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MIX08 - much more than Silver and Light

So, after landing a few days back from my visit to Las Vegas for MIX08, it’s time to reflect on the experience. First up, the conference was excellent in terms of the session content, speakers, general organization and, of course, the location!

The main thing I came away with was not a focus on a single technology, it was on an aspect of a software delivery - one that has probably been there for a while but it came to the fore at MIX - Microsoft’s willingness to shape their products according to the feedback of its users. There wasn’t a session I attended that didn’t include the mantra “feel free to use the software, and give us your feedback. It can and will shape the next release”.

This went hand in hand with the fact that speakers were keen to make themselves available after sessions for discussion. I now have a couple of email addresses of Microsoft product team leaders! Email addresses that can probably be harvested from the web but the fact is these guys are willing to back up their software, and are interested to hear about developers’ experiences. Wow.

In terms of content, there was a huge range of sessions. The thought came to me (no surprise, the MIX byline being “the next web now”) during the SQL Server Data Services session that there was a subtle force loosely tying a lot of the demonstrated technologies together - a convergence “in the cloud”, as they say. The movement from the personal workspace to one or more non local stores or services, and the software being developed to operate on and consume the aforementioned.

This leads to a reliance on standards - the support of which popped up in the excellent sessions on WCF and REST in the 3.5 framework, and the ability of the synchronisation framework to produce and consume Feedsync streams amongst others. On the subject of standards it was a surprise hearing Scott Dickens during the IE8 cross browser development explain how closely they work with W3C to improve areas of the CSS spec, going as far as comparing the way other major browser versions handle some of the rules and trying to work out a common ground.

My favorite sessions were probably WCF/Rest presented by Justin Smith (cool guy!), the SQL Server Data Services session presented by Nigel Ellis (very smart guy) and Real World RESTful applications with ADO.Net Data Services Framework presented by Mike Flasko - ah heck, the MS Sync Services session by Nel Padgett and Pablo Castro was an eye opener as well :-)

The title of this post reflects on the fact that several of the technologies I hadn’t focused on prior to the event were apparently overshadowed by the announcement of products like Silverlight 2.0 and IE 8. I didn’t see it this way personally; the audience in all of the non-UX sessions I checked out were really excited about the CTPs for stuff like SSDS, the Sync framework, the new WCF features in the 3.5 framework, ADO.Net Data Services etc, but Silverlight is an interesting phenomenon.

I say this because some people say Microsoft doesn’t always get the product and its marketing right, but in this case they definitely have! The popularity and buzz around Silverlight at the moment is huge.

Let me explain. I like the product. But in very high level terms, it’s a browser plug-in that delivers a rich media experience. I think Microsoft got these key things right in terms of creating a great product for developers, designers and prospective clients:

The development experience. In most design houses I’m aware of, there are Flash experts, or contractors bought in to develop flash applications. Silverlight opens the door to any development company that has .net experience. Instant developer audience. And not just that. Don’t know C# or vb.net? Dynamic language support via the DLR means devs with Perl etc. can also get straight into learning the Silverlight/.NET framework APIs. Large audience! The documentation available is also better than a lot of early Microsoft releases.

XAML and the authoring application Blend allow largely true designer/developer independence - if done right. There are a few snags, but designers that currently love applications like Freehand can create their assets, import them into blend for optimisation and/or animation and then let the dev get on with the application with a reasonably simple workflow.

Possibly deriving from the two points above, the main value proposition for the client should be time to market. I haven’t seen AFAIK any Silverlight applications that couldn’t be ported to work in Flash, but I believe that the development cycle for a Silverlight application once the team members are familiar with it should be shorter than rich media applications have typically taken until now.

To wrap up, thanks to Intergen for the opportunity to attend such a great conference in such a great city! It was a buzz seeing the next wave of Microsoft products and frameworks - and the passion for them from the respective product teams.

There is huge value in attending above and beyond just the sessions - the ability to meet people who would otherwise just be well respected names attached to blogs or hidden in the depths of Redmond, along with a huge number of attendees (including the snake hanging at the bar during the Together at MIX party) left a real impression.

Get to MIX09 if you can!

Posted by: Kelly Cliffe, Developer | 19 March 2008

Tags: MIX

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