Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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WWDC and Tech Ed: A Tale of Two DevCons

Next week marks the first full week of June. Summer will feel in full swing and it will be a pretty big season for technology. In seeming acknowledgement of that very fact, both Apple and Microsoft will be holding large developers conferences starting Monday. Apple will hold its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in lovely San Francisco and Microsoft will hold its Tech Ed conference in muggy, oil-laden yet soulful New Orleans. A brief survey of each show reveals much about the differences in each company's offerings, strategy and approach to customers and partners.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must explain that I will be speaking at Microsoft's Tech Ed show, and have done so, on and off, since 2003. I have never been to an Apple conference and, as readers of this blog may know, I acquired my first ever Apple product two months ago when I bought an iPad on the day of that product's launch. I think I have keen insights into Microsoft's conference. My ability to comment on Apple's event ranges somewhere between backseat driver and naive observer. Just so you know.

Although both shows cater to their respective company's developers, there are a number of differences in the events' purposes and content approaches. First off, let's consider each show as a news and PR vehicle. WWDC will feature Steve Jobs' keynote address and most likely will be where Apple officially reveals details of its 4th-generation iPhone. Jobs will likely also provide deep background information on the corresponding iPhone OS release. These presumed announcements will make the show a magnet for the tech press and tech blogger elite. Apple's customers will be interested too, especially since the iPhone OS release will likely be made available to owners of existing iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices.

Tech Ed, on the other hand, may not be especially newsworthy at all. The keynote address will be given by Bob Muglia, who is President of the company's Server and Tools Division, and he'll likely be reviewing things more than previewing them. That's because the company has, in the last six to eight months, already released new versions of a majority of its products, including Windows, Office, SharePoint, SQL Server, Exchange, its Azure cloud platform, its .NET software development layer, its Silverlight Rich Internet Application (RIA) technology and its Visual Studio developer suite. Redmond's product pipeline has functioned more like a firehose of late, and the company has a ton of work to do to get developers up to speed on everything that's new.

I know I keep saying "developers," but in Tech Ed's case, that's not really accurate. In North America, Tech Ed caters to both developers and IT pros (i.e. technologists who work with physical IT infrastructure, as well as security and administration of the server software that runs on it). This pairing has, since its inception, struck some as anomalous and others, including many exhibitors, as very smart. Certainly, it means Tech Ed ends up being a confab for virtually all professionals in Microsoft's ecosystem. And this year, Microsoft's Business Intelligence (BI) conference will be co-located with Tech Ed, further enhancing that fusion effect.

Clearly then, Microsoft's show will focus on education, as its name assures us. Apple's will serve as both a press event and an opportunity to get its own App Store developer channel synced up with its newest technology advances. For example, we already know that iPhone OS 4.0 will provide for a limited multitasking capability; that will only work well if people know how to code to it in a capable way. Apple also told us its iAd advertising platform will be part of the new OS, and Steve Jobs insists that's to provide a revenue opportunity for developers. This too, then, needs to be explicated and soaked up buy the faithful.

A look at each show's breakout session lineup provides some interesting takeaways. WWDC will have very few Mac-specific sessions on offer, and virtually no sessions that are related to either IT or the enterprise. It's all about the phone, music players and tablets. However, WWDC will have plenty of low-level, hardcore tech coverage of such things as Advanced Memory Analysis and Creating Secure Applications, as well as lots of rich media-related content like Core Animation and Game Design and Development. Beyond Apple's proprietary platform, WWDC will also feature an array of sessions on HTML 5 and other Web standards. In all, WWDC offers over 100 technical sessions and hands-on labs.

What about Tech Ed's editorial content? Like the target audience, it really runs the gamut. The show has 21 tracks (versus WWDC's five) and more than 745 "learning opportunities," which include breakout sessions, demo stations, hands-on labs and Birds of a Feather discussion sessions. Topics range from architecture talks like Patterns of Parallel Programming, to cloud computing talks like Building High Capacity Compute Applications with Windows Azure, to IT-focused topics like Virtualization of Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Farm Architecture. I also count 19 sessions on Windows Phone 7. Unfortunately, with regard to Web standards and HTML 5, only a few sessions are offered, all of them specific to Internet Explorer.

All-in-all, Apple's show looks more exciting and "sexier" than Tech Ed. Microsoft's show seems a lot more enterprise-focused than WWDC. This is, of course, well in sync with each company's approach and products. Microsoft's content is much wider ranging and bests WWDC in sheer volume of sessions and labs. I suppose some might argue that less is more; others that Apple's consumer-focused offerings simply don't provide for the same depth of coverage to a business audience. Microsoft has a serious focus on the cloud and a paucity of coverage on client-side Web standards; Apple has virtually no cloud offering at all. Again, this reflects each tech titan's go-to-market strategy.

My own take is that employees of each company should attend the other's event. The amount of mutual exclusivity in content may make sense in terms of corporate philosophy, but the reality is that each company could stand to diversify into the other's territory, at least somewhat.

My own talk at Tech Ed will focus on competitive analysis around Microsoft's BI products. Apple does not today figure into that analysis. Maybe one day it will.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 06/03/2010 at 1:15 PM

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