Thoughts from the Ottawa Rocking the Launch

So yesterday was the Ready to Launch event in Ottawa, celebrating the release of Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and the, uh, imminent release of BizTalk 2006.

No Wifi - (which I found really hard to believe at a tech event) - which meant the GPRS on my ipaq6315 got a good workout but because I don't have a good Pocket PC blogging tool for blogger (anyone know of one? - and no I don't mean moblogs - that's a PITA - I'll rant on that later)

OK - so we get the idea that they are ready to "Rock the launch" based on the music and the bouncing balls (where everyone applauds when they pop! - clean up crews must really like that).

Visual Studio Rocks - where have I heard that before? Back in 2004 and before...

Funniest pre-show comment: "do we have to watch this?" - one of the Microsofties who was managing registration (yes, likely a hired hand)

My first thoughts? Well, let's say 45 minutes on PowerPoint for a DEVELOPER launch? Jeff Zado and Craig Symonds should be burned at the crisp for that. They were READING their PowerPoints, the technology was glitchy - but hey! One slide managed to put a "Live Services" box around Windows, Office and more - good job so soon after Bill and Ray stillbirthed it.

I was about ready to scratch the whole keynote up to a waste until 43 minutes into it, John Bristowe , who is a Developer Advisor at MS Canada, saved the morning with a brief tour of what we were going to see. Thanks John - ya, you were rushed but you rocked it!

(On that note, I used to do the DevDays and PDC conferences in Ottawa. Back then, we used to complain that the video demo shown during the keynote always showed what we were going to show in the demos but at least they showed something. Note to Jeff and Craig - save the stats for the PHBs - as John noted - most of the people there were developers and wanted to see something.

Thankfully they got right into it after the first hour which made them 15 minutes late. Now you know what happens when your first presentation is 15 minutes late and you don't cut anything...it snowballs. (by the end of the day, they were almost an hour over).

Also you would think that after years of presenting, the Visual Studio guys would have realized what the Fox team did when they added the "Small, medium and Large" font options to the Property browser and Project manager - it makes it easier for people to see. No one changed the font on anything so it made it very difficult to see in the larger sessions. Not only that but their fictitious company had employee pictures that were so faint that John kept on referring to them as "ghosts".

I obviously spent the majority of my day in the DevTrack (which was ALWAYS packed - good job they opened it up to the big room for the Team System because they could have used it for all of the Dev Tracks).

John, along with Jerome Carron and Barry Gervin from ObjectSharp, did an excellent job going through the scripted demos. Watching a launch demo is always a bit surreal - as John noted - he felt like a cooking show where you pulled out the finished piece "right out of the oven", but the enthusiasm was definitely there.

Pop Quiz: What is the keyboard shortcut to compile in Visual Studio 2005? (constantly reminded by John - answer below)

Also had a great chance to talk with David Campbell from the Ottawa Dot Net community user group - Microsoft Canada has a really cool User Group challenge - note it's a PDF.

Anyways back on the actual products themselves - some very cool stuff - it's funny to see BizTalk still being promoted as much as it is. It's a great tool but I think Microsoft really missed their mark on it by waiting for partners to build the various adapters, especially when one common theme I kept hearing was that they took what everyone wanted and put it into the product but then still were relying on their partners (kind of like when they build in functionality that shuts down third party vendors but then still actively solicit more partnership innovations). The businesses I deal with still work with EDI - which is what XML and BizTalk was supposed to transplant - so a lot of BizTalk stuff always seems like "demo" as opposed to real world. That said, Ottawa has a lot of BizTalk experts so maybe I'm just bummed about not being able to use it in day to day work.

BizTalk 2006 certainly does look like it will make some of this pain go away - but not everyone deals with XML just yet - which is too bad. The "new" Flat file import wizard reminds me of every File Import wizard in other MS tools but it's certainly a step in the right direction.

