Last week (5-9.11.2007) I was visiting the european TechEd in Barcelona, keeping an eye on the current trends in the Microsoft world and enjoying a return to the old haunts.
There were some contrasting impressions. Seriously I get the impression that Microsoft has grown so much that it cannot present a unified vision. It might also be a sign of change as this impression is caused by having people talk about things that I think the rest of the (computing) world learned long ago (in internet time) as if their listeners have no idea about it. And then you get brilliant people talking about things as they should be.
It started with the keynote, or rather the pre-keynote setup. Microsoft marketing gave me the impression of a 50 year old trying to look cool by doing things 19-year olds do.
There was a VJ playing beats, in a different setting maybe cool, but in this setting and with the VJ probably tied down with very specific instructions we got rather standard bpms that would be considered old-fashioned 15 years ago - the electronic equivalent of elevator music.
There were also a couple of graffiti artists painting on canvases, which to my eyes came across as fake, pretentious. Graffiti is a spontaneous urban cultural statement driven by altogether different reasons than what Teched is all about. You won't find "Microsoft" graffitied anywhere.
The keynote in itself was - to be honest - dull. Listening to the head of Microsoft's Tools division to talk about how exciting VS2008 and TFS2008 are was just another exercise in enduring marketing speak. The sense of a tired copmany repeating things so that it would believe them itself got a bit stronger.
The demos managed to salvage the situation a bit. Especially the VS Shell demo with the editor for creating World of Warcraft addons. Apart from seeing the game which has it's own cool factor (yes I play!), seeing VS perform intellisense for Lua was admitedly impressive.
The best thrill was seeing Ruby run in Silverlight 1.1. Hats off to the guys in the DLR camp of Microsoft, they seem to be having all the fun these days. It was also where the three insolent MacBook Pro users of the whole conference met. Even so...there where 3 MacBook Pros at TechEd, who would have thought!
Two talks stood out though, probably because they contrasted with much of the reality of Microsoft products.
David Chappel's "SOAP/WS-* and REST: Complementary Communication Styles".
Although presented in a (in my view) apologetic way, an out-of-your-way effort to bridge the two sides, it had some very valid observations about REST and WS-* (his blog post on the thema leaves room for missunderstandings unfortunately). The thing is, defining the areas of use for REST and WS-* the way I see it pushes WS-* in a niche, that of secure transactional method driven interfaces.
Now, put that together with the second talk, Pat Helland's "The irresistible forces meet the moveable objects", where he talked about writing software that handles a faulty, incosistent, highly parallel and unreliable environment with no master database or guaranteed connections and that niche becomes very small.
To be honest, going into TechEd I wished I was at RubyConf and that feeling did not change by the end of the keynote or even the conference. There was very little attendee interaction, you could see we were there to see what we are going to be "forced" into using in the next two years, get an early warning on potential problems. More like television than the interactive Web.