Recap: Tech·Ed North America 2010 Day 4

Yesterday was the final day of TechEd North America 2010 and the start of a max exodus of geeks out of New Orleans (they’re hard to miss wearing the official TechEd backpacks or other clothing emblazoned with tech company logos). I’m sure some people skipped the final day, but it still seemed pretty full. As you can see in this video I recorded mid-afternoon, many people were still attending the final sessions:

After a leisurely morning, John and I attended Mark Russinovich’s session on Pushing the Limits of Windows. Mark is one of just a handful Technical Fellows at Microsoft, and probably knows more about how Windows works internally than anyone else. As expected, Mark packed one of the larger auditoriums at the convention centre. He didn’t strike me as a natural-born presenter, but I still very much enjoyed his talk (and learned quite a lot). As John remarked on the way out, “my brain hurts.”

Tech·Ed North America 2010

I couldn’t resist attending the Coding4Fun session in the afternoon, titled Learn Windows Phone 7 Development by Creating a Robotic T-Shirt Cannon. Daniel Fernandez and Clint Rutkas walked us through how they built a Windows Phone 7 app to control the robot (affectionately named Betty) that debuted at Mix back in March. Along the way, they shot out a few dozen t-shirts and weren’t afraid to show off the robot’s capabilities! Here is a video I recorded of the robot in action:

Tech·Ed North America 2010

It was a fun way to get some exposure to Windows Phone 7 development. If you’ve never checked out Coding4Fun before, you really should! You can find the source code for the app they built here.

The final session I attended at TechEd was Programming AppFabric: Moving Microsoft .NET to the Cloud, presented by Pluralsight’s Aaron Skonnard and Keith Brown. Despite progressing a little slowly at times, I thought the talk was fantastic. In particular, the way Aaron started it was memorable. He fired up a console app running on his laptop and asked everyone with Internet-connected devices in the audience to hit a public URL. Immediately requests started appearing on the screen, prompting the very distinctive “how did he do that” murmurs among everyone in the room (turns out it is the magic of the AppFabric Service Bus).

TechEd officially finished with a large party in the evening at Mardi Gras World. Buses took thousands of geeks to and from the event, which featured a number of live bands, magicians, jugglers, palm readers, and an Xbox gaming room, among other things. It was fun to just walk around the party, taking in the sights and sounds.

Mardis Gras World

Mardis Gras World

I learned quite a lot at TechEd, and have a pretty long list of things I want to look into further! It was a fun week.

You can see more of my TechEd photos here, and also at the TechEd group on Flickr.

Recap: Tech·Ed North America 2010 Day 3

Maybe it was because I was wearing shorts, but the convention centre seemed especially cold yesterday (and today). Still really hot outside for TechEd attendees however, with temperatures hovering around the 30 degrees C mark. The day seemed to go fairly smoothly, with the exception of lunch (there was a session that went through most of the lunch break, and they ran out of food, which meant incredibly long lineups right at the end).

Tech·Ed North America 2010Tech·Ed North America 2010

The first session I went to yesterday was Windows Server AppFabric Caching: What It Is and When You Should Use It. I’m a fan of Memcached, and have been using it for a number of years now, so I really wanted to see how AppFabric compares (the codename for this was Velocity, which I wrote about here). I’d say that overall they are quite similar, though if you’re a .NET developer using AppFabric can give you some quick wins. One example is that with just a couple of lines in the Web.config, you can use AppFabric to store Session information, perfect for a web farm scenario. Another thing I like is that AppFabric Caching is managed through PowerShell. Here are some resources:

Tech·Ed North America 2010

After lunch I attended one of the bigger sessions, Overview of the Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework 4, hosted by Julie Lerman and Chris Sells. I really enjoyed it, first and foremost because it consisted mainly of demos, and secondly because Julie and Chris were really entertaining and worked well together. Here again, I have been using an open source solution – SubSonic. I remember reading about EF really early on, but didn’t spend too much time on it because of all the criticism it received. If nothing else, the session yesterday made me want to look at EF again – it has really come a long way. I was impressed.

Another session I attended was Building RESTful Applications with the Open Data Protocol. Although labeled a 300-level session, it was very introductory, and didn’t contain anything I hadn’t already seen. It was great to see so many people in the session though – clearly there’s some interest.

I also took some time yesterday to explore the Exhibition Hall a bit more, stopping by the Spoon booth to talk with them. They have some really interesting virtualization and application streaming technology. I recorded a short video and wrote more at Techvibes.

Tech·Ed North America 2010

There are lots of social events during TechEd, but last night in particular seemed like a busy night. John and I checked out the Springboard party at the House of Blues (where we saw some of the Hawks-Flyers game) as well as the Pluralsight mixer. Good times!

You can see more of my TechEd photos here, and also at the TechEd group on Flickr.

