WinInfo Short Takes: PDC 2008 Special Edition

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other PDC 2008 news...

WinInfo Blog

Exhausted and vaguely queasy, I woke up this morning in my own bed for the first time in a week, confused about where I was. (Where did the downtown LA skyline go? Oh, right.) Yes, PDC 2008 is finally over.

The show was impressive and immense, and expensive: We had a party to go to every night, and did, and these weren't like the paper plate events I typically have for my kids' birthdays. My guess is that if Microsoft were sponsoring PDC right now, most of this stuff would have gone by the wayside, given the financial climate. But it was a lot of fun, even if I didn't sleep more than 6 hours most nights during the week. And I spent all of Tuesday with a throbbing headache.

One of the best things about going to such an event is catching up with old friends and acquaintances. I don't want to leave anyone out, so rather than name them all by name, I would like to at least call out a few fun events that won't mean much to most people, but what the heck. The time Robert McLaws and I almost got into a weird auto accident but were saved by the quick thinking of the cab driver. The light-hearted live blogging by the All Star Blogger crew that I hope was as entertaining to read as it was to create. "Touché, Rafael. Touché." Listening to "You Shook Me All Night Long" on the accordion with Ward, on the roof of the Standard. Chatting with David Thompson. And Mike Nash. Watching Steven Sinofsky interact with people outside of Microsoft for what seemed like the first time. (He was great, really.) Tom's attempts to pay for things with coins (this is the US, bud) and thinking he could buy blank CDs at the Staples Center, which is a sports complex and not an office supply store as he hoped. Kip from LiveSide wondering what he had gotten into by hanging around with us. The hundreds of birthday messages I got the other day, many via Facebook (that explains that, I guess), which were greatly appreciated. I know I'm forgetting most of it. But if you were there, you know what I mean. I enjoyed doing it, enjoyed being with you, and am looking forward to the next one.

Because of the flight home on Thursday, Leo and I put of recording a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week until Friday. So my guess is that it will be up at the usual time. Also, I'm going to try to appear on the TWiT podcast this Sunday if possible. (There might be a family event that gets in the way, but I will do what I can to make it.)

But wait, there more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

PDC 2008: For Windows, the Swagger is Back
The past several years haven't been great for Windows. Part of the problem, of course, is Windows Vista. Despite having sold well north of 250 million copies of the OS, Microsoft is coping with irrational feelings that Vista is a failure, and the company has completely revamped its Windows Division in an attempt to turn things around. Well, if PDC 2008 proved anything, the makeover is working. Not only do the Windows guys exhibit not a little bit of well deserved swagger, but the product they're now touting--Windows 7--is so universally recognized as being excellent that it's quite clear they've already got a hit on their hands, a year before the thing ships to customers. That's quite a feat, and if they're smart, Microsoft will rush Windows 7 to market. No one is going to actively seek out Vista now knowing that such a superior follow-up is waiting in the wings.

PDC 2008: Windows 7 Rocks
Speaking of Windows 7, let's reflect for a moment on what it is that makes this upcoming Windows version so special. Strictly speaking, it's just a fine-tuned versions of Windows Vista, a fact that should make people who are already on the fence about Vista a little nervous. But in use, Windows 7 is Vista done right. It's smaller, faster, lighter, and prettier than Vista. It's much less annoying, with much fewer UAC pop-ups, yes, but also fewer other interruptions, thanks to an effort to keep tray notifications under strict control. It will run on systems as unimpressive as a netbook--yes, yes, it really will--and scale up to systems with 256 processor cores. What makes 7 so interesting, ultimately, is the surface stuff, though. It's just nicer looking. And it works better, thanks to hundreds of little UI tweaks that just delight people. Again and again at PDC, I watched as jaded and weary developers moused around with Windows 7: As they discovered a little feature, like Aero Snaps, where dragged windows latch onto to the edges of screens, or the pop-ups on the new taskbar, their faces would just light up with instant smiles. That's exactly the kind of reaction Microsoft wanted--and needed--with Windows Vista. But they're getting it now with Windows 7. I know it sounds like a small thing, but it's not. It's this type of experience that will drive excitement in Windows 7. People at PDC 2008 were perceptively impressed. It was a nice turnaround.

