A MIXed Bag

So I’m here at Mix07, and thought I’d write down my impressions from the first day’s sessions. The first was the keynote, a two and a half hour affair. After lunch I attended the Open Source panel.

Ozzie’s speech was good but not great. He was confident, his slides were a lot less busy than those billg used in his keynotes, and there was clearly a lot of thought put into the messaging. But he ultimately failed to explain why his vision of finding the balance point between desktop APIs and web APIs was compelling or inevitable – you basically had to take it as an article of faith. I did like the way he broke down the Silverlight story into three parts: media, .NET, and services.

The demos weren’t hugely compelling for the most part – the Netflix, Metalliq, CBS, and MLB.com demos were all showing media capabilities that Flash has been doing for years, and they all felt very “canned” – Microsoft made a point of saying that the demos were done in 2-4 weeks, and it seemed like all of the actual work was done by agencies – Razorfish, Metaliq, and frog (not sure who did the CBS work). Now I want to make it clear that I don’t have any moral, ethical, or political issue here – i think it is perfectly fine to use agencies to build technology demos for new products. But as a developer I’m not excited by such demos since they have little to do with real world products. Same goes for the big video of WPF applications shown early in the keynote – it was a dull dull dull rehashing of the same WPF apps they trot out every time, most of them developed by agencies as demos with Microsoft footing the bill.

I did like Scott Guthrie’s more code-focused demo of building a Silverlight application – it showed the power of the platform from a developer’s point of view. I especially liked the demo of debugging Silverlight code running on a Mac. Of course the ultimate flaw in Microsoft’s tools strategy is that the Expression and Visual Studio tools only run on Windows, and designers generally prefer Macs. In fact, I was quite surprised at how little time they really spent on designer stuff in the keynote, given the stated desire to improve designer-developer workflow. Several demos used or mentioned the Expression products, but it was almost always in passing and the balance of focus was on developers. I guess you could argue that this is just Microsoft playing to its strengths, or you could argue that they don’t really understand designers. Based on some discussions with Microsoft folks I had during the day, I believe it is more the latter than the former.

In the end, though, the most compelling thing about the day’s events was the announcement of the .Net support for Silverlight. This wasn’t unexpected – Microsoft employees pretty much spilled the beans on that one on their blogs after the NAB show. What I didn’t expect was that they’ve brought over a lot of the basic WPF controls to Silverlight. This corrects one of Silverlight’s most glaring flaws, so props to Microsoft for that. I also like the fact that Silverlight’s .NET CLR includes the LINQ technilogy. But these features also makes me wonder about the future of WPF. Why would anyone in their right mind develop for WPF when you get nearly all the same benefits in Silverlight AND you get cross-platform, in the browser applications? I’m sure the Microsofties will talk about 3d, hardware acceleration, etc. and those are valid points but IMHO not enough to overcome the benefits of being web-based and portable. In fact, considering how much talk there was about Silverlight in the keynote and how WPF was barely mentioned at all, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see WPF repositioned as “Silverlight for the desktop” come next year’s MIX. For now, though, the announcement will do a lot to bring existing .NET developers into the Silverlight fold, and that is a good thing for Microsoft.

Obviously, as a Ruby fan, I’m curious to hear more about the IronRuby announcement. Too soon to say how good the compatibility story is, but Microsoft did a good job on IronPython so lets hope they do just as well with IronRuby. There is a session tomorrow that will talk more about it and I’m definitely going to attend.

And now on to the open source panel after the keynote. In a word, it sucked. The panel members were all way too deferential and circumspect in their comments. Miguel de Izaca of Novell said he was excited to do a version of Silverlight based on Mono but wasn’t announcing anything. All participants (except for the Microsoft fanboy on the panel from Subsonic) were pretty unhappy with the fact that Microsoft didn’t have a Linux story for Silverlight. The Microsoft guy’s response was pretty definitive: there are no plans to open source Silverlight, and we’ll support additional platforms over time based on business drivers. I did think there was a good discussion of the issues with IE not supporting web standards, but again the response from Microsoft was non-commital. Not one word on Microsoft’s anti-Linux patent FUD, not one word on the whole OOXML fiasco, etc. Overall the session was a waste of time. Too bad – I would have liked to see Microsoft really do something here to make things more open when they had such a good pulpit in the MIX conference. Of course, as an Adobe employee, the fact that they have no response to the open sourcing of Flex has to be seen as good news.

Finally, the best part of going to these conferences is meeting people face to face, both old friends and people you’ve never met before. I saw Jeff Atwood in the morning and he gave me a Coding Horror sticker for my new notebook. I met Scott Hanselman in the afternoon at the open source panel. Two of my favorite bloggers in the Microsoft community, neither of whom I’d met in person before. I’ve also seen a number of former coworkers from Adobe and Microsoft.

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~ by Andrew Shebanow on 30Apr07.

5 Responses to “A MIXed Bag”

  1. It’s funny, they’re labeling it as cross platform, but they’ve already dropped support for PPC Macs on the 1.1 alpha.

    Will web developers use a “rich media experience” app that doesn’t support over half of a platform the wish to target?

    It’s just weird how much they’ve been trumpeting cross platformness but on the day the renamed binaries are finally available, they drop a platform.

  2. Good point. I had missed that when I downloaded it. Kind of funny that the installed size of the Flash Player is 1/3 that of Silverlight AND its a universal binary. I did a little digging and discovere that the Silverlight CLR implementation includes compilers for JScript, IronPython, and VB.net, but NOT for C#. Kinda surprising.

  3. Here’s a good article about the fact that Silverlight 1.1 doesn’t support PowerPC

  4. Well, if they have no intention of supporting PPC Macs, then it’s clear their “cross platform commitment” is entirely artificial and purely a matter of convenience for Microsoft.

    Silverlight will continue to be considered a Windows-only technology. I would never use it on a Website I wanted to target Mac users with.

    It’s funny, when Silverlight 1.1 alpha was originally released, I mentioned the problems on http://blogs.msdn.com/msmossyblog/archive/2007/05/01/mix07-day-1-chats-microsoft-quotes-and-silverlight.aspx#comments and I was told to “wait and chill out”.

  5. @Rosyna: I agree 100%. See my latest post for more news.

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