Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Back from MIX08

image Got back late last week from MIX08. Yet again, Microsoft's Web Developer's conference didn't disappoint. Although there weren't any major announcements like last year's revelation of Silverlight it is clear that the Microsoft machine has picked up significant momentum over the past couple of years towards being a major force in the Web, from the infrastructure to having a significant online presence.

What amazes me about Microsoft is that they do seem to be able to orchestrate and execute on very broad strategies which other big players usually have a hard time doing. Synchronizing between so many projects inside a large company is no easy feat but it really feels that their investments in Server 2008, Silverlight, ASP.NET, Visual Studio, Expression Web, Windows Live, etc. are all aligned to a greater roadmap. At the same time Microsoft seems to be learning from its past mistakes and is trying to reduce dependencies within their product portfolio. In one of the keynotes, Steve Ballmer specifically pointed out Microsoft's mistake of aligning the release of IE7 with Longhorn (Vista). A good example of the new way of thinking is how Microsoft is developing ASP.NET's MVC framework. Driven by community, Microsoft recognized the interest and after hiring Scott Hanselman are working hard towards its release with a transparent development process.

I was invited to be on two panels at MIX08, "Opportunities and Challenges in Mashing Up the Web" and "The Open Question". The latter had quite a bit of pick up among the press. Among other things Miguel de Icaza talked about his regret for how the patent agreement between Novell and Microsoft affected the Mono community and there were good discussions with Mike Schroepfer regarding patents and how they affect the Firefox community. In general we talked about many topics besides patents which related to "Open" including open process, transparency, open standards, and creating a level playing fields for competition. Both of these sessions can also be viewed at the mix08 Web site.

As far as PHP was concerned, I was pleasantly surprised at how often it came up. Not only did Ballmer explicitly mention PHP when referring to the Yahoo! acquisition but PHP came up in several sessions. Probably the session with the biggest emphasis on PHP was the hosting session. When I chatted with developers in the hallways the majority that I talked to had used PHP, many of them were using it on a daily basis based on their project's requirements. This was pretty surprising because you'd expect a Microsoft conference to have a very Microsoft centric crowd but I think the world is changing and many developers are growing up on open-source platforms and are bringing those solutions to their work place.

So what's my main take away from this conference? I think Microsoft is doing a lot of cool stuff and they have managed to build a lot of momentum around delivering those ideas. I think they have also realized that doing more incremental deliveries and developing certain projects out in the open will create a lot of tail wind for them. The down side is that Silverlight could be the next Win32/MFC. As opposed to creating industry standards which advance the whole Web and create a level playing field, technologies like Silverlight and even Flex work against an open Web. Especially in Microsoft's case, if Silverlight becomes super successful and takes a large amount of market share on the Web they will have literally forked the browser and gained control of a large amount of the Web infrastructure. Ideally I'd prefer seeing more of those innovations happening over at W3C, ECMA and other standards organization in order to ensure that the Web keeps on being open. If Javascript and its related technologies aren't good enough to take us to the next level then why not collaborate to define the new standards. Of course, standards processes, like Sun has proven, are often too convoluted and hold back innovation. Lose, lose situation?

All in all it was  great conference. I could go on and on but if I don't finish this post it'll be MIX09 by the time this sees the light of day.