Microsoft MIX 2009 Wrap-Up

Writing

I’m sure that there are about a million MIX wrap-up articles out there, but this one is going to be filled with mystery and intrigue…

The first day keynote was actually quite interesting, with Bill Buxton leading up the group with a very interesting talk on interactive design. He gave a very cool presentation on why user experience matters and gave numbers from within Microsoft showing that they have been hiring user experience professionals at an even faster rate than developers. He even cracked a few jokes about the fact that, yes, Microsoft actually does employ some user experience people.

The Gu’s Keynote

After Bill Buxton finished up Scott Guthrie did his usual MIX talk, chock full of announcements of new technologies. The focus was obviously very heavily weighted on Silverlight 3, being that this is the technology that Microsoft is mostly heavily focused on commercially right now. In this keynote there were a handful of big announcements that really caught my eye, some were surprising, others predictable:

Expression Web 3 is now available, and they did introduce some interesting features around css styling and validation.

SuperPreview is part of Expression Web and now provides an official way to test IE6, 7, and 8 all within the same tool. It will also pull in local copies of Opera, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, etc… and on top of that, Microsoft is setting up a cloud of servers that will feed down screenshots of browsers that you can’t install locally. Even those that run on OS-X. You can then pull up images and web-pages of multiple browsers side by side, and then even overlay them in onion-skin mode. You can also click on elements in one browser and see where the element rendered in the other browser and where it was supposed to be. It’ll even let you view the html and css for each preview so that you can see what is causing the rendering to be incorrect. It looks like a great tool for anyone who is going to be doing lots of html/css.

ASP.NET MVC 1.0 Shipped – They announced that ASP.NET MVC 1.0 started officially shipping, which is good news since it has been a long time in the making. Judging from the fact that it was second only to Silverlight in terms of the number of talks on it, I think it is safe to say that Microsoft is taking this technology very seriously.

Microsoft Web Platform Installer 2 Beta – Microsoft’s Web Platform installer is a tool for getting up and running with many of Microsoft’s tools as well as Third party tools on a web server. The big advancement in version 2 is the inclusion of third party applications which can be integrated into it. This means that you can go in and install WordPress, BlogEngine.net, DotNetNuke, etc… all by clicking one button and it will even install dependencies. It looks like this is also going to be a very important tool going forward.

Windows Azure Enhancements – They announced that they are going to start supporting Fast-CGI and Full-Trust for apps running in the cloud. They also announced the Sql Data Services are going to be moving back to a more traditional relational database instead of the non-schematized direction that it was currently going. I will wait to see if this hinders them in their efforts to scale this new platform.

Silverlight 3 – This was the focus of much of Scott’s keynote and they had a slew of announcements. First they are going to support cross platform hardware acceleration. Allowed for some interesting effects, it’ll be neat to see how people use and abuse this. Silverlight 3 will support standard video codecs like H.264 and it will allow developers to write their own codecs in managed code which can be deployed with their own application. They are launching an IIS plug-in that will work with Silverlight called IIS media services. It is going to provide a huge number of features for video streaming, caching, etc…. They also announced that they are going to include a huge number of controls in Silverlight 3 in order to make the developer experience much nicer.

The biggest announcement on this front that I saw was that Silverlight 3 will be able to run out of the browser by default. This will allow what they called "data snacking applications" (man I love that phrase!). Essentially Silverlight will now be a real competitor to Adobe AIR. The applications will have program menu icons and will receive updates automatically when they are run. It looks like an even more simple way to distribute apps than ClickOnce.

Expression Blend is going to have a new tool in it called SketchFlow which looked like a neat tool for designing interfaces. It basically allows you to drag and drop controls onto a form and graphically design the flow of an application. You can then render hand-drawn looking controls which can respond to user input to allow page transitions, animations, etc… Then they are going to have a client application that will allow users to open and view these mocks. Overall it looks like a pretty neat tool for creating simple mock ups of Silverlight or Web Apps.

And finally, from the "not sure where that came from department" Microsoft announced that they are releasing plugins for Eclipse to allow you to do Silverlight development on both Windows and Mac OSX. Kinda interesting, but I’m not sure who is going to be using them. Only time will tell I guess.

Dean Hachamovich’s Keynote

Okay, so Internet Explorer 8 shipped. Woohoo. Man I couldn’t care less. That may sound harsh, but honestly until they force IE6 users to upgrade their browsers they could release a browser that printed free money whenever I browsed to a new page and I’m still not sure that it would faze me very much. It does look like they are doing a few neat things in IE8 with web slices and whatnot, but they totally dropped the ball by not developing a faster javascript engine. They keep saying IE8 is faster than the other browsers, but the only speed problems I generally run into are sites with tons of javascript. IE8 sadly won’t change this experience very much. So, you can say that I’m not big on IE8, I hope that Microsoft can impress me with IE9.

Conference Sessions

There were quite a few interesting topics, but I’ll just say that the events I attended were very much skewed toward ASP.NET MVC which is the Microsoft web technology that I am most excited about. Here are the talks that I attended:

Microsoft ASP.NET 4.0 : What’s Next? – There are a few neat little things coming in ASP.NET 4.0, but it seems like a lot is around fixing tiny issues like fixing control IDs and making rendering on some controls more palatable. I think ASP.NET WebForms is now a mature baked platform with innovation mostly coming in the surrounding libraries such as Dynamic Data and the like.

Web Development Using Microsoft Visual Studio: Now and in the Future – Nice look at the enhancements in Visual Studio 2010 that are coming down the pipe for web development.

Windows Azure Storage – Neat look at the non-relational storage options coming for Windows Azure.

Choosing between ASP.NET Web Forms and MVC – Great talk focused on the fact that WebForms and MVC are going to both be around for a long time.

File|New -> Company: Creating NerdDinner.com with Microsoft ASP.NET Model View Controller – Real world look at building an ASP.NET MVC website.

Microsoft ASP.NET Model View Controller (MVC): Ninja on Fire Black Belt Tips – Awesome look at some advanced tips and techniques for building ASP.NET MVC websites.

There’s a Little Scripter in All of Us: Building a Web App for the Masses – Cool talk on how over-architecting our applications can actually hurt their adoption. Simple applications (mainly PHP ones) have dominated the market for several reasons, the first of which is easy setup and config.

All of the talks that I attended I thought were excellent, but not really surprisingly the best content I got from the weekend was through my many random discussions with all of the wonderful people that I met (well, at least in person). The conversations with some insanely smart people are the entire reason I go to these events, and why I look forward to going back each and every year.

Well, I hope that this wrap-up didn’t bore you too much, the conference was an all around excellent time!

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