Warning: those with tl;dr allergy may want to skip this article.
Tuesday morning at MIX11 began with a nice continental breakfast courtesy of Infragistics. During the meal I chatted with various people about Nokia and the mobile world in general. Listening to the thoughts of those outside the MeeGo world is really helping me formulate messages to help them understand what’s going on but even better, to communicate the skeptical view to the MeeGo community in ways that they will find challenging instead of threatening.
Moving on to the event itself. The 9 AM keynotes kicked off a few minutes late with a nifty video highlighting past Mix events and punctuated by pundit observations of the web’s future. Then Microsoft’s Dean Hachomovitch drew us into the Internet Explorer 9 web vision. The interactive 3d Foursquare solution was certainly cool, but I really perked up when he demonstrated an SVG-based animation. I’ve been lamenting the low browser support for SVG over the years, and given Microsoft’s own emphasis on Silverlight, this was surprising. Silverlight was not mentioned much, to the dismay of some attendees, but I’d personally like to know more about their strategy for SVG.
The HTML5-based Pac-man demo was pretty cool too. Given recent analysis that HTML5 could very well disrupt the app market as we know it today, I’m still trying to figure out how this sort of native web development will be monetized. Most likely the dead-horse-beaten dream of a services-driven internet economy is verging on realization. If so, we can expect a significant change to the virtual landscape. Is Microsoft hedging its bets with IE9 and future technologies?
Hachomovitch stressed that IE9′s development was heavily-guided by community input and feedback. He also pointed out that browser optimization per platform is the way to go… which means deprecation of support for prior Windows versions is necessary for compelling user experience. He then addressed the subject of product lifecycles. Breaking with prior platforms is one thing– but support for still-going standards is a natural consumer expectation. An amusing video lampooning rapid websocket updates (and thus breakage of existing websites) drove the point home and got a great audience response. Saying “there is a difference between cadence and progress”, Hachomovitch noted that increased solution release cadence can easily get out of sync with developer and thus consumer demands. This realization gets into an area I want to cover more in a later article: that “the cycles are too damned fast!”
Next up was Steven Sinofsky who ran a shootout between IE9 and Chrome 12, using a CSS/HTML5 fishbowl simulation. Assuming no smoke and mirrors, the demo handily showed IE9 as the performance champion. As one would expect, the same held true for additional demos. I’m eager to try some real-life examples to see for myself, as I’ve been very impressed so far with Chrome’s responsiveness. A personal note: the keynote presentation up to this point convinced me that focusing on HTML5 as a development platform might just be the way to go. It could very well be the foundation of a successful open mobile device ecosystem.
The keynote moved back to Dean Hachomovitch, who showed that IE10 would take much better advantage of hardware acceleration (the platform preview, with feedback tools, is ready for download). The demo again used SVG video, which makes one wonder: is a serious Youtube competitor in the future? Would the average user leave Youtube for a solution with better performance and interesting CSS effects?
Following next was Scott Guthrie, who made a point of mentioning the open source nature of the NuGet .NET tool. He continued to emphasize Microsoft’s forays into open source, which the regular reader here will of course take with a grain of salt. I’m trying to be objective here but can’t help but wonder if Microsoft isn’t still trying to redefine what open source means. When I see an open release of Visual Studio (in some form or fashion) I’ll be more convinced.
Guthrie then invited Scott Hanselman onstage to build an ASP.NET app in the latest release of Visual Studio Ultimate. It was cool to see pure HTML5 code generated alongside the MVC code. Has Microsoft moved away from the injection of proprietary elements into web standards? If so, it’s about time!
Scott’s demo app required a database, and for this he brought in SQL Server compact (which conveniently and automatically added necessary dependencies to the project). Note to self: how does this compare to SQLite (footprint, performance, etc)? One cool feature was the use of metadata in the code to drive data validation for the app. A simple [Required] tag on one field definition automagically generated user notification when the form field was left null. Features like that are the sort of thing that pull in lazy, time-constrained developers like me! Qt program managers, take note!
I won’t go into full detail of Scott’s tutorial (the result can be found here), but I was ultimately amazed at how quickly and easy his media management/playing site was to create using NuGet, especially in areas like twitter integration and still cooler, desktop integration (via IE9 “pinning”). Definitely need to look into that some more. For me the compelling case is simple: I want my final product to be built on broadly-accepted standards (i.e., HTML5) and I will gladly latch onto whatever tool gets me there fastest and with the least amount of sweat. Can Microsoft use this approach to protect its current turf, and more importantly, cut into Android and Apple territory? The potential certainly seems to be there.
After Scott, Drew Robbins was up to talk about Orchard. I got the impression that this open source content management solution was aimed squarely at the also open-sourced WordPress– with a web shopping twist. Stealing content and product providers will of course come down to low barriers, ease-of-use and useful features. Here is where Orchard can really shine, as it looks simple-yet-powerful and supports seamless, simple and direct Amazon.com (and other) web service integration. It seems to be the grown-up version of a mashup tool I tested for Microsoft some time back. I could also see aspects of Sharepoint in its design and functionality… maybe some common code base?
Mention Amazon.com these days and the talk quickly turns to clouds. Along those lines, Neils Hartviq of Umbraco came up to enlighten us on Windows Azure. In his view, Azure’s on-demand, intelligent scalability has been a very useful feature for Umbraco solutions (which tend to be very media-oriented). Random Scott Guthrie point afterward: everything demoed today is new since MIX10, and everything is shipping now.
Oh, and the MeeGo community may be interested to hear that the presentation was running (quickly and cleanly) on an Arm7 device!
Session 1: XNA Game Studio on Windows 7 Phones
This lively talk was conducted by the gregarious and funny Rob Miles, who peppered his presentation with smelly puns of cheese and rewarded those who bravely acknowledged the references with autographed copies of his book on XNA development. Rob flew us through the construction of a simple touchscreen-based mobile game in Visual Studio 2010, and watching him at work was a real treat. One of the absolute best dev-type tutorials I have ever attended… and it actually made me want to code something up on a WP7 device!
Session 2: Microformats and Microdata
I had a hard time deciding what to catch in this time slot and when I overheard another attendee say “metadata” after mentioning this session, I knew I had to attend. Regular readers know of my perverse love for data modeling and information management (when it isn’t an oxymoron) so no surprise there, right?
The speaker, Emily Lewis, seemed to be having problems with a dry throat but once she got rolling it wasn’t a real distraction. She knows her subject well and addressed it with confidence. About two-thirds of the way in I realized I had been missing an opportunity with my occasional web work to take advantage of contextual semantics. The use of microformats enables web page content to “describe itself”, a valuable feature that search engines and other web tools can leverage for a richer user experience. I encourage everyone, though, not just web developers, to look deeper into the subject. There’s something of value for bloggers to be sure.
Session 3: Inspiring UX
This was a series of several 10-minute lightning talks oriented around the creation of innovative, delightful, and relevant user experiences. I can’t do these great talks justice in a paragraph or two here so I won’t even try. Instead, if I remember, I’ll post links to the presentations if/when I have them. Feel free to harass me if i forget. Those fortunate few who follow me on twitter already saw some snippets.
As you can tell I enjoyed the sessions. The keynotes were, well, keynotes and they hit on most of the points one would expect… but I didn’t walk out with a sense of anything grand. There also didn’t seem to me to be an overarching theme, unless it was that Microsoft covers a lot of territory and we already knew that. But maybe I just missed it?
Anyway unfortunately I have to leave early tomorrow so at this point I’m not sure how much I’ll attend and cover for Wednesday. Lucky you, no matter what, the result will be a shorter blog post. ;)