Recap: Tech·Ed North America 2010 Day 2

Full day of sessions at TechEd yesterday, though I did take some time in the morning to catch up on blogging, as I am doing today. Probably the most talked about topic at TechEd so far has been the breakfast! People are simply not happy with bagels, muffins, and scones. Either the breakfast or these mascots that everyone has been stopping to get a photo with:

The main feature of the day was the Business Intelligence keynote with Ted Kummert, Microsoft Senior Vice President, Business Platform Division. I missed it, so I’ll watch it online, which you can do here. You can also read a transcript here.

The first session I went to was Prototyping Rich Microsoft Silverlight 4 Applications with Microsoft Expression Blend + SketchFlow. It was really interesting to see how you could use SketchFlow to draw out some screens from your application, and then start to add behaviours and other improvements. We also saw the new feature that enables you to publish a SketchFlow document to SharePoint, making it easy to share a prototype/mockup with colleagues. For more information:

Another session I checked out was Intro to Workflow (WF) Services & Windows Server AppFabric. I’m getting increasingly interested in AppFabric. It seems like a no-brainer to use it if you’re on the Microsoft platform already. I probably should have brushed up on some WF before attending the session, but it was still useful to see how WCF, WF, and AppFabric work together. For more information:

My favorite session of the day was the final one, Open Data for the Open Web, presented by Douglas Purdy and Jonathan Carter. This session had two things going for it: open data, one of my favorite topics, and the hilarious tag team of Douglas and Jonathan. They were really quite entertaining, but still managed to do a great job of explaining what OData is, and what the vision is. And, bonus, the City of Edmonton logo was on screen briefly! Some resources from this session:

The Internet at TechEd was pretty reliable yesterday, which meant that everyone on Twitter was able to find out that it was raining outside:

Some other sights:

Tech·Ed North America 2010
Microsoft Tag spotted at TechEd!

Tech·Ed North America 2010
Developers don’t actually talk like that…

Tech·Ed North America 2010
Top Secret! mPad!

You can see more of my TechEd photos here, and also at the TechEd group on Flickr.

Recap: Tech·Ed North America 2010 Day 1

TechEd kicked off here in New Orleans yesterday, with an opening keynote from Bob Muglia, President of the Server & Tools Business at Microsoft. There are more than 10,000 customers, partners, and staff on-site and I think all of them caught the keynote (they had to setup a few overflow rooms). John and I arrived early to register and quickly chow down some breakfast so that we could lineup for the keynote. Neither of us have sat in the front row before, but we managed to do so yesterday!

Here’s a quick video that John recorded:

The focus of the keynote, which you can watch here, was cloud computing. Some of the highlights  for me included (more info here):

  • The public beta of Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 will start in July.
  • Windows Server AppFabric is now available.
  • The Pivot control for Silverlight 4 will be launched this summer. Pivot is such amazing technology (it utilizes Deep Zoom for some of its magic) and being able to embed it on a web page is going to be awesome.
  • We saw a quick demo of Windows Phone 7, specifically related to integration with SharePoint. The enterprise features look pretty slick, so I hope they can deliver on the consumer experience too. You can see some screencaps from the demo here.
  • It was really interesting to hear from Tony Scott, Microsoft’s CIO, about how they are fully adopting the cloud internally. He said that Microsoft IT is now officially “cloud first”.
  • Also very cool: a video talking about the digital asset management system that Microsoft built for James Cameron and his team for Avatar. Cameron talked about this at D8 too.

Tech·Ed North America 2010

Next up for John and I was the Developer Foundations keynote with Jason Zander. He announced quite a few interesting things for developers, including a new Feature Pack for Visual Studio 2010. Microsoft is going to release Feature Packs in between major releases to continually add functionality to the product. Some of the new stuff that excites me:

  • HTML clipboard support (copy code and paste it into your blog and its ready to go)
  • Search functionality for the Add Reference dialog
  • Tons of code editor improvements, such as entire-line-highlighting, and “tabify/untabify”

Jason also has a great post with links to new platform bits here. In particular, I’m very happy to see that Microsoft is working on Scrum Process Template for TFS 2010.

Throughout the day I explored the TechEd site. I visited the Community Lounge, which is where all the Hands-On Labs take place. I couldn’t resist taking a photo with the Channel9 guy:

Tech·Ed North America 2010

Channel9 was livestreaming all day yesterday, and are doing the same today.

I also visited the Exhibition Hall, full of Microsoft product team representatives, as well as dozens of partners. One of the more interesting things to see was one of the Azure server containers:

Tech·Ed North America 2010

After the day’s sessions were finished, there was a reception in the Exhibition Hall. I made sure to stop by the Windows Phone 7 booth, to check out the prototype:

Tech·Ed North America 2010

I didn’t learn any new details, of course, but it was neat to see the phone in action.

