I spent the day at the latest UK Tech Day, a free event provided by Microsoft for IT Pros and Developers. This one was titled “Transitioning to the Cloud”. Wanting to get my head into the Cloud (and more specifically what it actually means) I took the trip down to see Steve Ballmer & Co at the London ICC
Covering Windows Azure, Windows 7 and the soon-to-be-released Windows Phone 7 and IE9, we’ll show you how multiple screens and a cloud will change the way you think about development
The event was aimed more at developers but there was still a lot of good info for IT Pros. I was hoping to do a bit of a live blog/twitter but due to no free wi-fi (shame on you Microsoft) I was stuck to taking a few notes an my netbook
Steve Ballmer took to the stage looking very well, if a little bit tired from his current European tour. He didn’t reveal much in the way of any upcoming secrets but he did give an honest and inspiring look at the future of Microsoft
He believes we are at a transition point in terms of software. Not only how it is developed but how it is being consumed. Microsoft learnt a lot from developing Bing about how Azure needs to work. They realised that one needs to build solutions with the cloud in mind from the get go. In fact, they are going through the process themselves transitioning, or, repurposing their own systems to live in the cloud (i.e. SharePoint).
Read more on Ballmer and about each of the sessions after the jump
I always imagined the “Three Screens” terminology meant Phone, PC & TV, whereas Ballmer talks more generally about small (phone), medium (PC) & large (TV & XBOX). he mentioned about Kinect hardware for Christmas opening up new opportunities as well, of course, the new Windows Phone 7 devices. I was disappointed he said (when questioned directly) that there will be no Zune “HD2” device. At least not internationally. That seems a bit of a mistake from my point of view. Surely it gives a stronger platform to develop on as many people don’t want an expensive phone contract and a wi-fi only version of Windows Phone 7 could make for a popular competitor to the iPod Touch. Steve said they are concentrating on putting all their efforts into the Phones and didn’t want to get side-tracked at the moment. One audience member complained they can’t get hold of hardware to test. According to the CEO the Visual Studio Emulator is good enough until the launch in 2 weeks. He wants to keep some surprises for the consumer regarding WP7, which is why devs aren’t being allowed test previews from manufacturers like HTC .
Jammed in the middle of Ballmer’s keynote there was a rather pointless demo of IE9. This was an overview of Martin Beeby’s later session and I was hoping they would show the cool Bing + HTML5 demo that was shown earlier in the month. However, as it was a room full of developers & IT Pros I would have presumed most, if not all of them, had downloaded and tested it already. Ballmer seemed busy checking his phone at this point but he interrupted the already nervous Beeby with a pointless remark that had already been covered. It was soon over and we got on with the Q&A
When the question of Windows Slates came up he went a bit more into Marketing mode. There are going is going to be hardware from OEMs in time for the Holiday Season, as well as the new year and continuously further still. They are working with OEMs to fine tune touch settings in Windows 7. Apparently with a few tweaks in the registry the operating system can provide an even better touch experience. I got the impression that he was alluding to much, much more improvements in the next version of Windows. In fact, I would go as far to say that the next version of their flagship OS will be marketed as Windows Sl8 (get it? Windows 8 + Slate). He is banking on pen input being a big differentiating feature for Windows Slates. To elaborate the point he heckled an audience member (the respected MVP Mark Wilson) about being bent over his iPad due to it’s on screen keyboard. I wasn’t sitting that far away, similarly hunched over my Windows 7 netbook with its hardware keyboard!
Windows Phone 7
As there are several methods to develop apps in Windows Phone 7, Mike Ormond suggested that Silverlight was best for “Event Driven” apps. Whereas, XNA was more suitable for “Frame Driven” apps like games. Mike presented a quick demo of how to code using the free editions of Visual Studio, Expression Blend and the emulator. The consistency of apps will hopefully help the mobile OS to shine, while the minimum hardware requirements will take a lot of test/guess work out for the developer. Unlike Android, if your app works on one WP7 phone it should work on all others
I was keen to get a better understanding of what Microsoft actually offer when they talk about Windows Azure. Specifically how it differs from just a normal hosting service. Eric Nelson presented a very extensive overview as well as some more detailed technical details. A lot of it went over my head but thankfully he will be making his PowerPoint available at bit.ly/ericnelson
On a basic level (and please correct me in the comments if I’m wrong) Azure lets you host your code in one of Microsoft’s special container datacentres. This takes away hassle of the dev having to think about or maintain hardware, patches, Disaster Recovery, resilience & up-scaling. Below is a list of the points I picked up
- You rent a Hosted Service from Microsoft.
