Bill Gates kicked off last week’s TechEd North America 2008 Developers conference in Orlando, FL by talking about the fact that he’s taking a less active role at Microsoft to spend more time as a philanthropist. Even though this was old news, I learned plenty of new information during the flurry of activity at the conference.

On the horizon

With Microsoft, the versions just keep appearing as products are developed, updated, and tweaked to meet user demands. Here’s a list of highlights from TechEd:

  • Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 is expected to be available in August 2008. Microsoft promises advanced support for Web standards (this was visible in the first Beta), so all eyes are on this release.
  • Silverlight 2 Beta 2 is now available. Microsoft is releasing Silverlight 2 Beta 2 using its Go Live license, which means businesses can use it in production (although why would anyone want to use a Beta version in production?). The final release is due later this year. A Silverlight plug-in for Visual Studio 2008 is planned as well.
  • Microsoft Sync Framework is scheduled for release in the third quarter of 2008. The platform allows developers to create Web applications that provide offline data access, as well as synchronize data across multiple locations.
  • Visual Studio 2008 plug-ins for Silverlight and SharePoint Services 3.0 were discussed but no release dates were mentioned. The plug-ins allows developers to use the familiar IDE to work with these technologies.
  • Oslo was mentioned countless times. It is the codename for the next generation of Microsoft’s service-oriented architecture (SOA) platform. It will be built into future versions of Visual Studio, Microsoft System Center, BizTalk Server, and Microsoft SQL Server. Its final name and when it will be available are still unknown.
  • The first Community Technical Preview (CTP) distributed, in-memory application cache platform codenamed Velocity was announced. It was created to make it easier to develop scalable, high-performance applications that need frequent access to disparate data sources.
  • SQL Server 2008 was featured in the keynote speech and throughout the conference. A lot of customers are still making the move to SQL Server 2005, so many feel that the idea of migrating to a new version is a bit overwhelming.

While these new products and versions are interesting, the conference was packed with information regarding how to work with existing products.

.NET everywhere!

When Microsoft released the .NET Framework years ago, the company announced that it would be the foundation for all of its products. I must admit that the company has kept its promise, as every product is available via .NET code. Any developer with a strong knowledge of .NET is ready to get going with Microsoft products.

There were a variety of sessions on optimizing your code to build better applications. One of the more interesting sessions discussed how Microsoft’s use of SharePoint helped the company come up with the product’s best practices. It was fascinating to learn how the company deals with product limitations while keeping in mind the goal of not using product add-ons in order to provide suggestions and information to the SharePoint development team.

Optimizing current versions

I have never considered myself a cutting-edge developer. I like to stay informed, but it takes a while for new technologies to make their way into the organizations with which I work. So, I focus on the technology being used now and how it may be better utilized to meet customer needs.

Thankfully, the conference was full of sessions that focused on using current versions of the .NET Framework to develop custom applications, as well as working with the various Microsoft products. In addition, there was ample opportunity to meet and talk to the various product groups such as the Visual Studio team, who provided answers to many developers’ questions. How often do you get that chance?


One of my biggest surprises at the conference was the discussion of PHP. It wasn’t a major focus, but it was mentioned in several presentations — there was even an afternoon session devoted to PHP, during which using it on Windows was discussed. While it is a great language with a huge following, it surprised me to know some people at Microsoft recognize its power.

I was also surprised to see some presenters using Apple notebooks. Who would think you would see an Apple machine at the podium during a Microsoft conference? In all fairness, all presenters were not Microsoft employees. I never did get to ask any of the presenters about their platform choice.

In addition, IBM is contributing to Microsoft’s goal to make it easier for developers in heterogeneous environments. The companies have agreed to work together to integrate IBM DB2 database access with Visual Studio Team System Database Edition.

A final surprise was a session discussing developing accessible sites via ASP.NET. Developing accessible ASP.NET-based sites is no different than non-Microsoft Web development as the techniques used to markup pages.

Getting back to work

After spending a week submerged in the Microsoft development culture, I’m a bit disoriented as I return to regular work; this is especially true when working on a JSP/UNIX application. All of the new products and cool features at the conference are not applicable when maintaining existing sites and developing with products that aren’t exactly cutting edge.

When I return to work after attending a developer conference, I tend to push customers to new products and versions when discussing projects, which I guess is one of Microsoft’s goals. However, I also learned plenty of coding techniques that will be applicable in current projects.

I think every developer should get the chance to attend such a gathering for their technology. Did you attend TechEd 2008 or another developer conference this year? Share your thoughts and experiences with the Web Developer community.

Tony Patton began his professional career as an application developer earning Java, VB, Lotus, and XML certifications to bolster his knowledge.


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