Other thoughts on day 1:

  • As expected, not everything went smoothly. The Internet was down for most of the day, which was really annoying. I always wonder why some innovative company hasn’t come along to revolutionize Internet access for conferences, because it is such a common problem.
  • There were far more unhealthy options available for snacks than healthy options (I saw only a few bananas and oranges, but lots of popcorn, cookies, and Goldfish crackers).

Tech·Ed North America 2010
In between sessions

You can see more of my TechEd photos here, and also at the TechEd group on Flickr.

I’m going to Tech·Ed North America!

Tech·Ed is one of Microsoft’s most important annual conferences for developers and IT professionals, held in several places around the world. This year, Tech·Ed North America is in New Orleans in June, and I’m going to be there! I was invited by Microsoft Canada to attend, an opportunity I jumped at. I’ll be there with John Bristowe, taking in the sessions and labs, learning as much as I can, meeting other developers & IT pros, and generally having a good time. And of course, I’ll be blogging, tweeting, photographing, and otherwise recording & sharing the whole experience.

The conference runs from June 7 to 10. There are literally hundreds of sessions during the week, as well as a couple of keynotes and other special presentations. There’ll be some awesome parties too! The sessions are organized into 21 technical tracks, everything from Architecture to Office & SharePoint. I’m particularly interested in sessions on:

  • Open Data (obviously)
  • WCF and WF in .NET Framework 4
  • Windows Phone 7
  • Azure (cloud computing)

If you’re going to Tech·Ed, what sessions are you planning to check out? If you’re not going to Tech·Ed, what do you think I should see? Let me know!

I’m going to blog about my experience a little here, but also at Techvibes and the Canadian Developers blog. I’ll be tweeting about it too, using the official hashtag #teched. Can’t wait!

Help bring Tech Days Canada to Edmonton!

Microsoft is planning the 2010 edition of Tech Days Canada, and they’re considering a stop here in Edmonton. In previous years, local developers have had to make the trip down to Calgary. If you’ve never heard of Tech Days, here’s what it’s all about:

With forty 200+ level sessions, Tech Days is the learning conference on both current technologies and new products like Windows 7, Exchange 2010 and much more.

The idea is to bring technical training content from TechEd, Mix, PDC, and other Microsoft conferences to Canadian developers and IT pros. There are sessions on Silverlight, test driven development, virtualization, IIS7, SharePoint, refactoring, Visual Studio, and more. I have led three sessions at Tech Days Calgary in past years, on ADO.NET Data Services, Internet Explorer 8, and REST Services with WCF.

When Microsoft was planning Tech Days 2009, they considered stopping here, but we lost out to Halifax. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see that happen again.

I think there are definitely enough local developers and IT professionals to host Tech Days here, so let’s make the decision for Microsoft an easy one! If you want to see Tech Days come to Edmonton this year, email damirb@microsoft.com, or tweet your interest!

Windows 7 Feature Request: Unified Application Updates

I’m sick of the way software updates are handled in Windows, and I want a new unified application update center in Windows 7 to solve the problem. Apparently Microsoft is asking Windows 7 beta participants questions related to “a single place for finding and managing updates on my PC.” The survey seems to go beyond updating however, and covers installing, uninstalling, configuring, and even discovering new applications. I think they should keep it simple – make updating applications easy.

The problem today is that every new application ships with its own update mechanism, if it has the ability at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told the Adobe Updater to screw off because it has started automatically downloading 500 MBs worth of updates in the background. At least Logitech asks me before it starts using my bandwidth. Why is it bad for each application to have its own updater?

  • Instead of one OS component running to perform updates, dozens of little apps or background processes may be running to support the various applications you have installed. Each one takes resources.
  • Every time I want to configure an updater, I have to start from scratch because they all have different interfaces and options. This wastes my time.
  • Related to the previous point, if I want to see if my applications are up-to-date, I have to check each one individually! Again, this wastes my time.

I’m not sure exactly how Microsoft would go about implementing this (do Adobe servers push notifications to Microsoft servers?) but I think it should be like Windows Update on steroids. Here’s what I want:

  • The ability to see all of my applications and whether or not they are up-to-date.
  • The ability to define a schedule for downloading and installing updates, preferably on a per-application basis.
  • The ability to see a complete history of application updates.
  • The ability to easily suspend all updating temporarily.
  • Options for notifications. I want to be notified about some application updates, and others I never want to hear about.
  • The ability to have a restore point set before each update.

I think having unified application updates would drastically improve the user experience on Windows. It would reduce user frustration and improve system performance and security. The survey is definitely encouraging – I hope this becomes a reality!

