Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Whidbey Rocks! VS 2005 Launch Tour San Fran

Yesterday I attended the Visual Studio 2005 Ready Launch Tour. WOW! I had so much fun.

The morning started with a very loud and exciting performance from Cheap Trick, and the "Rock and Roll" theme continued throughout the day until the very end - even through the complimentary software which was presented in "record album" style. There was even a party afterwards, which I really wanted to go to but could not attend.

Overall

I am personally a Microsoft groupie, and more importantly, very easy to impress - so I had a blast. I thought that the theme was well-played and that there was plenty of opportunity to find out a good deal of top-level info about all of the new products.

I personally was disappointed, though, with the way that they were pushing BizTalk 2006 - they didn't even make a single demo with a very simple web site, without incorporating BizTalk. I guess that should have been expected, and I certainly was very impressed at how tightly integrated the systems were, but I was there for Visual Studio.

Was it a bit disappointing?

If I were to take off my "very easy to impress" hat, I was almost wondering if it was kind of a flop - there was a decided lack of enthusiasm on the part of the crowd. I expected it to be like an Amway convention - with plenty of ooo'ing and ahhh'ing, applause, and rip-raring-ready-to-go developers with their eyes bulging out at all of the new cool tools.

This was not the case.

There was only sparse applause after each presentation, with even a dreaded "hang-time" after one segment, where the speaker expected applause and didn't get it (until the crowd realized they were supposed to clap). I only experienced 3 times in the whole day where the crowd showed any life at all:
  • When Visual Studio 2005 Express Edition was announced as being free
  • When they announced a fully functional PayPal-enabled eCommerce Starter Kit for the 2005 Express Edition
  • When they mentioned something to the effect of the Visual Studio 2005 HTML designer not reformatting your HTML on you every time you switch back from design view (as is happening to me right now, writing this article in VS 2003
I personally thought the day was enjoyable, but it seemed like I was the only one.

The Atmosphere

As I mentioned, I thought the "Rock and Roll" theme was very well played out and carried through the days' presentations and decorations. Nothing beats a free seminar, but I was quite shocked to find that all of the food and goodies were free as well. And there was an ample supply of that.

All of the Microsoft people I talked to were ready to jump and answer any questions, and were very friendly in general. I also found their arrangements for their "Cabanna" side-sessions to be well-placed, roomy, and comfortable. I could always hear and see every speaker clearly, and most of the time nothing was too loud - except for the Cheap Trick presentation, which it should be.

The Moscone Center was "cool", had nice clean (and easily accessible) bathrooms, lots of space, and friendly people.

The Presentations

Too Dry

Maybe one of the reasons I saw a lack of enthusiasm was the college-lecture atmosphere of the presentations. I don't know if it was just me, but even the "very interesting" presentations were so dry and monotonous that I missed key points because my attention was drifting. There were one or two entertaining speakers, but I have to say that the best speaker of the day was the College student they invited to plug VS Express Edition.

They could really have benefitted from taking some tips from Ron Jacobs and the Patterns & Practices team, in that they really know how to joke around and put you at ease, while still covering the material.

No (or too few) "oooo ahhh" moments

I have seen at least one Microsoft presentation before that prompted a "wow" from the whole crowd when the sample demo finally ran and showed off its widget. I vaguely recall a presentation where throughout the short demo, they created a small speech-enabled service; at the end of the demo, they ran a web application, placed an order, and the presenter's cell phone rang and "spoke" about the new order. Everyone ooooo'd, ahhhh'd, and cheered.

There were no (or very few) such moments in these presentations, which is really too bad because I do feel that there are plenty of new "wow" features in the products. There was certainly quite a bit of information, and I didn't feel that any of the presentations were a complete waste of time; however, I just wonder if they could have rearranged them better, or put a bit more life and humor into them.

Bugs

Unfortunately, many of the presenters were using pre-RTM product - one speaker actually told us that. For that reason - or just because applications will never be perfect - in a few presentations the product being demonstrated blew up. Mostly, just enough to "stall" the presentation or even shut down Visual Studio completely. However, my colleague told me one of the presenters in the SQL track was unable to show one whole demo of his because the application would not work as expected.

