in Microsoft Azure, and it remains a core, vital part of the platform. Even though a wealth of new services have been added to Azure over the years, a great many of them are built on top of the Storage Service. For example, it's where VHD images reside for the Compute Service.

Let's begin with broad strokes. Azure Storage Explorer 6 isn't finished yet, but we have much of the blob support in place. Since blob storage is arguably the most-used part of Microsoft Azure Storage, this seemed useful enough to make available in a preview release, and that's what you'll get if you download Preview 1. That means you'll have to wait on Table and Queue support, which still need to be implemented. Stay tuned to this blog for updates. It also should go without saying that incomplete software in preview should be treated as new and untested; early adopters should exercise caution and take care not to endanger critical or non-replaceable data.

The User Interface
When we created the predecessor version of Azure Storage Explorer, version 5, we worked to match the then-new styling of the Windows Azure portal. We've decided to stop doing that and return to a simpler look reminiscent of Windows File Explorer. You'll see a refinement of the styling as we iterate through the next few preview releases.

When you first launch Azure Storage Explorer 6, the main window won't show much other than a header that contains a combo box for selecting a storage account to view. To the right are buttons to add a  new storage account or remove the selected one. We'll see how to add and work with storage accounts in the next two sections. The remainder of the main window is a tab control, in which you can open tabs for one or more storage accounts.

Main window header for selecting, adding, or removing a storage account

Once you have your storage account(s) defined, selecting one will open a tab in the main window. The left pane is a tree of blob containers, queues, and tables. Selecting an item in the left pane opens its contents in the main window (only blobs at present).

Main window with a storage account tab open

At the top right is a gear icon. Click or right-click here for a tools menu with options to visit web sites (Microsoft Azure Management Portal, Azure Storage Explorer home on CodePlex) or see an About dialog with version information. As we add settings in subsequent updates, additional menu items will appear here.

Top-right Tools Menu

Adding a New Storage Account
To add a new storage account, click the Add Account button in the header and a New Storage Account dialog will appear.

Add Storage Account dialog

If you're wanting to access a local developer emulator account, select Local Developer Account. Otherwise, you'll need to know some things about your Microsoft Azure Storage account in order to complete the dialog, which you can get from the Microsoft Azure Management Portal:

• The storage account name
• The storage account key (this can be either the primary key or the secondary key)
• Whether the storage account uses a standard endpoint (US, Europe, Asia, Brazil, Japan), a China endpoint (Beijing, Shanghai), or a custom endpoint

Then, it's just a matter of entering the name and key and selecting the endpoint. If you want SSL communication, click Use HTTPS.

Next, click Test Access to verify the storage account is accessible (if you're working with local developer storage, launch the storage emulator first).

Verifying a New Storage Account

Once you've verified the account is accessible, click Save to add the new account, which will now appear in the main window's account list. The storage account information is written to a local file for your Windows user, and is encrypted.

Working with Storage Accounts
Once you've defined some storage accounts, simply select an account name from the list to open up a tab for it. You can open more than one tab.

Several Storage Account Tabs Open

If you want to open up a tab for every one of your storage account, select (all) from the account list. You'll likely experience a slight delay as storage accounts load; we're working to make this smoother and take place in the background so it doesn't tie up the user interface.

All Storage Account Tabs Open

To close an open tab, either click the close box next to its name, or select Storage Account > Close Tab from the menu.

Working with Blob Containers
When you have a storage account tab open, there are operations you can perform on both blob containers and the blobs within those containers.

Blob containers are listed in the left pane, under the outline item named "Blob Containers".

Blob Service Operations
When you select the "Blob Containers" item in the left pane, you have toolbar buttons for operations on the blob service: Refresh, New Container, and CORS Settings.

Blob Containers Outline Item and Toolbar

Refresh Container List button
The Refresh toolbar button refreshes the list of containers.

New Container button
The New toolbar button creates a new blob container. Specify a name for the container.

New Blob Container Dialog

CORS Rules button
The CORS toolbar button allows you to view or modify the Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS) settings for the entire storage account. CORS is powerful in that it permits authorized web clients to directly access blob storage without having to go through a server, which is normally a security requirement. Add one or more rules, specifying allowed origin(s), allowed HTTP method(s), allowed headers, exposed headers, and max age in seconds. If you need to specify multiple values in a field, separate them with commas. You can add, edit, and delete rules in this dialog.

CORS Rules Dialog

Blob Container Operations
When you select a container, the right pane lists the blobs in the container and the left pane toolbar offers buttons for container actions: Refresh, New, Delete, and Security. We've already covered what Refresh and New do.

Delete a Container
The Delete toolbar button displays a confirmation dialog and deletes the selected container and all blobs within it.

Delete Blob Container Confirmation Dialog

Container Security
The Security toolbar button displays a dialog with two tabs, one for controlling the container's access security and the other for generating shared access signature URIs.

On the Access Level tab, you can view of modify the container's access level. There are 3 levels: Off means the container and its blobs can only be accessed by API with account credentials. Public Blob means the container's blobs can be read anonymously via URIs. Public Container means the blobs can be read anonymously and the container metadata can be accessed anonymously.

Container Security - Access Level Tab

On the Shared Access Signatures tab, you can generate ad-hoc Shared Access Signature URIs. This is a way of giving some parties a custom level of access to your blob container for a period of time. First specify the date range and allowable actions, then click Generate Signature. If you had a blob selected in the main pane, its name will be entered in the dialog automatically for you and included in the URI. The generated URI is copied to your clipboard, and you can test access in a browser by clicking the Test in Browser button. Note there isn't support yet for creating and using saved SAS policies; that will be coming in a future update.

