Back from Mix09

Mix09 is one of those conferences you hear a lot about but rarely go to because its driven around a single company. Mix is Microsoft's conference for developers like PDC but from my view a lot more web driven. I was pretty excited although I had a very full plate of work and still not taken any of my 13 days off yet.

We got to Las Vegas a day early so we would be fully settled and not rushing in and out, this worked out really well because Rain hooked up with the Community Manager of Microsoft's Techweb and blogs network, who nicely took us out for dinner to pick our brains about many different things to do with publishing, the web and media generally. I would have liked to have had more time with her but we were all thinking about a early start the next day.

I didn't see the whole of Bill Buxtom (director of r&d at Microsoft) keynote talk due to a late breakfast but I was pretty impressed to see lots of talk about design and lightweight prototyping to the developer driven crowd. I hadn't taken on the fact that Mix09 was so nicely design driven. There was a huge push to make developers take on user experience techniques, but without going the whole hog. This was fastinating because being from a design background myself, I could appreach a lot of the techniques. By the time Deborah Alder covered her experience of redesigning medication, I think everyone totally got the message that design is critical. But of course there was lots more going on at the conference.

The outside view is that the .net framework is really going strength to strength. Everything is there now including even a automatic update platform installer, which allow you to install all the microsoft type things but also applications like wordpress, drupal, etc by clicking to install in the application gallery. Yes its a Appstore for webservers. It will even download PHP if you don't have it installed. Something very unlike the old Microsoft. Even more interesting anyone can submit there application to the App gallery/app store. There was a couple of sessions about writing .net applications on open source editors and even writing PHP with .net but unfortueally there was no Mono or Moonlight sessions, so the most useful .net thing I went to was development for .net using Eclipse.

On the first evening the Stackoverflow guys had there time on a small stage which was interesting because it seemed to be one of the biggest successes of .net framework v3. There only running it on 2 servers (web/database) and as they said its written like you'd expect a Ruby on Rail app to be written, even down to the URL rewiting which has always been a problem in the past.

Silverlight was as expected talked about quite a bit during the whole the conference, a new version was launched and at the keynote a guy from Netflix talks about the cross platform playability of Silverlight which sold it to them, they wanted a consistent ui over all the platforms. He bigs up the content protection side of it all. At long last GPU hardware accelleration is added plus Mpeg4 and H.264 codecs, which is good news for the industry I think because you can deliver h.264 content in Flash, silverlight or just mpeg4 wrappers without encoding the whole thing again. Perkins Miller from NBC talks about the 2008 olympics coverage using Sliverlight, which I gather was a large success. 3.4 petabytes delivered and the long tail really works, he drives home to the ecstatic crowd of 3000 developers. Interestingly Perkins talks about long tail effect more then the fact more people watched online video, the more they wanted to watch even more content. This was great but let down by his big annoucement that the winter olympics (the next olympics, as far as he was concerned) in 2010 would be in HD 720p. Wow, obviously NBC and there customers must be easily entertained. Thank goodness I work for a company which aims much higher.

There was the launch of the Silverlight RIA (rich internet application), so with the GPU support comes, deepzoom, perspective 3d, bitmap and pixel shader support. Deeplinking, navigator, multi touch support and improve text rendering. Roll on media owner Bondi who talk about there Rolling stone service. They get a huge clap when mentioning playboy.com will be going silverlight starting today, so you can go into any of the previous issues and zoom in like the rolling stone magazines. I thought the wireless would go down with people trying to hit the silverlight archive but no luck for those surfers, just a holding page saying coming really soon.

Revisiting the developer/designer topic again it was really interesting to see pipes and flow used in a application Microsoft calls expression studio sketchflow?, looks like Microsoft has stolen a march on Adobe's inferno which had also promised to bridge the gap between design and development. There was some nice features like the ability to work with the client directly ala a poor-mans Adobe Acrobat (in silverlight of course) using a prototype mode and what really got people clapping was the ability to create documentation based on the flow diagram. Nicely done it has to be said.

I was left wondering what the difference was between Microsofts Silverlight RIA and Adobe Air but I got a feeling I'd be better off asking outside of the conference, although Phil did promise to show me in a follow up to my tweet.

The last big keynote for Mix09 was the launch of IE8 which I blogged about on Backstage, but also came with a quite well done video about the history of the internet.

The rest of mix was good but a lot of it was aimed at those working directly with Microsoft products and services. I found out a lot more about those services including a session about Azure which promises to scale well though-out .net applications to almost unlimited scale. There was also sessions on smaller projects like Oomph, which is a Microformats toolkit.

The Windows Mobile talks were pretty good, lots of hands up saying 6.5 is just the start but look out for 7. I did ask a very tricky question in one of there sessions regarding the mobile app store. It was regarding the ability for people to be able to share applications after they have downloaded them. Because we already know most teenagers bluetooth, infrared, exchange apps, songs, etc via peer to peer models aready. So wouldn't it be cool if the app store had the ability to build on that activity. Either in the way of some applications your inherently encouraged/allowed to share. But after talking to the Windows mobile team at Tao (very nice club in the Vetetian) one night it seems there worried about having two types of apps in some protected storage area on your phone. I would like to explorer this more, but feel the need to draw something out. But I feel there really missing one nice features of Windows Mobile in the battle to out do the Apple iPhone. The compromise they settled on will work, but isn't ideal.

2ndfactory a Chinese company did a demo where they showed how they moved from image files via Expression Blend 3 to a working prototype for there Deepzoompix.com product. They also showed off there new open dll called Jellyfish which will create deepzoom images for you via a server-side

I managed to capture most of th
e session about activity streams on camera. It was good to see all the major's on the panel including Myspace, Facebook, Plaxo, Google, etc. But as Marc Canter pointed out where's Microsoft? later in the session I raised the question about whos educating users about these sites and there options? Marc Canter agreed and although Kevinmarks from Google somewhat thought it was too early, he wasn't against the idea. In the session Luke from Facebook made it clear that a lot of the things Facebook has done up till now has been in lui of a standard or clear way to do something. Things are rapidly getting better, so there will be less of Facebook running off and doing something on there own. I think someone asked if Googlefriend connect and Facebook connect, would merge?

The last session of the conference was about Natrual user interfaces and
Direct interaction, multi touch, multi user and object recognition. From CLI (command line interface) to GUI (graphic user interface) to NUI (natrual user interface). Nice comment in one of the slides said we're breaking the laws of nature, its the super real. Its about overcoming homeostasis, this is were the inspiration for surface came from.

Mix09 was a good conference, I really enjoyed the sessions I attended and there was little which went over my head being a non-programmer and not being that familiar with the .net framework. The best part of Mix09 is the ability to say, I have a problem with this and to find out the person you are talking to is the actual developer of that product or service. The mix of things going on is mind boggling but I found the social side of the conference a little under-par. There was a conference party at the amazing Tao but most people had there social circles so it was hard to just get talking sometimes. Most of the talks are online now, if you want to catch any of the sessions online.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.