Tech·Ed 2001 - Atlanta
|Welcome to TechEd|
TechEd 2001 has arrived in Atlanta, and with it the hordes of sandaled
programmers and besieged support staff. The attendees are spread over numerous
hotels around the downtown area, with the conference itself being held at the
Georgia World Conference Center
|Atlanta at night|
The first thing I noticed about Atlanta is that it's warm. Maybe this has
something to do with the whole 'Summer' thing, and maybe it's got to do with my
body still getting over the fact that a week ago it was busy adding layers of
fat in preparation for another Australian winter.
Arriving at the airport I was told that it was very easy to find your way
around - which it is. I just wasn't told how big the place is. I got off
the plane and sneered at the train that went between the concourses, then
sneered even more ambitiously at the moving walkways that stretch the length of
the long corridors. I figured that I'm still reasonably young and fit and that a
casual stroll would be good for me. From the arrival gate to the luggage claim
area was a 20 minute walk. I figured this is about 2km (1.25 mile)!
|The exhibitors hall|
It was an amazing sight to watch the attendees slowly but inexorably take
over the hotel foyers, bars and amenities. On Saturday afternoon the pool area
was full of intensely bronzed and fit (and intensely bronzed and not-so-fit)
holiday makers in tiny bathing suits, and one very pale, very skinny developer
in long shorts and a T-shirt. By Sunday afternoon the view was altogether
different, and a lot more disturbing.
The Conference Center and Hotels
|The Georgia World Conference
The conference center itself is pretty much like most conference centers.
Large rooms, small rooms, lots of escalators. Sunday afternoons activities were
restricted to registration (quick and painless especially when you get to go to
the Press Pass booth), the hands on labs (booked out) and the exhibitors hall.
The exhibitors hall is always good the first couple of days because they are all
in a good mood, all keen to be as helpful as possible, but most of all, all
stocked up with the good stuff. You know what I mean: bouncing flashing balls,
teddy bears with parachutes and laser pointer key chains. The Hilton hotel has
an open core so you can look from the top floor down to the lobby. I'm
guessing the will be drop-zone central for the teddy-bears. I think it's totally
cool that not only are we provided with teddy bears with parachutes, but also
with balconies that look down 17 floors. Pity the laser pointers
weren't a little more powerful, otherwise things could get very
interesting. I guess it's all fun and games till someone loses an eye.
The attendees are spread over (I think) about 23 hotels and there is a steady
stream of coaches provided to shuttle us to and from the conference centre. The
strangest site is seeing the armed policeman standing guard at our pickup point
each morning. I guess with most attendees carrying several thousand dollars
worth of gadgets there could be some easy pickings. As developers we are not renowned for our
commanding physical prowess in the face of danger.
Commando teddy-bear test drop from the 17th floor of the
Out and About in Atlanta
The choices for dining in downtown Atlanta around the hotels - as far as I
can determine - boil down to Steak, Fajitas and Sushi. After an episode last
year involving Sushi and Tequila that best remain forgotten, the choice is
pretty much Sushi or Steak - but the later can be subclassified into Steak and
Lager, Steak and Ale, and Steak. The adventurous can also try the burgers.
|We're a sad bunch|
Dinner time saw the area around the hotels hotels a-swarm with badged, bag
carrying developers flowing between the eating establishments like ants,
streaming between the establishments in visible lines, bumping into one another,
forming clots at intersections, with each individual working toward the common
goal of getting fed. It was a sight to behold. I was standing next to a guy who
obviously was not an attendee and he looked at the hordes then shook his head
and said "you know something is terribly wrong when downtown Atlanta is
packed with pale skinned guys carrying laptops".
Microsoft certainly knows how to put on a decent meal. Breakfast and lunch
were all you can eat affairs, and in between sessions there was a constant
supply of potato chips, muffins, Krispy Kream donuts, diet coke and the second
best chocolate chip cookies I have ever tasted. For the health conscious (or
merely guilty at heart) there was fruit, muesli bars, juice and TechEd brand
|This table was once piled
with donuts, potato crisps, chocolate and fruit. It was interesting to see
which food group was left at the end of the day.|
The first days sessions were mainly introductory talks. During each break out
session there were 13 different seminars that could be attended. Everything from
XML and Web Services to VSA. Monday night was the exhibition hall reception,
plus there were a number of private receptions scattered around various
locations. If none of these took your fancy then there were the jam sessions at
David Cunningham flew in yesterday morning and promptly found the world
longest escalator. He promised to show me tomorrow. I'm tingling with
Tuesday morning saw some very subdued developers quaffing serious amounts of
water and coffee. No doubt the exertions of the night before (late night coding
sessions? hearty debates about the new features in .NET? The Tabernacle?) took
|The keynote speech buildup was a
sound and light spectacle. Even the soundtrack was kinda cool.|
The big event was
Bill Gate's keynote speech
and the announcement of
the availability of the .NET beta 2, and the news that the final release of .NET
will be this calendar year.