Container Security - Shared Access Signatures Tab

Working with Blobs
When you select a container in the left pane, you can work with its blobs in the main pane. You can click on columns to sort by that column, in ascending or descending order. Unlike some prior versions, this view is not paged so you will see all blobs. We're currently thinking through how we will make this work well for containers that contain many thousands of blobs, and what kind of search and filtering controls we should add.

Blob List for a Selected Container

The main pane has a toolbar for blob operations, which provides these actions: Refresh Blob List, Select All, Clear All, Upload, Download, View, New Blob, Copy Blob, and Delete Blob.

Blob Toolbar

Refresh Blob List
The Refresh toolbar button reloads the list of blobs for the container and refreshes the list of blobs.

Selecting Blobs
You can select a blob by clicking its row, or deselect it by clicking it again. You can select a range of blobs by shift-click, or add/remove additional blobs by control-click. To select all blobs, click the Select All toolbar button. To clear all selections, click the Clear All toolbar button.

Uploading Files to Blob Storage
To upload one or more files to the selected container, click the Upload button. Select one or more files in the Open Files dialog and click Open to start the upload, or cancel to abort the action. Blobs are uploaded in the background without tying up the user interface; when the upload is complete, the blob list will refresh automatically.

Open Files Dialog for Uploading

In a future update the software will have an editable table of file types and MIME types that will be used to auto-assign the ContentType property of an uploaded  blob based on its name (for example, assigning a .jpeg file a content type of "image/jpeg"). In the meantime, you can manually set a blob's ContentType with the View toolbar button.

Downloading Blobs to Local File Storage
To download the selected blob(s) to your local file system, click the Download toolbar button. In the Folder Selection dialog, select the target folder and click Select Folder to begin the download, or Cancel to abort the action. Blobs are downloaded in the background without tying up the user interface.

Choose Blob Download Folder Dialog

As you perform uploads, downloads, or other long-running tasks, you'll see a status message on the bottom of the main window. If there are several tasks in progress, multiple status messages will stack vertically. There currently isn't any way to abort these tasks once you kick them off, but we'll be providing a way to cancel tasks in a future update.

Viewing Blobs
You can view or modify a selected blob's properties and content, either by clicking the View toolbar button or double-clicking the blob name. You'll see a Properties tab, a Content tab (block blobs only), and a Pages tab (page blobs only).

Viewing Blobs - Properties Tab
On the Properties tab, you'll see the blob's many properties listed, including Blob Type, Name, Length, Uri, Last Modified, and much more. Most of these values are read-only, but several of them are modifiable such as Content Type and Content Encoding (marked with an asterisk). Click the Update Properties button to apply updates to properties.

View Blob - Properties Tab

Viewing Blobs - Content Tab
For block blobs, the Content tab allows content to be viewed in a variety of formats including Image, Text, Video, and Web. 

Use Image View to view images, and Video View to view video content. If the blob is not in a valid format for these views, you'll receive an error message.

Image View

In the Text View, you can also edit the blob text and save changes.

Text View

Web View shows content via a web browser control, which can accommodate many kinds of content, from PDF documents to image files to HTML markup to XML data. Note that to use the Web viewer, as well as the Video viewer, your blob container access level must be Public.

Web View

Editing Page Blobs
For page blobs, there is a Pages tab which allows you to read and write pages of the blob. The list box at left shows pages currently allocated in storage for the blob; select a page to see its content at right as hex bytes. You can also read pages by entering a page number and clicking Read Page, or use the Prev / Next buttons to move through the blob's pages. 

To write data, enter up to 512 bytes of hex data in the text box and click Write Page. If you enter less than 512 bytes, the sequence you entered will repeat to fill a 512-byte page. So, just entering 00 and clicking Write will write a full page of 512 0's.

View Blob - Pages Tab

Creating a New Blob
Click the New toolbar button to create a new blob. In the dialog, specify a type and name for the blob. For a block blob, you can optionally enter text to store in the blob.

Create New Blob Dialog - Block Blob

For page blobs, specify a size for the blob in bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, or gigabytes. Creating a page blob does not initialize its pages; in Microsoft Azure, only the pages you specifically write to consume storage.

Create New Blob Dialog - Page Blob

Copying a Blob
The Copy toolbar button copies the selected blob. This is a very powerful facility, which can copy the blob into the same container (under a different name); to a different container; or even to a different storage account that may be in a different data center.

Copy Blob Dialog

Down the road, we'd like to add some bulk copy capabilities that would allow you to copy a collection of blobs or containers in one easy operation.

Deleting Blobs
The Delete toolbar button permanently displays a confirmation dialog and deletes the selected blob(s).

Delete Blob Confirmation Dialog

Well, that ends our tour of Azure Storage Explorer 6 Preview 1. We've taken a peek into every corner. The majority of core blob support is in place, with a few additional operations and refinements needed as we've noted. The new code base and user interface is underway, and we'll be refining that as well.

What's next for Azure Storage Explorer 6? As we start our next phase of work, we'll be focusing on adding table storage support. We'll be posting articles here as new updates become available, and you can also subscribe to automatic notifications about new updates on CodePlex.

Lastly, if you're interested in being a contributor please contact me. We've gone through a lot of work to put together an updated code base, and part of the reason for that is to enable community collaboration.

 I hope you find Azure Storage Explorer 6 useful.