Wednesday, September 14, 2005

PDC Keynote with Bill Gates and Jim Allchin

Today was the main event, the keynote with Bill Gates and Jim Allchin.

After all the PDC ’03 announcements of how Windows Vista (Longhorn at the time), was going to incorporate a host of new technologies like WinFS, Avalon, Indigo, eDocuments (metro) to name a few, followed by the subsequent scaling back of all of those features a year later, including dropping WinFS – everyone was really interested to see how Windows Vista wasn’t going to be a Windows XP with a little nip/tuck.

There had been some hype generation from various blogs, most notably Robert Scoble’s blog.

So did the keynote deliver?

In some ways. As preamble to the first presentation there was a video entitled “Change the World”. It was focused on jazzing up developers on Microsoft technologies. I have to admit, even though I knew what it was trying to do to me, I couldn’t help but feel very excited about the future of Windows development. Music and flash – gets me every time.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates portion started out with a very funny video of him recruiting Napoleon Dynamite for a job at Microsoft. Seeing Bill on roller blades being towed by Napoleon on a bike was just too funny.

Bill talked about the 32 bit to 64 bit transition, the growth in tablet PCs, and how there are more broadband than dialup connections in the US. He also mentioned that Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and connectivity beyond browsing are the future.

The rest of his presentation focused on Vista, IE 7 and Office 12. Lots of new UI features and collaboration. You have to check out Microsoft Gadgets.

Vista = confident + clean + connected.
Office 12 = Results oriented UI + Extensible UI + Open XML formats

RSS was a big topic – Microsoft is really seeing the use of RSS expanding beyond blogs and is going to have an RSS store for RSS feeds in Vista. I’ve been telling that to a lot of people about RSS lately and have been surprised by how many people don’t get the power of RSS, have never heard of it or both.

Jim Allchin
Jim Allchin was next and the title of his presentation was “The Next Steps for the Windows Platform”.

The first demo he had was a beautiful set of video game scenes from a company called Crytek. Amazing graphics from what was perhaps a next generation of Far Cry.

He then talked about the automatic optimizations that would help prevent Windows from getting slower over time (something I used to call Windows cholesterol). The first one mentioned was "Superfetch" which enhances virtual memory and optimizes the system based on historical data.

Superfetch is a low level algorithm that collects data on which parts of any files on the disk are used the most and preloads them in the background. It also uses that data to put a priority on which parts of the preloaded files should be discarded when the system needs more physical memory. Additionally, USB flash readers can be used to increase the amount of data that can be cached. This has benefits in that the USB drive has random access (no seek times), and doesn't consume as much power as the hard drive. Great for mobile scenarios.

From what I understand, the goal was to try to preload as much as possible to prevent hard drive hits when a user is doing their day to day work on the machine.

He went on to talk about Atlas, which is Microsofts web client framework around AJAX that runs on any DHTML compatible browser without a client install and is deeply integrated with ASP.Net and Visual Studio 2005. It enables rich web experiences without the pain of traditional web scripting.

One of the really neat WOW things that Jim Allchin mentioned was WPF/E. Windows Presentation Foundation (i.e. Avalon) Everywhere. This is a lightweight, multiplatform javascript + XAML solution that allows you to leverage all the XAML tools in different scenarios. There was a great example of a XAML Netflix application that ran on Windows, Tablet and a Mobile device with very little additional work required for each platform. In a later session I saw WPFE run in Safari on Mac.

There was then a very cool demo of the peer to peer networking in Windows Vista. This is a problem I’ve wanted solved for a long time. I quite often want to send files to my family in Vancouver, B.C. It’s really difficult if the file is > 10MB. Having a P2P facility to do this in the OS would be really cool. It also simplifies file transfers with your friends or colleagues. Replication services can also be used to sync files for collaboration scenarios.

Finally, the rest of Jim Allchin’s part of the keynote centered around demos put on by Don Box, Anders Hejsberg, Chris Anderson and Steve. They introduced LINQ (Language Integrated Query) and then did some integration with other parts of the platform. LINQ provides C# extensions to perform SQL queries on data making it simple to combine runtime and database data as well as to convert database data to XML. Very cool and powerful.

Also, if you like to play with Digital Photos, you gotta check out Microsoft Max. This is album layout done right. Clean, simple and a really attractive UI.

It really is amazing to see this keynote in person. 4 huge screens, a flashy stage and around 10,000 people crammed into a single room. In a lot of ways it has the same kind of buzz and excitement as a rock concert. Where’s my lighter?

One final thought: it sure is a different experience being in an environment where the channel 9 guy is a celebrity and you can crack jokes like “that must be the last Microsoft dev to break the build” and have the people around you laugh.


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