david mohundro

//BUILD/ Windows Conference

October 14th 2011

So, a few weeks ago I was able to attend the BUILD Windows conference in Anaheim. I’m guessing you heard something about it. The last time Microsoft held a conference at the convention center in Anaheim was when it announced Windows 95 - this conference was an attempt to show that Windows was going to revolutionize things again. I’ve got a lot of thoughts that I want to talk about, so I’ll probably have to break this into multiple posts.

The conference itself…

Because I have lots to talk about, I am going to go into more detail about various topics. This post is just going to be a general conference overview about some of the various sessions I attended. I’m planning on digging into more detail about more specifics like what I think about the Win8 tablet and more. If you’re interested in watching any of the sessions, the full list is at the buildwindows.com site.

So, the conference…

Preconference…? Nerd Dinner!!!

If you attended the conference or at least visited the BUILD site, you likely saw that there was a preconference slot on the calendar. So, my group all got flights for Sunday so that we would be there for the preconference sessions… which were all canceled. So, we just walked around Anaheim all day Monday. It was a little annoying given that it would have cost a lot of money to change travel plans and all that, but it turned out alright. We spent most of the day coding and discussing future development options. We had planned on attempting to build a Windows Phone 7 application, but it took forever to actually get the Windows Phone 7 SDK installed. Oh well. We did end up walking around the area and into Downtown Disney and, later that night, a group of people all went to the Cheesecake factory for a nerddinner. You’ll note that while only 2 people RSVP’d on the site, at least 15-20 people showed up!

Keynotes galore…

So, the conference actually began on Tuesday. Because the entire event was shrouded in secrecy (even though everyone knew that there would be Win8 tablets being handed out). To give you an idea of the amount of secrecy, the session lists pretty much just said “Sessions: 8 to 5” for the entire week. There was no session planning until after the first keynote. And even then, the entire first day was just one keynote after another. Even on Wednesday, the morning was full of keynotes! Thankfully, the keynotes were pretty good… far better than the keynotes that I saw at TechEd a few years back.

So, the Windows 8 tablet reveal. I’ll admit, it at least demos really well. I don’t think it is stretching anything to say that people were excited. There were a few people who currently have iPads that were showing a lot of interest in the Windows 8 tablet. Something interesting for me was that, at least for the first day, the attendees were not the primary audience. The BUILD conference keynotes for day 1 really served as marketing for consumers and tech enthusiasts. My take is that this is Microsoft trying to take back some of the consumer appeal that Apple has been able to win over the last few years.

I’ll put up a separate post about my actual hands-on experience with the tablets that they’ve gave the attendees, but from the perspective of just watching the keynotes, I was impressed. The promise of being able to dock your tablet, use it as a real PC and then take it with you as a tablet is quite nice.

Jensen Harris did give a keynote presentation on the traits of a great Metro style application that was good. My take on the presentation is that it was more of a demo on how to actually use Windows 8 from a usability perspective. I believe that is where the term “Charms” showed up, which is just an awful name in my opinion. I’m all for getting away from the really technical names for things (think Control Panel, System Tray, etc.), but Charms? How many Lucky Charms jokes are we going to hear? Also, I do have some concerns about the usability of parts of Windows 8. For example, the app bar can only be shown if you swipe from the top or bottom. If you’re aware of the functionality, then it makes sense I guess, but if you were to just walk up to one of these devices in a store, would you know to do that? At least with all of the iDevices out there, the primary functionality for applications is almost all visible. Sure, there are often gestures like holding down on icons to move or delete applications, but this isn’t a common action for users. In Metro Internet Explorer, browsing is a common action, but you have to pull up the app bar to type in a new address. I’m planning on a separate post for Windows 8, so I better stop :-)

The other two presentations of the day were Platform for Metro style apps and Tools for building Metro style apps. I enjoyed both of these sessions quite a bit, because they got a little more technical. We were seeing a lot of this for the first time, so it was nice to begin to get an idea of what building applications for this platform was going to be like.

We actually didn’t get to pick up our tablets until the end of the day, so every session after the morning keynote made some mention of them standing between us and our tablets. Oh, and viva la COM I guess. I’ll talk more about that in a little bit.