We all get Beta 2 CD's on Wednesday, but in the meantime is available for
download from Microsoft.
System requirements are far more modest than the original requirements for the
PDC bits: a 450MHz CPU, W2K, 192Mb RAM, a 800 x 600, 256 color screen and 3Gb
HDD space in total. A CD would also be handy if you plan on installing from the
|The hordes attempting to leave the
Beta 2 is significantly different from Beta 1. Many of the namespaces
have changed, and even some basic naming conventions (For example, WinForms are
now Windows Forms). Everything from the System.Data namespace, delegates,
keywords, and the IDE itself have all changed in degrees ranging from wide
ranging API changes to more innocuous changes such as the addition or removal of
underscores in names.
The beta 2 IDE is much improved, both in terms of usability and stability, and
companies can now create shipping applications (with a few limitations)
using the ASP.NET Go Live license.
Also announced at the keynote presentation was the availability of the UDDI
developer tools, the Mobile Internet toolkit, and a peer-to-peer code snippet
Integrated within the IDE is a new peer-to-peer code snippet sharing service
that allows a developer to enter a set of keywords in a dialog box and locate
code snippets from other developer's machines. These code snippets can then be
accessed across the 'net and pasted into the developers source code directly.
It's essentially a Napster-style code sharing initiative.
Once the keynote was over it was back to hands-on sessions and seminars.
Today's talks built on yesterday's introductory talks. Breakfast and lunch were
again a nice affair (mmm - cheesecake!) and after the break-out sessions there
we had an 'ask the experts' open peer forum where we had the chance to speak
directly to the MS guys and ask them anything from the smallest niggling
question on CE SQL to questions on design and implementation of full e-commerce
I saw what David and I consider to be the worlds longest (and I think
steepest) escalator. We rode it up and down with stupid grins on our faces. We
also spent an entertaining few minutes throwing parachuted teddy bears off the
top balcony at the hotel. Action photos will be posted soon.
I've finally worked out the difference between "y'all" and
Wednesday started with the usual breakfast of back bacon, eggs, fruit and
something brown and unidentifiable. After that was more hands-on labs, more
break-out sessions and more of the exhibitors trying everything they could to
get their hands on your swipe card.
The announcement of the Mobile
Information Server (and related toolkit) means that developers can now write
mobile applications in a device independent fashion. Extending the idea that
ASP.NET applications no longer need to worry about handling the idiosyncrasies
of various browsers, the Mobile Information Server releases developers from
worrying about the capabilities of individual devices. If you are brave and have
lots of spare time to wade through lots of marketing fluff you can read more here.
Two things have really been evident in these last 2 days: Firstly, there are
some seriously overweight developers, and secondly, the mood is really
subdued. People aren't depressed, just, well, quiet. Maybe it's because .NET has
been out for a year, so most of the attendees at least have an idea of what it's
all about. This time last year we were all learning that C# was Cool and finding
about about the amazing advances in ASP.NET. This years it's more about the fine
tuning that has been going on, and a continuation of the evangelical message.
Maybe it was also due to some of the higher profile guys not being in
attendance. Chris Sells, Jeff Prosise and Jeff Richter weren't around, Tony
Goodhew and Chris Anderson weren't there, and most disappointingly: no Kent
|A well-attended ASP.NET session.|
The weather has been perfect, which is a huge disappointment. I was hoping
for a tornado or two, or at least the remnants of a tropical cyclone. Obviously
this statement is spoken with the brash bravado of someone who has never
actually been near either of these two pieces of excitement. I was talking to a
guy about Tornadoes and he told me a story about waiting for a flight in an
airport in the south east of the States. He was waiting at the departure gate
when two tornadoes were spotted. Everyone in the airport was moved into the
center of the airport while the storms moved by, and when they were allowed back
the plane that he had been about to board had been turned around 30 degrees.
The Visual Basic 10th Year Anniversary Party
It was a Visual Basic thing - you're not really interested are you?
It was pretty big, and took up the entire stadium at the conference center. I
was a little worried when we entered the doors to find a whole bunch of mimes,
but these were soon replaced by Blues Brothers look-alikes, jugglers,
monocyclists and other performance artists. There was a ton of food and
drink and a live bands, but unfortunately the accoustics were terrible, so you
couldn't really hear them.
|Feeding 10,000 people takes some
The funniest thing about the whole night was that the helium balloons were
all removed and popped after some guys tied beer bottles to clumps of balloons
and released them. Little beer gondolas were floating around 100 feet above our
heads. It was so cool.