- The service contains your app.
- Services can contain up to 5 roles (e.g. Web/IIS role or Worker role).
- The code can be Visual Basic, C#, F#, even PHP
- SQL Azure
- This is another product, based on cut down version of SQL Server 2008.
- You can host SQL databases for as little as £6 for 1gb database(10gb=£60 etc). This makes a good alternative to using tables in Azure but gets expensive if your database grows
- You get a primary, secondary & tertiary instances of your database
- Azure AppFabric
- AppFabric connects the Hosted Service to the in house apps
I will be going over the presentation again as there were some very useful flow charts describing how it all links together. Another tip that Eric mentioned was that all tracks of this years Professional Developers Conference will be hosted online. This will be a good place to find out more info of what’s happening and upcoming with Azure.
Internet Explorer 9
Martin Beeby took to the stage again, looking a lot more relaxed than during the keynote! Being reasonably new on the “Evangelist” team, he came across as a very competent speaker with a great knowledge of web development. As I follow him on twitter (@thebeebs) I actually had seen a lot of what he was presenting already. He took us through the power of HTML5 and what is supported by IE9. He also showcased a few of the examples from the excellent IE9 Test Drive site. If you haven’t seen or used IE9 yet you can download it at beautyoftheweb.com
This was a surprisingly enjoyable session on how to develop apps for Windows 7. Mike Taulty explained that many apps are still stuck in 2001. They were designed with Windows XP in mind and they are missing out on a lot of goodness in the current Microsoft operating system. XP still accounts for 60% of the market but it is steadily declining, whereas Windows 7 is steadily (and rapidly) inclining.
He gave a few examples of some great modern apps that fit with Windows 7
- Microsoft Zune – Desktop music organizer and player (i.e. how Windows Media Player 12 should have looked)
- This will be used to sync Windows Phone 7 devices not just the Stateside Zune players so you may as well install it now!
- Bend – a sexy (!?) notepad replacement.
- Books.Show – An e-reader that simulates a bookshelf
- I really like this and think it would work great on a Windows Sl8 or touch device
- It comes with 40 free e-books of classic English literature
- MetroTwit – twitter client
- I found it rather ironic that this was showcased as it was only created by Long Zhen out of frustration because nobody was creating decent WPF apps
We then got into the main section of the session – 7 ways to fit into 7. Mike demoed a few simple tweaks that can really help drag your app out of the past. I must congratulate him on actually using large fonts in his code windows so the audience could actually follow what was going on. The way he controlled the presentation was very masterful. hopefully he can pass his skills on to some of the other presenters. Below is a quick outline of what he covered but he made all of his content available on his SkyDrive at bit.ly/mtaultyPresentations
- Use Windows Presentation Foundation to easily build standard looking ribbons
- Utilise the taskbar – use icon overlays & jumplists (available using .Net 3.5 or 4)
- Give the users a helping hand by enabling Crash Recovery (Windows API)
- Use newer Common Open File dialogs & Task boxes instead of old school message boxes (WinAPI codepak)
- Themes! WPF has a theming framework to help users personalise the program
- Window Chrome (the glass border around an window) – Remove it to give your app a modern edge
- Libraries – Understand how they work and support the new way of working
Overall I had a great day. I even got a go on the giant Windows Phone outside the venue. Unfortunately the venue wasn’t that great. there was nowhere to sit outside and the presentation room suffered from its rowing boat seating arrangement. There was also no goody bag! Not so much as a free pen, let alone a free WP7 test device . Luckily the content was king and it was interesting being one of the only IT Pros in a room full of developers. Definitely a great way to cut through the marketing spiel presented on the web and see what’s really going on.