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After PDC: Q&A with Stephen Chapman

Stephen Chapman is long-time Microsoft watcher and author of the Microsoft Kitchen blog (formerly UX Evangelist). He offered his thoughts on what he saw at the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference last month.

1. Was there much at all new in Sinofsky's Windows 7 presentation? Seemed like a long rehash to me.

Sinofsky's keynote speech was a snoozefest... unless you happen to have just started paying attention to Windows 7 between last year's PDC and this year's, in which case, it may have proved enlightening. The most exciting/revealing thing of his keynote was a small demonstration of a stripped-down Internet Explorer 9. Those of us who have paid attention to Microsoft since the days of Netscape know how important Internet market share has been to Microsoft, so in my opinion, if they get it right with Internet Explorer 9, I think they're finally going to have a solid foundation to start building up their Internet/browser empire.

Bing is great and anyone who says differently simply hasn't given it the fair shot it deserves. I'm not sure any search engine will ever replace Google as my home page, but there's a great chance that IE9 may very well find a place in my taskbar. What I'm getting at is a potential end to the Google + Firefox combination just about all of us use. Bing + IE9. Can you imagine?

Oh, and Sinofsky's keynote was also extremely depressing for all government and media attendees. See if this rings a bell: "Here's an amazing laptop! It's yours!" ...and then we all know where that ended up. (Ed note: Members of the media did not receive free hardware.)


2. Sinofsky was getting after developers to support Windows 7-specific capabilities like Trigger Start Services and the like. How good a job has Microsoft been doing of evangelizing Win7 development? What could they do better?

I think they've been doing well with it on a large scale, but I think they should be more proactive with their road shows. Windows 7 has a ridiculous amount of potential and, in a twist, it's actually showcasing much of what was capable in Windows Vista. Unfortunately, the negative stigma that goes along with the word "Vista" has kept developers a bit gun-shy.

Well, now that Windows 7 is out and it has received some fantastic fanfare, I think developers are going to see value added in the fact that what they write for Windows 7 will more than likely work for Vista. I think that would be a great point to emphasize, but I think Microsoft is done with Vista. One -- maybe two -- more Vista service pack(s) and they will completely wash their hands of it. But I digress.

Lastly, I think one of the coolest features for devs to play with is multi-touch. Unfortunately, I think it's also probably the most useless right now. I think Microsoft realizes that, so what did they do? They put a multi-touch platform smack-dab in their hands. Not only did they give them a device to develop on, but they gave them a device that will probably be quite affordable. Give the developers a real device that can realistically be adopted by many consumers. I could be wrong about that whole thing, but for as awesome and groundbreaking as multi-touch has the potential to be, I've never really seen it as something that would take off beyond the enterprise/professional realm.

3. Have you had a chance to look into some of the IE9 optimizations? Seems like taking advantage of the underlying hardware and accelerated DX stack is a no brainer. Is this something devs should be excited about? Any reason why other browsers can't do similar things (via published APIs, etc)?

So, the IE9 thing... incredibly exciting! Developers should be unbelievably excited about it. This is the type of thing Microsoft needs to get back in the game with IE. Granted, I think people forget how much market share Microsoft still has with IE, but IE9 has the potential to bring it back home. If they can succeed with meeting all the standards and passing the ACID test, etc., I think they're going to be well on their way to getting on top of their game... and maybe more so than they've ever been! Microsoft has been doomed in Internet market share for such a long time now, and I'm really happy for them that Bing is such a solid product.

It seems like Microsoft is finally onto something.

In regards to others pulling off hardware accelerated browsing, the issue lies not with how to get it to work, but how to get it to interact with all the browser technologies that exist out there. For instance, how do you render something in a frame that already renders itself? Flash is a good example, or perhaps even Silverlight. I think developers should get excited as hell about this, but I also think they should wait until Microsoft irons out the issues that might make devs think, "wait a minute... how the heck am I supposed to code for this?" For what it's worth, I think Microsoft has something unique going on here and for them to demo IE9 so early in the game, they're obviously confident in what they're doing.

4. The Silverlight 4 stuff was huge. Local file system access, out of browser execution, printer and clipboard support, drag and drop support and mouse wheel inputs. That doesn't even touch on performance optimizations and better integration with the .NET stack (via ADO.NET Data Services and the JIT CLR). Is all this as big as I think it is?

The Silverlight 4 stuff was HUGE!!! I think Silverlight 4 will *FINALLY* take Silverlight out of its "Flash wanna-be" status and catapult it into its own respectable technology. I mean, not that it hasn't already commanded respect, but Web developers need to just go ahead and jump on the Silverlight bandwagon.

What started as a boring PDC for me, ended with me questioning if we didn't somehow just attend MIX 09 Part Deux! It has me wanting to attend MIX 2010 REALLY badly. This feels like 2010 is going to be the year of Microsoft where the Web is concerned. Bing is doing much better than any previous search engine Microsoft has cooked up, IE9 sounds like it's going to be the solution to every problem we all have with any and every browser of our choice (no matter how powerful the computer), and Silverlight 4. I don't know about you, but this makes me want to jump on learning to be a Web dev and immerse myself completely in Microsoft's technologies!

Oh, and Silverlight for mobile. That is going to be massive. With everything Microsoft mentioned in relation to the Web here, as well as noting they would discuss Windows Mobile 7, MIX is going to be the event to attend. If Silverlight 4 is as great as it seems to be for Windows, I can't help but wonder what they have in store for Windows Mobile 7 where Silverlight Mobile is concerned.

5. What are your thoughts on the ability to compile an assembly once and have it run on both Silverlight 4 and .NET 4?

Genius on Microsoft's behalf to make this possible. When this came up, I had two good dev friends of mine comment on how incredibly excited they were about this feature. Personally, I've never coded anything that made me even put these two together as being something I wanted, but like I said, knowing two devs directly who were ultra-excited about this, I would love to hear what your reader base thinks.

6. Are you following the AppFabric stuff at all? What I'm hearing sounds like a fairly compelling pitch. Write your .NET apps for higher-level platforms like WCF and WF, and AppFabric will provide the common abstracted app interface to make your stuff run seamlessly on both Windows Server and Windows Azure. How convinced are you about this? (Obviously it's early, since the Windows Azure version of an AppFabric CTP won't see light until 2010).

Honestly, I've been so into Microsoft's web announcements that I haven't even looked into AppFabric yet. All I've gathered from it thus far is exactly what you noted. I'm going to dig much deeper into it this week and gain a further understanding of exactly what it is and how plausible it really seems (or, as you said, if it's just a compelling pitch).

7. Can you provide any general thoughts on this PDC? Can you compare to last year's session in terms of the messaging Microsoft was bringing as well as the energy of the dev audience? Is there a lot to be excited about?

Silverlight and IE9. When first announced, I was quite underwhelmed... but then, I really started thinking about it and how far-reaching the implications are of hardware-rendered browsing and Silverlight 4 (as well as Silverlight for Mobile when they discuss it on the plane of Windows Mobile 7).

As for everything else, it was nice to see how far they've come with Azure and how much they've been participating with the community and their partners to fine-tune it, but Microsoft really just drilled home cloud computing even more and dug deeper into Windows 7 features like the Ribbon UI. Like you said before, this PDC was mostly just a recap, recap, recap.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 12/01/2009

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