Sessions… and some more keynotes…

Wednesday morning was all keynote presentations again, though it was more of a stream of shorter presentations. We got to see Visual Studio 11, ScottGu finally came on stage and we saw a lot more about the developer side of Windows 8. It was more appropriate for developers than the first day was. I thought that Steve Ballmer’s closing words went over well - he even gave an homage to his famous “Developers, developers, developers” thing from a few years back.

With the morning keynote over, the afternoon finally began the traditional sessions. In the interest of actually getting my post uploaded, I’ve decided to only share my thoughts on the really interesting sessions that I attended. Obviously check out the full session list online, because there were a ton of WinRT sessions that will be valuable to you if you’re interested in building Metro applications.

  • Windows Server 8

    • This was a good session because it was really sort of a good overview of everything coming in Server 8. There were parts on Hyper-V enhancements, new PowerShell features and more. It wasn’t a groundbreaking session by any means, but given that I do spend quite a bit of time working on Server 2008, I figured it would be good to learn more. Feel free to skip this one if you only deal with client-side applications, though.
  • Future directions for C# and Visual Basic

    • Ander’s presentation was likely one of my favorite of the entire week. Obviously, he spent a lot of time talking about the new async features in C# - that wasn’t particularly exciting, because we’ve at least seen that with preview builds for a while now. In fact, Eric Lippert did a great series on the new async features that began almost a year ago. The really exciting announcement from my perspective was Roslyn, otherwise known as “Compiler as a Service” for C#. There has been talk about having the C# compiler as a service forever so it is nice to finally have this. The Visual Studio support for it seemed great. At the time of this writing, it doesn’t appear that the Roslyn CTP has released yet, but I imagine it will soon. I did want to point out that the Mono team got the C# Compiler as a Service working first!
  • What’s new in .NET Framework 4.5

    • As a .NET developer, this talk was obviously of interest to me. The 4.5 version the .NET Framework will be an inplace upgrade, which means it will be an upgrade to the current CLR version as opposed to a side-by-side release like .NET 4.0 is to .NET 2.0. So, thus far, still 3 major versions of the CLR (1.1, 2.0 and 4.0 - remember that 3.0 and 3.5 just run on top of 2.0… yay for confusing version numbers). If you’re doing any development in .NET, you’ll probably be interested in this session.
  • Windows Runtime internals: understanding “Hello World”

    • The WinRT internals session is the only one that possibly rivaled Ander’s session in my mind. It is also the session that showed that COM is still alive and well! Okay, maybe not COM, but some iteration of COM. I would say that Metro apps are closer to COM than .NET is. This session digs into the hosting model for Metro apps, the registry lookup that occurs for WinRT types, and more. I’m sure there are some developers out there that are quite annoyed that COM is still alive and well, but the thing is, this stuff has always been there. Welcome to Windows. .NET is built on COM. .NET objects all have a GUID… just like COM objects. I’m actually a big fan of how the WinRT types are exposed as .NET metadata (winmd files). You can actually open them in ILDASM. Miguel de Icaza has a really good post that goes into WinRT as well that I’d recommend you check out.. If you’re interested in getting even more deep into how WinRT works, though, check out Ian Griffiths' posts on WinRT (see Real Native WinRT Development and Native WinRT Inheritance).

Thoughts on the tablet or Windows 8?

So, enough about the conference, though… how’s the tablet? It’s hard to say. The most important thing to remember about Windows 8 is that it is a developer preview - NOT a beta. Betas are occasionally buggy. Developer previews are… more than occasionally buggy. I let my wife try out the tablet and she was so annoyed that she stopped using it. My favorite application so far is OneNote, simply because I’m finally getting to try a stylus and see how the Ink support is… and that has nothing at all to do with Windows 8. It’s almost too early to say. There aren’t any really substantial applications yet. I think Microsoft really needs to build some real applications in Metro before most people will be sold.

I’m planning another post at some point to talk about Windows 8 and Metro in more detail, but I’m still trying to gather my thoughts together. Have you had a chance to use Windows 8 yet? Any thoughts?

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