Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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PDC09 Final Verdict: Eye on the Prize, Not in the Sky

What a difference a day makes…at least to some. While the Day 1 keynote at PDC seemed mostly like a news update on last year's announcements, and a somewhat dry one at that, Day 2 gave developers some real "red meat." It began with a presentation by Steven Sinofsky on Windows 7's progress since its launch last month, including demos of the diverse array of hardware on which it now runs. Sinofsky then offered the ultimate crowd pleaser: he described the specs for a multi-touch, Microsoft-designed laptop manufactured by Acer, and then explained that all attendees would be receiving one for free. That greased the wheels for sure, and was followed up with a glimpse of IE9.

The pièce de résistance was a presentation by developer folk hero Scott Guthrie describing features that would be in the forthcoming Silverlight 4, the beta of which he announced was being made available immediately. We learned from Guthrie that this release of Silverlight will add an impressive array of client capabilities, from things like printing and microphone/webcam access to applications running in full trust and performing COM automation of Office. Scott Hanselman showed us how Silverlight 4 and Visual Studio 2010's Data Sources window make this new version of the RIA platform keenly well-suited for data-over-forms line-of-business applications. All of this really showed the audience that WPF was becoming more and more of a technology for ISVs (and Microsoft itself), and that custom app developers will find their rich client home in Silverlight.

After Guthrie finished his presentation, the audience was shown some of the cool new dev features in SharePoint 2010. Much of this was a summary of stuff shown at Microsoft's SharePoint conference a few weeks earlier. Given that, and the fact that Guthrie's a hard act to follow, the keynote ended somewhat anti-climactically. At about that time, my live and prolific "tweeting" of the keynote encountered an anti-climax of its own: Twitter told me I had exceeded my allowance of status updates and shut me down.

As annoyed as I was by Twitter's forced interruption of my reports, I thought about it and realized that it was OK. I really didn't need to give people the blow-by-blow. Why? Because this Day 2 keynote, at which we saw new Internet Explorer and new Silverlight, was still really about incremental developments at Microsoft, as opposed to giant leaps. Giant leaps are more fun to tweet. Giant leaps are more fun to see covered at a $2000 conference. Pondering giant leaps can invoke excitement, optimism and inspiration. And that's not what this PDC or this keynote, despite its improvement over Day 1, was about.

Maybe that's OK. Maybe it's alright that this PDC was more like a mid-year parent-teacher conference than starting a new grade and learning new subjects. The pipeline of the 2010 (and 2008 R2) new releases is dizzying, and developers really need help in absorbing them. Perhaps now is not the time for bold new vision, but rather for doing the homework and housekeeping necessary to ensure last year's vision is implemented calmly, clearly and competently. There's little point in planning a new game while we're still in an active one and we need to win.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 11/20/2009

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