I was fortunate to attend Microsoft Tech.Ed Australia 2009 last week. I made copious notes during the day, so I thought I’d share them.
Tech.Ed At Last
This was my first time at Microsoft Tech.Ed. I almost went to Tech.Ed 2000 in Cairns: I was working for an integrated library system software house that was a Microsoft Certified Solutions Provider and Tech.Ed was the highlight of the year. Everyone wanted to go, including me, but in the end I missed out.
Fast forward to Tech.Ed 2009 on the Gold Coast: I’ve long moved on from the MCSP company I used to work for. I’m now a web developer and when the opportunity to attend TechEd arose, I was a little skeptical of the benifits:
So, when I wanted to go to Tech.Ed, I didn’t get the chance and when I got the chance, I didn’t want to go! 🙂
Given the choice, I would have rather gone to a conference relating to Search Engine Optimisation, Usability, Accessibility, etc. However, there was a position available and we identified a genuine business need for me to go, so along I went. As it turned out, I did get some real value from it.
Arriving At Tech.Ed
Tech.Ed 2009 was held at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre at Broadbeach, just across the road from Jupiter’s Casino.
I drove down from Brisbane in the morning, arriving a little after 9am. I parked at the Casino and walked across. The Exhibition Centre was bustling with people as I collected my ticket and the HP Mini that every attendee is given, then headed off to find the session I’d earmarked for 9:45am.
One of the things I noticed was that about 99% of the people in centre were male! There were more women in the web sessions (perhaps 10%), but the low number of women was was really noticeable, especially in out in the corridors.
The HP Mini
Whilst waiting for my first session to begin, I fired up the HP Mini and had a go with it. I have to say I was very impressed with it. It was running Windows 7 Ultimate, which seems nice (better than Vista) at first glance. It carries an Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz processor, 2 GB RAM and a 149GB HDD.
I have an Acer Aspire 1 netbook that I use each day on the train and I have to say that that the HP Mini tops it. Although the maximum resolution is similar (1024 x 600 for the Acer, 1024 x 576 for the HP), the HP Mini’s 10 inch screen was bigger than my Acer’s 9 inch screen. The overall physical size of the HP Mini wasn’t noticeably larger, although the keyboard did seem bigger and more comfortable to use. Battery life and overall quality both seemed better .
Logistics wise, there were plenty of recharging points around the exhibition centre where you could recharge your HP Mini. These were mostly full, most of the time, but there were always some spaces available.
The wireless network connection was decent throughout the day, although it did drop out once for about 10 minutes and there were some slow moments (mostly during lunch time).
Having the HP Mini was very useful, as it allowed me to make notes on the fly. When I’m back at work, it’ll be much easier to action these notes. If I’d used pen and paper, the notes would probably sit on my desk for a month before I typed everything up. Now it’s mostly done, I just need to tidy them up a little.
It also made me think about live blogging. I’ve read posts by live bloggers such as Lisa Barone and have been impressed by what they’ve been able to do. Now, all of a sudden, I was sitting in a conference with a laptop and an internet connection. It wouldn’t have been a big step to turn my note taking into live blogging – but in the end, I was on my employer’s time and they need me to spend that little bit extra time concentrating on how we could apply what I learnt, rather than trying to capture everything and blog about it.
Lunch And Goodies
You can’t talk about a conference without talking about:
- the food
- the giveaways
On the food and beverage side of things, free coffee was in plentiful supply – both from ‘make your own’ service points and from proper coffee stands (but there were big queues at time).
Lunch was great, although they did run out of food as I got to the head of the queue and we had to wait 5 minutes till they got some more food out. The food itself was great for a conference and there was everything you’d expect.
The items put out for afternoon tea were interesting. They looked more like a kids party than a conference: bright coloured jellies, sherbet cones, chocolates coated in hundreds and thousands. Geek food perhaps? An interesting choice anyway. There was free ice cream somewhere, but I missed it.
As for giveaways, they were in very short supply, especially compared to the library software shows I’ve been to in the past. There was virtually nothing, even in the Expo room. Of course, all attendees were given a HP Mini, so I can’t complain about the lack of pens, hats and other such things!
It’s time I started talking about the sessions! I attended 5 sessions in all and I’ve outlined my thoughts (and the official description from the Tech Ed website) below.