Now while a lot of focus these days has been on the new stuff coming down the Orcas pipe, the Whidbey and Yukon tools really do offer a lot. Once you've mastered Try/Catch in VFP, having it in SQL Server seems so obvious - and the native support for an XML Data type made me wish we had that directly in VFP. No, it's not as cool as the XML object type in VB 9, but it is still very cool. And while VFP developers always hear moaning about the 2GB database limit, it was quite funny to hear John and Barry gush about the new Max specifier with up to '2GB' for storage. (yes, I know it's at the field level but it struck me just the same)

Although having CLR support in SQL server I think is great, I worry about onset of versionitis since the DLL is essentially put into the database itself. I guess we'll see how popular that approach becomes but I am very excited about the possibilities it opens up.

The Team System overview helped provide a clearer picture as to all of the offerings that companies or MSDN subscribers get to choose from. If you like to draw pictures and flowcharts, get Architect. If you like to code, get Developer and well, testing - the built-in web testing recorded, etc, and the load testing is very cool but certainly the code analyzers and tools in the Developer part are going to be well-used. (note for FoxPro developers - these are similar to the tools that either a) exist or b) are being discussed in the SednaX project). Certainly the big push is on for the new Source Control tool. Yes, it's in SQL server (boy, I hope the SourceSafe team has their flak jackets on for these sessions - they really came down on how many things SourceSafe was missing)

I do really like the ability of the tie-ins to Work Items and policies. The Project Admin sets a check-in policy and it's "enforced" - well, until you let someone override it.

At the launch, they have this section called Ask the Experts where a bunch of MVPs and softies hang out to answer questions which was great. I asked Nick G. about how SourceControl notifies people about changes - hoping for the great RSS answer -
turns out - no it's not built in - but they're sure someone will do it because the entire platform is open. So do it now but expect to see it built into a future version because apparently, they DO have notification happening at Microsoft but they don't have it in the product. hmm....do I smell service pack?. Also in the Experts section was John Marshall, a Visio MVP. Think we have a bad time? Visio hasn't had a real update since 1998 and now they're taking away features. He had been down to the MVP summit where there were only two of them. The Visio team is about 150 strong (including management). What's the VFP comparison? How many MVPs to Fox team size?

Sadly, I could only sit through the final Smart Client/Web development session before they talked about WinForms, instead focusing on the great improvements in ASP.Net 2.0. So I also missed my chance to win some new gaming tool that MS is launching soon.

Immediate thoughts:
Master Pages -> hopefully this will be the implementation idea that takes hold because none of the past ones have really been successful.
GridView -> Awesome
Code Snippets -> ummm....this is what Intellisense in VFP needs - or can do - or both - kind of like taking the Snippets from the Toolbox right into Intellisense. Awesome implementation.
Better DataBinding -> Yes - finally!
Wizard overload - wow there are still an awful lot of wizards for stuff - seems like mostly in BizTalk but still seems like way too many.

These launch tours are a great idea and if you haven't signed up for it, you definitely want to. Note: if you are going, be sure to wear some old MS stuff- they are searching for people wearing old Visual Studio shirts, buttons, etc to give cool stuff too.

Yes, it's a tour - the demos will be scripted - the samples will be very basic - but despite an auspicious start, John, Jerome and Barry did an awesome job at demonstrating their enthusiasm for the product. In a lot of the FoxShows, I asked should developers wait for better data access in Orcas and the answer is always, no - jump in now, VS 2005 is a good way to get into it. It definitely has a lot of great tools and the ASP.Net 2.0 stuff definitely rocks.

interesting thought - nothing in the IDE jumped out that said "we can't do this in FoxPro" and it left me thinking of what Rick Strahl notes in the next FoxShow (should be out today) that it would be really nice if the Sedna focus was made on ensuring that Fox applications looked like real Windows apps. You can easily make the Fox IDE look like VS and Fox's intellisense still is way above anything else - so now it's just a matter of making the actual apps look that real.

I walked away very pumped.

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