PDC Highlights in Vienna

Gosh it was cold! I even had to buy a hat. I don't know why, but certains sections of the surface area of my head seem to have forgotten how to grow hair (my wife says it's because I'm getting old, but I reckon it's because my brain is too busy). Anyway, the hat had a badge of Vienna on it, so I really did feel like a tourist. Not that there were many tourists evident in the city, probably most had been frozen and buried under the snow. In fact, you could still see some wrapped up in old sacks and stacked in the local park. Did I say it was cold?

That said, Vienna is an extremely beautiful city with remarkable architecture and a cultural heritage that few other places can match. While we didn't get time to see the museums and many other visitor attractions, we made sure to visit the central Stephansdom church. I've included a couple of pictures (above) to give you some idea. The shopping center, on the other hand, was remarkably international (nice to see so many English shops selling green wellingtons and tweed hunting jackets - something that I guess at least 0.01% of the population of England might consider wearing). I was also surprised to see that Mozart had put his name to so many brands of praline chocolates.

The actual reason for our trip to Vienna was an invitation from Microsoft Austria to present sessions on ASP.NET "Whidby", Visual Studio "Whidby" and the various data management techniques available in .NET (both version 1.x in detail, and a preview of version 2.0). Dave covered Visual Studio, I did data management, and we worked together to provide a somewhat unusual approach to demonstrating the capabilities of ASP.NET 2.0. It seemed to be well received, though I'm not going to say any more about it so it'll be a surprise if you get to see it next time we're invited to your part of the world.

I had hoped to attend some of the other sessions, particularly those covering systems and software architecture. However, as these were all being presented in German, it did seem like benefits would be a bit thin on the ground with my distinct lack of multi-linguality. I don't even speak English that well, and my second tongues are American (now delightfully termed "US English") and shouting. But the closing keynote was in English - presented by Bill Gates. While I had seen much of the content at PDC in Los Angeles, it was really good to see him open up the floor to questions afterwards. And there were some interesting ones concerning Microsoft's aims in the future and the effect of .NET and Whidby on the life of the average developer. Bill answered them all directly with no hesitation, with comfortable ease, and actually seemed like "just another regular guy". Great stuff.

Mind you, the security was noticeably more stringent than other non-Microsoft conferences I've attended - I guess in part due to Bill's presence. I was on the session before him, and had strict instructions that I had to finish absolutely on time. I reckon they'd have picked me up bodily and carried me off the stage if I'd over-run (in fact I had three slides to go when the beeping from the time-clock started). And as it was, there were sniffer dogs all over the place while I was still packing away my laptop. I thought I'd better keep a close eye on them in case they detected the scent of my cats on the laptop bag, or even worse cocked a leg towards it. I'm not sure my insurance covers canine urine damage. But they're probably too well trained for that...

We also did an evening presentation the day before the conference for the local DotNet User Group, organised by Christian Nagel through the INETA speakers bureau. It was fun, and because most of the attendees would be at the conference the next day we covered some different (and more esoteric) topics. Dave did WebParts and personalization, and I raved about XQuery. I did wonder if I'm the only one that is so excited about this topic, but my wild ranting and arm waving must have had some impression on the group because there were lots of questions afterwards. Though they were in fact mainly the same question - what's the real-life performance like if XQuery is going to allow you to do such wonderful things? I guess Microsoft just can't win. Offer developers a great new technology that makes everything so much easier, and all they do is worry about performance! Just go out and buy some more servers (though actually performance is already very good, and will continue to improve).

And we made some new friends while we were in Vienna. Two of them took us to a traditional Austrian eating place where we drank plenty of local wine and ate lots of different types of local meats, while being serenaded by a string and accordion quartet. I'm not sure if they got louder as the night wore on, or we just felt the effects of the excellent wine, but by the end of the night we were struggling to hear each other speak, and we had to keep giving the band money to play to the people at the other end of the building. This was followed by a ride to the top of a nearby hill, to get a fantastic view of the city by night (see photo). With a fresh fall of snow, the winding road was an interesting experience, especially with Peter's winter rallying skills being demonstrated along the way. And did I tell you it was cold? We were absolutely freezing standing there at the top of the hill, but it really was worth it.

Anyway, thanks to all those who made the trip such a pleasure, and to those who came to see us perform at either event. Maybe we can do it again sometime.

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