WEB304 Building Silverlight applications for Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Presenter: Jian Sun
When: Thu 9/10 | 9:45-11:00 | Meeting Room 8
We start with demonstrating some real world examples of Silverlight applications built on Microsoft Dynamics xRM implementations. We then will look at how Microsoft Silverlight can be used to deliver richer experiences within Dynamics CRM applications. We’ll explain the fundamentals of XAML and Silverlight before discussing hosting and connectivity approaches to integrate Silverlight applications into both the Out of Box CRM UI as well as Customer Self Service we portals. This session will provide a practical how-2 demonstration of a Silverlight based Dashboard for Dynamics CRM
The Citrix session next door was was packed, with several hundred people fighting to get in the doors. In contrast, there was no trouble getting into Building Silverlight applications for Microsoft Dynamics CRM and there was total of only about 50 people in the session.
The presenter, Sun Jian, was quite likeable. He started off by saying that we needed some knowledge on
- Microsoft CRM
Three strikes for me before he even got on to the topic!
The topic was of very little use to me, either personally or professionally. This was the only web session on at the time and there was nothing else on of interest to me, so there I was.
We got to see a Silverlight application being developed. He used Visual Studio to create the app, along with Expression Blend to style the user interface. It made me wonder whether Silverlight applications can be developed with alternative (ie non Microsoft) software.
I’ll have to look into it as I don’t have either – not that I’m expecting to develop any Silverlight apps in the near future. Actually, I’m still wondering why anyone would choose Silverlight over Flash, which would be present on a much greater number of computers. If anyone has views on this, please let me know via the comments below.
One useful tidbit I did pick up was that Silverlight doesn’t need the full .NET framework to run. That makes sense if they’re trying to compete with Flash – they’d need to keep the size of the player as low as possible.
Sun Jian embedded the Silverlight app in an iFrame within Microsoft CRM, passing parameters to Silverlight via the code calling the iFrame (I think). Quite interesting.
He did have a problem with the Silverlight app working, which turned out to be a spelling mistake. Haven’t we all been there! Anyway, Sun recovered well using humour to turn the problem to his advantage.
WEB305 Modular User Interfaces: Easier than Ever
Presenter: Omar Besiso
When: Thu 9/10 | 11:30-12:45 | Arena 1B
WPF & Silverlight, the new cool neighbours you always wanted to have. Yet you’re still scared to introduce yourself. Well in this session Omar Besiso will not only introduce to the beautiful world of simple WPF, but will also show you using the WPF composite framework & the Model-View-ViewModel pattern how you can build highly scalable user interfaces with very appealing user experiences. After the session you will think twice before using any other technology for your windows or web apps.
Once again, this session didn’t promise much of interest me: I don’t develop Silverlight applications and I don’t use WPF. In fact, I’ve never even heard of WPF, which as it turns out, stands for Windows Presentation Foundation.
Although in the Web stream, this session only had a tenuous connection to web development. Web applications development perhaps (quote description: "for your windows or web apps"), but not straight up web development.
The session was held in a much larger room, with tiers of chairs flowing from the upper level of the building, down to the stage on the ground level. There were a couple hundred people. It was quite dark (ie too dark) compared to the first room.
Omar started off saying he was going to build an RSS reader using WPF. That peaked my interest as I’ve written various PHP scripts that work with RSS feeds. However, it didn’t turn out as interesting as it sounded and I consulted my schedule.
There was a "discussion" over lunch that I wanted to attend. As the Modular User Interfaces session didn’t really have anything applicable to me, I left early (after 40 minutes) and headed off to try to get an early lunch.
BOF007 SharePoint, .Net and SQL blended applications
Presenter: Elaine van Bergen
When: Thu 9/10 | 12:45-13:45 | Meeting Room 5
Join Elaine van Bergen in this discussion as to why SharePoint is a powerful platform which is increasingly used to build applications. This session will include discussion on methods for addressing the many challenges faced in scenarios such as:
- A complete custom user interface build on top of SharePoint, such as a public facing internet site
- SharePoint application with complex relational components provided by SQL Server integration
- An ASP.Net application running beside SharePoint using components such as search
- A generic application that is written in a way to be able to switch in and out SharePoint
The knowledge discussed will be based on recently completed SharePoint projects and will include debate on pros and cons of various approaches, approaches for .net developers moving to SharePoint, ways to avoid or workaround common problem including when to just use a pure custom build instead of SharePoint.
