TechEd 2007: What Did We Learn Today?

ORLANDO - It has been a long and fruitful week for us here, which was a welcome surprise. A computer convention, or any kind of convention, is a broad and complex story whose importance becomes clearer once the details are all assembled. Conventions are about the details, the parade of little events, the things you overhear, the questions that were unanswered and then unanswered again, the discoveries you didn't expect.

From Wednesday to Friday of this week in Orlando, I heard from some of our newest and some of our regular readers face-to-face, personally thanking BetaNews for sticking with the full five-day program. I heard you, and I thank you. One of my most important and most enjoyable jobs in covering a conference is listening to the everyday people, not just the program managers and the presenters and the keynotes. It's through them that I learn what's truly important to developers, administrators, architects, designers, and engineers. This week, they changed my point of view on a few interesting points.

And yes, that's me typing away in the front row of some of these sessions, or the back row if it's closer to the electrical outlet. I heard my first complaint this morning from a fellow who told me it's rude to be typing so loudly while the presenter is speaking. Thank you, sir, for that reminder.

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And on behalf of the four other people to whom you subsequently passed on the same warning, thank you as well. I am a loud typist, made louder by the pressure of a deadline or a very interesting development. Though I must assure you, several thousand more people learned about what that presenter was saying, than if had kept my laptop trap shut. The presenter knew that fact, and in the end, I'm certain he appreciated the payoff.

With all that thanking out of the way, let's review those five flashpoints representing the topics we thought would be important going into this year's TechEd, and see whether we were right:

  • How warm is Microsoft's embrace of Web standards? "Embrace" isn't the proper word. Frankly, as was confirmed for us this week, you can no more embrace a body of Web standards than you can comfortably hug a box hedge shrub. Sure, it's standard-looking in appearance, but the moment you finally get your arms around it, it pokes you someplace where you don't like to be poked.

    Microsoft would like to make it possible for Server Core installations in Windows Server 2008 to be optionally remotely administered by WS-Management-compliant Web services, by the time it releases to manufacturing in the latter part of this year. Good luck with that. Maybe that feature will be ready, we're told, and maybe it won't be. Standards are often moving targets - not necessarily forward-moving targets. There are many cases where Microsoft would like to use SOAP for Web services, but finds itself using JSON instead...They're both "standards," but one is supposedly bigger and the other less slippery.

    What Microsoft doesn't seem to be doing any more is attempting to force users to adapt to its own peculiar way of doing things, when a better and more widely adopted alternative is at hand. This is an important evolutionary step for the company, though there's no guarantee it won't revert back to its former behavior.

    Microsoft IE group program manager Doug StamperPerhaps the very first talk on Monday gave attendees the best view into the attitude adjustment under way at Microsoft. Internet Explorer group program manager Doug Stamper spelled out the tightrope which his team has now chosen to walk. In the past, he said, Microsoft had the attitude that it could change user behavior to its designs by changing the Web, or changing the Web browser. That, the company has learned, makes the Web break. "I'm really concerned that we're breaking stuff in the name of goodness," Stamper told the crowd, "and that all users and developers will walk away with is, 'Stuff broke."'

    On the other hand, there may now be a half-million users of Internet Explorer, he said, one of whom is his mom, and several million of whom are a lot like his mom in terms of how they use computers. Microsoft shouldn't have to put obstacles in the way of mom using her banking site, Stamper said, just to enforce standards. "We must balance site compliance with site compatibility," he said.

  • Will Windows without Windows take off? It already has. Server Core is huge. Today, we learned that when administrators see the WS2K8 setup program for the first time, the very first option they'll see is whether to install the entire operating system or just the command-line-driven, role-based alternative. Server Core is officially on the main runway.

    Windows IT Pro contributing editor Mark Minasi giving an empassioned speech on command line administration.But whether admins have given it clearance to take off is yet to be seen. Thursday, long-time consultant and Windows IT Pro contributing editor Mark Minasi gave a session on the subject of command-line-driven administration that you could call a sermon. Minasi, ever the showman in a sharp, black suit, bright-colored tie, and frosted beard, could definitely entertain a crowd. His message was that command lines were more efficient, much more effective, and less hassle.

    The reception was mixed. Perhaps a slim majority of his attendees were eagerly receptive to the idea of switching to CMD.EXE and Terminal Services and NET USE. Others may have been willing to give command lines a try, but weren't entirely eager; they were just seeking any alternative to the way things work (or don't work) now.

Next: The fizzles that sizzled

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