The Swag

Microsoft gave great swag - some were announced and was expected but some were not. Here's some stuff I got:
  • Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition (DVD)
  • SQL Server 2005 Standard Edition (DVD)
  • BizTalk 2006 [beta?]
  • Voucher for one free certification exam
  • Cool looking T-Shirt and keychain
  • About 5 CD-s that I don't even know what they are yet - trial versions of various things, and a "transcript" of the day, I would guess
  • Geeky flourescent orange armband for "VIP's" (which I did not see one single person actually wear)
  • A very nice soft organizer/binder and pen set, assumedly for taking notes
  • Mandatory hang-around-the-neck event-ticket-holder with bar-code to make sure you don't mooch, and even used by vendors so they can simply scan-and-spam.
Other than that, there was a decided lack of swag from other vendors. *

Oh, there were a lot of vendors there, and they were being very cute in their marketing strategies to get you to come take a look at their booth. One company's employees dressed up as Elvis, Tina Turner, Cher, and some other costumes, to get you to take their CD. HP's employees (I think) had TV's in their T-Shirts. I felt wierd not being able to look the employee in the eyes when they were talking to me, but my eyes kept getting drawn down to the big functioning flat screen TV on their chest.

* Now, as I understand it, there were 2 "contests" going on during the after-launch party, where they were giving away Digital Cameras, printers, and even a Plasma TV. Man, I wish I could have stayed for that, but the way my luck has been going lately (very well), I think my run of good luck has run out and there's no way I would have won anything.

But other than the after-party giveaways, I didn't really get much swag. I got mostly flyers and CD's of marketing materials. The "best" 2 pieces of swag I got, beyond the expected event swag, was another cool event T-Shirt which wasn't even free (I had to buy a book), and a CD from the Patterns & Practices Microsoft team with a bunch of webcasts and podcasts.

The Actual Product

Oh, you mean that there was more than swag and free goodies at this event? Sure, I found out a few things I didn't know about the systems. Here's a very small list of some of the things I personally found useful or just "cool" - I certainly am only skimming the iceberg of what's new.

SQL Server 2005

  • "Native Support" for XML - I got the impression it was like an XML Data Type
  • Try/Catch blocks in T-SQL
  • Directly expose results of a stored procedure as a Web Service
  • Write Stored Procs using C# - This one I did not understand, but they showed a demo that looked like it got a result set, and called some other web service using C# code, all on the SQL Server engine
  • Free "Express" edition (which replaces MSDE?)

Visual Studio 2005 - Web stuff

  • HTML Editor doesn't screw up your HTML any more
  • Master Pages
  • DataGrid control - no longer have to write code to hook up Edit/Update/Delete
  • New Login control
  • New Registration control

Visual Studio 2005 - Other

  • I heard the word "Generics" being bandied about, but don't know what they are other than what I read in the book I had to purchase to get the "free" T-Shirt
  • I heard about Smart Client and One-Click deployment, although missed that seminar to go to one of the Cabanna sessions
  • Free "Express" editions of VB and C#

Visual Studio Team System

  • Re-write ground up of version control system
  • Associates check-ins with bugs and work orders
  • Helps coordinate your bugs and work orders with your whole team
  • Plugins for Excel, Outlook, and Reporting Services

BizTalk Server 2006

  • I didn't find out anything about BizTalk I didn't already know (which is not much) except for seeing how closely it integrates in with Visual Studio now. There were BizTalk-specific talks, but I did not attend.
I know I'm missing a ton of stuff here - I'm going to have to research all of this further, and actually read the material that I got yesterday. It was quite a lot to take in.

Mini-Tour

Well, I had fun yesterday. But it's certainly a lot to take in, and I only went to the developer track seminars. I am also going to be attending a 1/2 day event in Sacramento on December 15th, at which I will go to the SQL Server track and see what I can gain from that.