This session was the highlight of the day for me and I have extensive notes on it – so many that I’ve decided to put them into a separate Sharepoint post (coming soon).
WEB208 Your Windows Live Messenger Web Toolkit
Presenter: Vaughan Knight
When: Thu 9/10 | 13:45-15:00 | Meeting Room 9
Hook your website instantly into a social graph of over 400 million users with Windows Live Messenger Web Toolkit. In this session Vaughan Knight will discuss how to get started with the Live Messenger UI controls, and then dive in deep with the Windows Live Messenger API. Come away from this session knowing how to connect sites and build applications that to reach out into the Live Messenger social network. Learn how to use the Live Messenger API to allow your site and users to interact with the social graph, send messages, integrate and build applications with Silverlight, and create site features that are social graph aware.
There were only 5 people at this session (20% female which must be a record for the day). The session was showing how to integrate the Live Messenger Web Toolkit into your website, adding social media abilities to your site.
The most obvious feature seems to be ability to add chat to your website, allow users to give you instant feedback via an Instant Messenger embedded in your site. There are quite a few other solutions for live chat, but if you’re a fan of the Microsoft Instant Messenger client, this may be the solution for you.
The web toolkit also includes other features that utilise the network of Live Messenger users. For example a Live Messenger bar can be added to the bottom of your web pages and visitors who are logged into Live Messenger have access to additional functionality.
Apparently it is easy to set up out of the box, but you can also create your own interface using either:
- HTML UI controls (XHTML), along with server side components for .NET, PHP etc.
- Live Messenger UI controls (Flash, Silverlight, Java applet), along with the same server side components.
This session was sort of interesting, but didn’t really catch me, for several reasons:
- To be honest, I was still writing up my notes on the Sharepoint session, which has far more importance for me.
- The web toolkit is probably not appropriate for my organisation’s websites (at least for the moment).
- I’m not likely to use it on any of my personal sites, and following on:
- Lets face it, Microsoft just aren’t cool when it comes to Social Media. Integrate Twitter? COOL!! Integrate Live Messenger? zzzz…
Still an interesting attempt by Microsoft to get more involved in social media.
WEB306 Building Fast, Standards Compliant ASP.NET sites
When: Thu 9/10 | 15:30-16:45 | Arena 2
This was a great session, looking at how to run and optimise a high traffic website, based on the presenters’ experience with graysonline.com.
It was the only session, in the whole day, that had a lot of value for non ASP .NET web developers, covering issues such as doctypes, CSS, accessibility, jQuery, Firefox extensions, improving performance, etc.
For me, the session fell neatly into two halves:
- The first half which, although interesting, wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard of before (via my RSS reader); and
- The second half which truly pushed the boundaries of my knowledge.
I’ll briefly list some of the things they covered:
They focused on markup. They are proponents of using XHTML 1.1 Strict, which I found interesting. I’m still using XHTML 1.0 Transitional for most things. I find Strict too … strict. So I respect them for making the effort to use Strict. They did mention that moving forward they are going to try to use HTML5 more, now that the XHTML project has officially been discontinued.
They used CSS friendly code adaptors, to change what the server delivers at run time. This one is an ASP .NET only one, although there are probably similar utilities out there for other languages.
Visual Studio 2010 was their IDE of choice. I have to say that the code completion / sanitization functionality looks pretty good, up there with anything I’ve seen. Of course I won’t be using it any time soon, what with the price and so many good cheap alternatives out there.
Accessibility! The Sydney Olympic case was raised (it’s the poster child for accessibility related legal cases). They said to make sure that the site complies with WAI, WCAG, WAI-ARIA, WebAIM and WAVE. This is important not just for people, but also for search engines such as Google and Bing (they’re the ones they named).
They talked about using different subdomains to serve up images etc, to get around the limitation on concurrent downloads from the same server. They mentioned that Bing maps use 4 subdomains for tiles, so more can be served up at the same time. However, if you’re doing this, you can’t use etag for caching because it doesn’t handle multiple servers for delivery.
High traffic websites should have a full time front end web engineer for UX (User Experience) and Accessibility.
A very clever tip for scaling: When server load is light, they use heavy GZip compression. As server load increases, the amount of compression decreases, meaning less work for the server (for each page served up), but larger files for the end user. Clever.
Well that wraps it up. I had a good time and learnt a fair bit at Tech.Ed 2009. It still would be my conference of choice, but I’m glad I went.