Thoughts on the updated Windows Live Essentials Beta

Like many of you, I’ve been using the various Windows Live desktop applications for a long time now. Until fairly recently however, they all looked and felt different from one another. There wasn’t much cohesion. That changed when Microsoft began to make the UIs similar and launched the Windows Live Installer which integrated all the apps. Recently, they gave the suite a better name (Windows Live Essentials) and did even more work to achieve a consistent look and feel. On Monday, they released the latest beta refresh.

windows live

I have most of the apps installed – Messenger, Mail, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Writer, and Toolbar. The only one I don’t have is Family Safety. I use Messenger, Photo Gallery, and Writer every day, and the others I use less. The install also includes the Office Outlook Connector, Office Live Add-In, Silverlight, and the Microsoft Sync framework.

I’m fairly impressed with the suite so far, but I still think it’s far from perfect. Here are a few of the things I really like:

  • The new icons look great and are consistent.
  • I love the simplified presence indicators in Messenger (these were in the previous beta too – now there’s just Available, Busy, Away, and Appear Offline).
  • In the old beta, Messenger would always sign out if I switched from Appear Offline to something else. That has been fixed, thankfully. Seems faster too.
  • Writer is easily the best blog publishing tool I’ve ever used. It just works the way I want it to. I don’t know what to say specifically, but it’s awesome.
  • Person recognition and tagging in Photo Gallery absolutely rocks! Very cool feature, useful too.

And here are a few things I really dislike:

  • Photo Gallery is ridiculously slow to load. Once it’s open it seems fine, but from launching the app to being ready to use takes forever. I’ve only got about 36 GB of photos on this machine, so I’m sure there are users with far more.
  • In Messenger, you can no longer control the color of your chat windows. It’s based on the theme/color of the person you’re chatting with. Not sure I like that…it’s a window on MY computer, after all.
  • Speaking of colors, I still don’t like that the apps are inconsistent. I can set Messenger to look black, but Writer looks grey (even though I’ve set the color to be the same as Messenger), and Photo Gallery looks light blue and lacks a color setting button. Why there isn’t a color setting like the one in Office 2007 is beyond me. It can’t be that hard!

In general, I like Windows Live Essentials. It’s definitely something I’d install when setting up a new computer. I look forward to the final release!

All browsers have security issues

ielogo You may have heard in the last day or so about a critical flaw found in Internet Explorer. Microsoft says that “the vulnerability could allow remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted Web page using Internet Explorer.” The risk is mitigated if you run an account with fewer privileges or if you run IE in the High security mode. As always, you should ensure your machine is up-to-date with all of the latest patches at Microsoft Update (you can also find downloads at the Microsoft Download Center).

Unlike most zero day exploits, this one is actually infecting systems fairly quickly. That’s probably why Microsoft decided to take immediate action. As the Zero Day blog points out:

Researching, fixing, testing, and releasing a security patch within an eight day window is an incredible feat — especially given the need to support all versions of IE across all platforms and languages.  This is an ‘all hands on deck’ response from Microsoft – I don’t think we’ll see this as the norm for less critical patches in the future as it is quite disruptive to their own processes.

Make sure you update soon! Like right now!

When a vulnerability like this is disclosed, a common suggestion is to install and use a different browser, such as Firefox. That’s not a bad idea, but don’t think that will solve all of your problems! All browsers have security issues. Yesterday, for instance, Opera released an update to address at least seven security vulnerabilities. And today, Firefox released updates to both versions 2 and 3 to patch roughly a dozen security holes. And no, Chrome and Safari are not off the hook – just two days ago, they tied for last place in a test of password security.

Always make sure you’re running the latest version with all patches installed, no matter which browser you’re using. On top of that, be careful, pay attention, and use common sense when clicking links and opening files.

Great Marketing: Techie Crunch

For the most part, I’d say that Tech Days 08 went as expected this week (in Calgary). Lots of people showed up, some were more interested and enthusiastic than others, and there was a mix of great content and average content. Another thing you can typically count on at a Microsoft event is a bag full of swag. Tech Days attendees did in fact receive swag, but it didn’t come in a bag!

I can’t tell you how many bags I’ve collected at Microsoft events over the years. It’s the same thing, over and over – a bag (sometimes paper, sometimes fabric) filled with marketing materials, a pen, trial software, and sometimes a book or full version of an application. The contents were similar at Tech Days, but the packaging was quite unique:

Techie Crunch Tech Days 2008

Maybe a little over-the-top, but I love it!

Techie Crunch is “Brain Food for a Healthy Mind” and comes complete with a “Free Brain Warming Toque”. It looks just like a cereal box, with all the graphics and marketing you’d expect, a fake UPC code, and my favorite – Nutrition Facts and Ingredients! As you can see they did some work with the contents too, including the toque and a plastic spoon (actually a pen).

This must have a been a fun project for the marketing team to work on. It might seem like a small thing, but it’s details like this that turn an average experience into something more memorable. Well done!

You can see a few more photos of the box with my other Tech Days photos here.