Ready for a new day – or Vista-Office-Exchange launch

Today was a big day in Ottawa Microsoft community. The Congress Centre was hosting large event – simultaneous launch of Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange server 2007. Because I have almost registered about two months ago, I attended the event. The “almost” means that I tried to register right after receiving MSDN Flash email, but many people must have been faster – I was put on waiting list on two of the 3 tracks (Developers and IT Pros) and before I could even try to register for the third track (Business), everything crashed, Web site hang and I have never heard back from them, nor received any email. Until yesterday, when an automated voice reminder service managed to catch me by phone in underground garage under Brookstreet Hotel, and delivered first part of reminder – telling me that I was registered to attend something … Too bad it did not tell me to what, when and where did I registered, before it broke off and I lost the signal. But I deducted that the only reason to call me would be a reminder of the Launch and after logging on to My Events, voila – the ticket was there. So I went. It was a tough decision, whether to sacrifice full work day and possibly evening ping-pong at Igor’s – but – what the heck. Microsoft does not produce new releases that often so going away once in 5 years should be OK. And now I am glad I did go.

My attitude in the Tuesday morning was: I am really curious about Vista from developer’s point of view, I do not care at all about new Office (who needs another version, Office 2003 is an overkill and besides we have Google docs and OpenOffice) and certainly not about Exchange. Well, I think different about two of the three topics above right now – but let’s keep the sequence.

It was nice change to take bus to downtown for a change, after daily driving to Kanata. The location was Ottawa Congress Centre, conveniently attached to Rideau Shopping Centre. The attendance was huge – I guess there must have been well over 1000 people. It was well organized and everything went very smoothly and professionally – as far as logistic is concerned.

The show started with a keynote delivered by the president of Microsoft Canada. I have visited few similar venues, and I must tell this was probably the most uninteresting and uninspiring keynote I have seen so far. It lacked spirit, personality, leadership, charisma – everything that I was expecting from a leader representing company of Microsoft’s calibre. Maybe I had too high expectations, after seeing (recorded) keynotes of Steve Jobs from last year MacWorld and WWDC – but even the keynotes at the few Ottawa Linux conferences I have attended in the past (I stopped after 2002) were much more interesting. For any other company, the keynote would probably do. But with Microsoft, one cannot have just a lukewarm, i-do-not-care opinion: people either like them a lot or dislike them a lot. Or both at the same time.

There were actually two speakers and two guests within the keynote. While the main part was not exactly exciting, the second part, delivered the economist and writer Michael Treacy – an author of Double Digit Growth IMHO completely missed target. He tried to provide high level view on outsourcing, new trends in markets and importance of productivity.
Not that the lesson on importance of knowledge in digital economy was incorrect – but it did not fit well with the audience. Certainly not with the group around me. The comments overheard were like: “.. this sounds like Economy 101 at Carleton .. wait, it’s more like second year “. To me, it sounded like fairly incomplete attempt to deliver the key message of Thomas Friedmann’s book The World Is Flat without mentioning Netscape, Yahoo, OpenSource and Google :-). The book is great – read it (I mean Friedmann’s book, did not read the other one). Besides, several claims made during the keynote were tough to digest: what are the data supporting the fact that Ireland has highest living standard in Europe ? What were the indicators used to measure it ? I guess that Swiss, Danes, Norwegians (and other Scandinavians) may quite disagree with that …

A funny little thing: one of the keynote speakers (cannot remember who) was mentioning the Vista new features and used by mistake Apple’s name for the desktop “components” which are called widgets in OS-X (and accessible by using F12) rather the proper Vista term gadgets. Yes, we know: gadgets / widgets – completely different, and the new Vista Aqua look is really great, oops, I meant Aero.

Fortunately, the technical sessions were good and I have learned more than I have expected. The presenters were as usual strong and the demo’s were reasonably well prepared with few hickups.

If I compare this event with the Visual Studio 2005 Launch or with Win2003 introduction, I think there was noticeable change of atmosphere. Somehow the excitement was down, the tone was more like “we are big and serious company, not group of techies”, and generally there was much less “wow” and much more “ok, ok – so what”. Was it because of the different audience ? Was it because of the people were tired waiting 5 years for Vista ? Was it because the scaled down (where is WinFS!!), catching-up-with-Mac (gadgets, Aero, search, ….) featureset of Vista ? Or because Microsoft itself became different company than it was, with Bill Gates stepping down as the icon and leader, being replaced by who-the-heck-is-that-guy-name ? No disrespect Mr. Next Chief Architect, but nobody can really replace such a legend as Bill Gates.

Anyway, back to presentations. I sat on developer’s track and as I said, they were good and interesting. Thanks, Christian and Jean-Luc, you were great as usual. The only remark: please stop that silliness with shouting “Developer Rocks!” really loud so that business group hears us. It is pretty lame and very juvenile. Just because your boss likes to shout Developers! really loud, you do not have to. Fortunately, we were not asked to do monkey dance either :-).

First and most expected product launch was certainly Vista. When companies finish and release large product, they like to do pizza parties. Considering amount of time and money that were invested to Vista, Microsoft should probably have rented Hawai back in November when Vista went gold (as somebody on TWIT suggested).

As a user, what I like about Vista is that it will over time improve security situation on the Net. Built in malware and spyware detection, better security, standard user accounts as defaults (not admin), kernel patch protection are certainly steps in right direction. Compared to introduction of Windows XP, with Vista, Internet will be better place, as soon as the bugs are hunted down to acceptable numbers.

What I do not like is that for certain amount of time, Vista may make security situation worse: the network stack is new and can contain lots of security problems (listen to Security Now on Vista Virgin Stack). What I also do not like is hardware requirements. Come on, guys! It is true that we do have now dual core machine and 1 GB RAM as standard, with 3D accelerator’s card. But the reason why people do buy these terrific machines is to run software that actually *does* something useful, and not just to happily let the operating system itself consume most of the RAM and CPU power just in order to run … Just because users do have lots of RAM and several CPU cores, you do not have to feel an obligation to utilize them and keep them busy – just let them sit idle, there is nothing wrong with that.

As developer, I liked the new additions such as .NET 3.0, WPF, WCF, Workflow and Cards. I am little bit worried about how will the memory consumption and CPU load of XAML-ized apps look like – the demos I saw were routinely allocating few hundred MB of RAM and 80% of CPU cycles just to run simple Winform apps, but that was Beta version of everything. Let’s hope the final version is better. I may have misunderstand the message, but most of the new features for developers will be available for XP and Win2003 platforms as well (maybe except some fancy GUI tricks). I certainly hope it will, because otherwise it makes little sense to use these features sooner than Vista penetration of the Windows market will not be at least 30-40%. Which will take some time.

To sum it up: I have not really used Vista long enough to have qualified opinions, but so far have mixed feelings. I guess it is OK, looks nicer than XP, is comparable to OS-X (some features are better, some are worse) but I am not overly ecstatic about it. I have not seen any features that would make me feel “I must have that” – unlike Leopard with TimeMachine. For example, the search in Vista seems to be using old “indexing service” approach and will be very likely considerably slower and less usable than Spotlight for 100 GB+ volumes of data. Vista certainly is important release and we will jump on it, but not right away there is no rush and no urge to upgrade. The XP and Win2003 will do for now. At least they run OK in Parallels :-).

Unlike Vista, I have changed (and much improved) my opinion about Office 2007. But that is for tomorow.

Will be continued

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