Notes about flying halfway around the world for a two day conference

You should try that too. Seriously.

Last week, Jeroen Verhulst and I flew to Seattle to attend the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference. We arrived in Seattle on Tuesday afternoon, after spending several hours on trains and busses and about ten hours up in the clouds (pun intended). We stayed in Bellevue, in the quite confortable Sheraton hotel. Bellevue is a good place to stay when visiting Microsoft; it is more vibrant than Redmond -where the Microsoft campus is located- but also closer to campus than Seattle.

On Wednesday, the day before the conference, Bart De Smet showed us around in Seattle. Bart is a young Belgian who currently lives in Bellevue and works for Microsoft. We visited the classic tourist spots: the first Starbucks, the Space Needle, the monorail… Click here for some more pictures.

After this quick visit we headed to campus. After a quick tour we headed to building one, where we had a meeting with Jennifer Perret. Jennifer gave us both a flip camera and a mission: we had to go interview some speakers. Later that week we have interviewed Anders Hejlsberg, Don Syme and Bart De Smet and we plan to interview some more speakers at TechEd Europe next week. I am still busy processing and uploading the videos, but I will make sure to post the links on this blog when they are available. Update: watch our interviews over here.

Thursday was day one of the conference. The keynote was delivered by Steve Ballmer and Bob Muglia. The main topics of the keynote were IE9, HTML5, WP7 and a lot about Windows Azure.

You can find some more info about the announcements here and on the SQL Azure Team Blog.

We expected Microsoft to demonstrate a real world application running on Azure to demonstrate its potential. However, we didn’t expect Steve Jobs’ Pixar to bring us that application. Apparently Pixar doesn’t only make animation movies; they sell the leading animation movie rendering software RenderMan as well. According to Chris Ford from Pixar, who appeared in the keynote in a Wall-E shirt, animation studios usually need large render farms with hundreds of processing units to render a movie in an acceptable time (think weeks or months). By running RenderMan on Azure, Pixar hopes to enable smaller companies to use their software as well. The interesting part of their implementation is that they allow their user to select how many instances to start. The more instances a user starts, the faster the job is done, but this of course comes at a higher price. Long Zheng and Nick Eaton also blogged about this.

The recordings of the keynote and all sessions are available here.

We also expected Microsoft to announce the next version of Silverlight. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who were expecting this. Microsoft however barely mentioned Silverlight in the keynote. Then, Mary Jo Foley published a blog post, based on an interview with Bob Muglia who said that Microsoft’s strategy with Silverlight has shifted. Bob did not announce the end of Silverlight, however, on the internet a storm broke loose.

I regret Microsoft is didn’t make any Silverlight announcements at the PDC, but here is why I think the rumors of Silverlight’s death are greatly exaggerated:
  • Releases are slowing down, that’s true, but isn’t that normal as a product matures? Furthermore, the Silverlight team must have spent a lot of time on Windows Phone 7.
  • Microsoft is hosting a Silverlight Firestarter event, keynoted by Scott Guthrie, December 2.
  • This interview with Scott Guthrie.
  • This blogpost by Bob Muglia and this one by Tim Heuer. Update: this one by Scott Guthrie.

Lunch was in a tent outside, where you had to choose a table by discussion topic. I don’t know who came up with that idea, but it was rather annoying to have to talk to people working on product X about their product while having lunch.

After lunch we headed back to building 33 -the conference center- to pick up our phones. During the keynote Ballmer had said that all attendees would get a free Windows Phone 7 device. The way he said that was actually rather funny. As it turned out, everyone who (or who’s company) paid the full conference fee got an LG device and people with a discount (e.g. academics like us) got a Samsung preproduction device (SGH-i707, a.k.a. Taylor).

I am not going to write a full review of this device, just some thoughts. Let me be clear, I love WP7 and I’m going to use one as my primary phone. However, the battery life of this device is the worst I have ever seen (but then again, it is a prototype), I really miss copy/paste (but that’s coming early 2011), it should have app notifications (e.g. the Facebook app notifying you about a new comment) and it’s a pity developers can’t make dynamic tiles (yet?). There aren’t quite as many apps in the Marketplace so far as on competing platforms, but I honestly don’t care about that. It is a matter of quality, not quantity!

After lunch we had to choose between Bart’s session and Ander Hejlsberg’s session about new language features. Not an easy choice! Bart assured us that he would summarize Anders’ session on one slide, so we both went to see his session. Bart’s session was a mess, but in the best possible way. And oh, he said the word “brainfuck”! Learn more about the new keywords (await and async) that Anders and Bart have introduced over here. I won’t discuss the other sessions I have attended this first day and the second day.

On Saturday we attended a workshop about Windows Phone 7 at the Microsoft Platform Adoption Center (building 20). It was okay, but way too crowded. On Sunday we flew home.

Disclosure: Microsoft Belgium sponsored this trip by paying for our flights. Special thanks to Jan Potemans for making this possible.


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