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PDC: Leaving Los Angeles

As the father of three young children, I can't help but feel a bit of a Christmas afternoon vibe in the air as the 2008 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference closes. The packages have been opened. The gifts have been strewn about the house. Long months of anticipation have given way, inevitably, to a bittersweet mix of contentment and exhaustion.

In short, it's been a very good several days in L.A., both for developers who've learned so much about the future direction of Microsoft-based development, and for Microsoft itself, which I feel did a very good job of articulating its most important strategy since the launch of .NET Framework in 2000. Despite some confusion among attendees around the Windows Azure cloud OS launch, it's apparent to me that Microsoft decisively moved the ball forward on several fronts this PDC.

PDC 2008 also marked a critical changing of the guard. This is, I believe, the first PDC to not feature Bill Gates as a keynote speaker. Mind you, we're talking about PDCs stretching clear back to 1992 and the initial pitch of "Chicago," later known as Windows 95. The fact that things have gone so well is a real testament to the new vanguard in Redmond (I'm looking at you, Ray Ozzie, Steven Sinofsky and Scott Guthrie).

More important, the high-level messaging coming out of this conference was remarkably well-orchestrated and harmonized. Make no mistake, the Azure effort could fall flat on its face two years from now, but the approach Microsoft is taking looks sound: Leverage heavily against .NET, align development on the familiar Visual Studio IDE and provide plenty of choice along the continuum of pure, premises-based server deployments to full-on, Azure-hosted services in the cloud.

Microsoft has a ton of problems to solve in all this, not the least of which is how to mesh these new Microsoft-owned services with the existing channel of value-added resellers and service providers who've moved into managed services and hosting. I'll leave it to my astute colleague Scott Bekker, editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner, to ponder those questions.

But even without the prospect of a channel fight, Microsoft has to deliver a lot of very robust technologies even as it manages server product families that have suddenly spawned services operations (SQL Server now adds SQL Services, for example). As Microsoft Technical Fellow Dave Campbell told us, it's a big job to staff up the services skills to drive the Azure-side development, and there's a lot of additional coordination that needs to be carried forward to keep services and server versions of SQL, Exchange, Office and the like in sync.

Do I think Microsoft can pull it off? Yeah, I do. But if Microsoft stays true to form, it won't happen as quickly and as smoothly as you might hope or think.

Consider the sudden emergence of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) at this year's PDC. This is a technology that was released to a good deal of internal excitement within Microsoft, but got squelched by a combination of missing tools, wildfire AJAX Web development and the poor uptake of Windows Vista. Microsoft all but set WPF aside, at least publicly, while it stumped heavily for WPF's kissing cousin: the Silverlight rich Internet application platform and runtime that uses the same Extensible Markup Language (XAML) technology and tooling as WPF.

And now, at PDC 2008, it turns out that WPF is at work all over the place -- from Windows 7 to the compelling Surface touch UI, and even to the design surface in the Visual Studio 2010 CTP and new Oslo Quadrant visual modeling tool. Component makers like Infragistics and DevExpress say they saw a ton of interest among developers anxious to get started with WPF. As the old saw goes: It took three years, but WPF may finally be an overnight success.

Which is fitting. Because at the end of the day, PDC is about the long view. And it has almost always been Microsoft's dogged willingness to invest and invest and invest into its new products and tooling that have ultimately brought success to the same. So yes, we might still be scoffing a bit at Azure at PDC 2010 or whenever the next confab occurs -- but that doesn't mean we should be counting it out.

We'll be covering the PDC extensively in our upcoming issues and want to include your insight! Send us your thoughts on the PDC 2008 event and how it was useful (or not-so-useful) to you. E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 10/31/2008

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