Microsoft PDC 2001

Dave and I felt extremely honored to be asked to speak at the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference this year. The main theme of the conference was My Services (aka 'Hailstorm') and Web Services in general. However, our task was to present a four-hour pre-conference session on the Monday showing the exciting new technology of ASP.NET, and demonstrating just what it can do. A kind of "gee-whizz" session I guess. As most people seem to have been playing with ASP.NET since Beta 1, it's hard to generate the same impact as it was initially - though we did have a proportion of attendees who hadn't seen it before.

In fact, we managed to get a ripple of applause when showing the new data binding, tracing and debugging features. In the photo here you can see Dave as we were preparing the laptops for the demos, and trying to get them to talk to each other. Despite all our determined efforts they wouldn't. I blame the shortage of proper electricity in the US - our systems are used to a healthy 250 volts, so they're bound to be a bit lethargic if they only get half that.

Still, almost everything worked as it should, and we did manage to skate quite daringly and succinctly through most topics, including the new ASP.NET architecture, server controls, data access, server-side data binding, XML (briefly), security, migration, tracing and debugging, etc. We even demonstrated a neat multi-client application that uses ASP.NET remoting and Web Services in a range of ways - including serving to rich clients.

The rich client issue is an interesting one as well. A couple of years ago we seemed to be moving to a "do it all on the server" paradigm, as there were so many different types of client device appearing that this seemed to be the only way to go. Now, as emphasized at PDC with the soon-to-be-released .NET Framework, we can build all kinds of exciting and interactive rich clients and serve to them via Web Services and ASP.NET. Yes, it's all-change time again. I suppose it keeps our industry looking innovative and exciting to outsiders, and saves us all getting bored building the same types of applications all the time.

Anyway, the photo here shows a new approach to providing links to our Web site. We just copied the link into a slide in Microsoft PowerPoint, had it reviewed and passed by the MS conference committee, carried the presentation all the way from England to the USA, projected it onto a huge screen in front of 850 people, took a photograph of it, and then provided a client-side image map so that the link is clickable. Go on, wave your mouse over it and try it...

If your still here, you'll be pleased to hear that - according the the keynote presentation - we can at last expect to see a release of Visual Studio.NET and the .NET Framework (i.e. ASP.NET) late this year. Will all our applications still work with the final build? The general consensus is "yes", but - unlike Bill - don't bet the farm on it. There have been a few changes to the various objects in the Framework, though in general these are minor. Ho hum, I bet at least one of my existing applications can find enough changes to screw it up completely.

We were also treated to a live satellite link-up with the release event for Windows XP, which took place in New York on Thursday morning. It was quite moving, as anyone who watched will no doubt agree. Other conference-related stuff included a huge "Expo Hall" where Microsoft had a large store, and hundreds of other exhibitors had booths. As you can see from this photo, it's probably unfair to call the Compaq or Intel offerings "booths", but there again what would I know? I'm English, and we just call them all "stands". Even if you're sitting down.

Wrox Press had a nice tidy little booth there as well, with staff decorated in the usual bright red shirts (probably so that they didn't get lost). In the photo you can see Dan Maharry showing off his "I can sell fridges to Eskimos" technique. There's also John Franklin there, describing how to bowl a good over when playing cricket to Dave Sussman and Doug Seven (from DotNetJunkies.com). That's probably why Doug looks bored. In the background are the other Dan (how to confuse customers part 1 - make sure all your staff have the same name) and Joy.

Other things to reveal? Well, Microsoft took us out to the Staples Center (next door to the conference center) to see the band Counting Crows. Not a great success in my opinion - two plastics of beer (you don't get real glasses) cost $14.50, which is more than the hotel bar was charging. And my musical taste probably doesn't extend to the kind of music the band were playing. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I reckon the lead singer was on a different track to the rest of the band. Still, it was loud and the lighting and effects were good, so it could have been worse.

We also had some problems with travel arrangements this time. American Airlines decided to cancel our flight two days before we were due to set off for LA, and "re-routed" us via Heathrow airport. I don't reckon that a flight two hours earlier in the morning from an airport an extra five hours travelling time away can really be called re-routing. More like "we don't really care if you fly with us or not". Instead we got a flight the next day with Aer Lingus via Dublin. And, of course, we had to sample "real" Irish Guinness while passing through. Surprisingly, it didn't really taste any different to the Guinness we get in England. Still, this was in the airport bar. Perhaps they think it's going to be full of foreigners most of the time anyway, and so they keep the best stuff to themselves. NB: if you are reading this in the US, do not confuse the draught beer that is served in some "Irish pubs" over there, and euphemistically called "Guinness", with the stuff they drink in Ireland!

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