PDC 2008: Seriously, Microsoft. Learn How to Explain Yourself
While Windows 7 was the standout smash hit of PDC 2008, the rest of the show was kind of a let-down. The reason has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with a complete lack of communications skills on the part of the software giant. During each keynote, Ray Ozzie would drone on and on for 30 minutes about absolutely nothing before getting to the heart of the talk. And then the discussion about what the product was went over everyone's heads. Seriously, I don't think there was a single person in the audience on Monday who walked out of keynote hall with any idea what Windows Azure really was, and it's even worse that I later sat through a 45 minute talk on the subject and still don't get it. OK, maybe I'm an idiot. But let's just pretend the truth is somewhere in the middle. To this day, I don't get how the various Microsoft online services fit and work together. I'm not even sure Microsoft gets it.

PDC 2008: Live Framework. Huh?
Case in point: Live Framework. It sounds like it must be the developer framework for Microsoft's Live Services platform, right? Well, not exactly. Turns out Live Framework is the developer framework for Live Mesh, which is sort of like Live FolderShare, and sort of like Live Sync, but not really. And as for how all these things fit into the wider picture, and with Windows Azure, hey, your guess is as good as mine. And really, this kind of confusion is exactly what Microsoft was looking for after a week of laying it all out, right? Right? Anyway, regarding Live Framework, here's my favorite Microsoft quote. "It's not ready for shipping a production app," Microsoft corporate vice president David Treadwell told CNET this week. Indeed. Neither, apparently, is your marketing message, guys. It's time to reign this in. If you can't explain it, no one is going to care.

PDC 2008: Windows Azure, Terrible Name, Sure, But at Least the Strategy is ... Huh
OK, so let's get back to Windows Azure. The name is so unbelievably terrible that I'm begging Microsoft to take a mulligan and rethink it. They've done it before (anyone remember Windows .NET Server?) and this time it's actually much more of a serious need. But branding is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to confusion about Windows Azure. I mean, seriously, what the heck is this thing? From what I can tell, Azure is a version of Windows Server that will only be hosted on Microsoft datacenter servers and thus, for the rest of the world, exists only in the cloud. Customers will be able to host applications, and run services, in and from this "cloud," and do so on what is apparently a subscription-type basis according to processor run-times and whatnot. Under the covers, it utilizes all kind of virtualization technologies and automated fail-over, but these things don't actually matter to the end users, so let's just put it simply and note that Microsoft will promise customers 5 9's of uptime. (Which is what I was told.) For the near future, most Microsoft customers will continue to purchase on-premise servers, but the mix will change in time to favor hosted services. So I think that's what it is. And I have to wonder: Why can't Ray Ozzie have just said it like that? Reading that paragraph above would have taken just a minute or two. Think about it.

PDC 2008: Windows Mobile 6.5 is Coming Next
Amidst all of the Windows Mobile 7 delays, Microsoft will ship two semi-major updates to its current and lackluster Windows Mobile version, 6.1. First up is the previously announced Internet Explorer 6 for Windows Mobile release, which will allow smart phones to render Web pages like they did almost a decade ago on traditional PCs, which in the Windows Mobile world is considered an impressive upgrade. Next up is something we didn't know about before PDC, Windows Mobile 6.5. This new OS version will ship in late 2009, according to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley. What we don't know, alas, is which features will actually be included in the release. My guess is that it will be some of features that were originally slated for Windows Mobile 7. And my opinion is that it doesn't matter: Late 2009 is too late, and Windows Mobile is doomed.

PDC 2009? Yup
Given the nature of PDC, Microsoft usually schedules one every two to three years as new platforms emerge from the belly of the beast. But get this: The software giant is planning the next PDC for November 2009. My guess is that this will coincide with a lot of the cloud computing and server stuff they're planning and of course Windows 7 will either be recently released or just about to be released, so it's a good time for that as well. See you in November 09. :)

More to Come
I'll be working on finishing up my Windows 7 M3 Preview on the SuperSite for Windows over the next few days, but head on over and check out the first several installments. Windows 7 is a big deal, and I think you're going to be impressed, especially if you were not so impressed by its predecessor.

Happy Halloween! --Paul

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