Apart from that it was a pretty quiet affair. It was a pity it was held
indoors, since the weather was perfect. After being inside air conditioned
conference halls all day it would have been nice to enjoy a southern summer
Thursday was the final day of the conference, and one that many people (me
included) missed, which sucked because many of more interesting talks such as
Nick Hodapp's and Ronald Laeremans' were
scheduled for that day. The conference center entrance turned into a baggage
warehouse. Once at the airport you could tell the attendees (I was about to say
'fellow geeks' but I figured that was harsh) by spotting the TechEd 2001 paraphernalia
and VB.NET T-shirts.
|CommNet - the internal network for attendees.|
Overall it was a quiet affair. I talked to lots of people to gauge the
general feeling and describe the tone of the conference and invariably the word
was 'subdued'. Visual C++ developers in particular felt left out (again) because
the 10 year anniversary of Visual Basic overshadowed everything. I think every
VC++ developer in the house was gritting their teeth when speaker after speaker
waxed lyrical about how wonderful and productive and powerful and scalable VB
Hopefully PDC will bring VC++ back into the limelight. It doesn't seem 'sexy' to MS
at the moment, which is nuts because VC++ is the most powerful of the .NET
languages, and the only one that can be used to write native code. Server
side .NET has a brilliant future and solves obvious problems, both in terms of
code writing and management, and in application performance and deployment.
Client side .NET apps may face the same uphill battle that client side Java apps
are facing, so wouldn't it be prudent to push the excellent advances made in
VC++ (language, compiler and IDE) to keep current developers happy and convince
them that upgrading to VS.NET is a Good Thing? Maybe MS is worried this will
send mixed messages about their future goals, but as a C++ developer I just want
to use the best tools now, and when better tools come out I'll upgrade to them
Appendix: Long haul flights
I wrote this while hanging out in LA after 20 hours of traveling with no
sleep. I had a 10 hr layover followed by a 5hr red-eye to arrive in Toronto at
6am the following day. Needless to say I was not the most cheerful traveller at
One of the first things that long haul air travel in cattle class gives you
is a realisation of what it will be like when you are old and frail and living
in a retirement village. The mind numbing expanse of time that soon ceases to be
a moving quantity, but rather a static position with no beginning and no ending.
The dimmed lights, the unchanging surroundings, and the close proximity to your
neighbours giving immediate knowledge of their habits, their hopes and their
lives all fuel the feeling that you have been here forever, and that you will
continue to be here until your mind slowly fades away.
Beyond the metaphysic there is also the stark reality of the hopelessness
that sets in when you unwisely choose a window seat on a sold out flight. You
sit. You watch. You wait. Your meals are bought to you in turn, and you watch
with hopeless salivation as the surly stewards bring a meal that you know full
well you will not enjoy, but which you nevertheless look forward to as a means
of marking out the various segments of the journey. There have been meals before,
and there will no doubt be meals ahead. You live in a world where there are only
three states - either waiting for a meal, eating a meal, or suffering the after
effects of a meal.
You eat what you are given, and what is given is that same that is given to
everyone else cramped in with you. You even engage in mind games with the person
next to you in order to secure their blueberry crumble, only to realise that you,
in turn, have lost your Caesar salad.
The worst part - the very worst part - the part that makes you promise to
yourself that you will never send your aging parents into a retirement home, is
that once you wolf down your unpalatable meal you are forced to sit there with
the decaying remains of the pasta-or-the-chicken congealing on the plate in
front of you, and that the two people blocking your escape to the freedom of the
isle also have the remnants of their meal similarly congealing, their tray
tables down, and that you are not going anywhere until the stewards do the
rounds to collect the empties. You have half an hour of concentrated bladder
control to keep you occupied, and there is not a thing you can do about it. To
be completely at the mercy of strangers who think of you as a seat number and
not be able to do a thing about it is a sobering and mind expanding experience.
If you ever feel that the time has come to put Ma and Pop in a home then you
should first fly to Australia coach class - preferably using one of the cheaper,
more conservative carriers - and have a good, long think about what you are
about to do.
Even when the meals are finally cleared, the tray tables returned to their
upright position, and the complicated ballet of legs, arms, overhead lockers and
headphone wires is negotiated, you still have nowhere to go. You cannot ring up
friends and say 'I'm so bored I've started making sculptures out of my
fingernail clippings'. No. Sit and stay you will. Enjoy the reruns of 'Friends'
you will. Sleep comfortably you will not.