PDC 2009 Post-keynote Day 2: What are we learning today?

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The Day 2 keynote is actually still ongoing at the time I'm writing this -- it's run 20 minutes over schedule, and the SharePoint demos are still going on. But here's an assessment of the information we've received thus far today:
First of all, the first news on Internet Explorer 9. If you weren't listening closely to Windows Division president Steven Sinofsky, you might have missed this little fact: The team is only three weeks into the project, having just started after the Windows 7 launch. Now, think about that for a bit: The implication here is that the development team cannot work on the operating system and the Web browser at the same time. This from the company that used to argue that the two components were inseparable.

Then there is the whole "three weeks in" news...It's difficult to believe that Microsoft hasn't really been working on a Web browser since last March, and I actually expect Dean Hachamovitch, who leads IE8 design, to contradict that bit of information. He and his team haven't been lying dormant.

But assuming that's true, why should the idea that it has done nothing with IE9 until three weeks ago, not come to the surprise and shock of Steven Sinofsky?

Obviously performance is an issue, and the fact that IE9 is crawling back from the brink is something that developers are taking note of. The proud disclosure that IE9 posted a 32% score on the Acid3 test score, elicited a tremendous groan...a bit like telling the audience that Chris Rock couldn't make it but Carrot Top could.

So the demonstration of Internet Explorer 9 rendering functionality -- specifically, moving the rendering engine from the decades-old GDI over to Direct2D -- ended up falling a little flat. Even though the need for a smoother rendering engine is crystal clear to any user, especially in IE8, to the developers (a.k.a., the PDC audience), they want to be told what they can do to improve the Web user experience. Being told they don't have to do anything to improve the experience is no help to them; it's like telling a professional truck driver he doesn't have to drive a truck. Then how is he going to make his living? Developers want tools so they can be the ones responsible for improving the IE experience, especially since there's an obvious needs assessment that says it needs improving.

The IE9 news made the entire crowd unimpressed, which is why it was perfect (and obviously intentional) timing to take the bad taste out of developers' mouths with the news of the laptop giveaways. It was a palate cleanser ahead of Scott Guthrie and the Silverlight 4 news, all of which was received very positively.

More and more, Silverlight is becoming Microsoft's Web platform -- in effect, replacing Internet Explorer in that regard, at least with respect to the company's product line. Seeing Guthrie's demo of the HTML control being housed inside the Silverlight-based frame (so, for example, a custom Silverlight app could host a Bing search or a Facebook application) made it clear that not only developers outside Microsoft, but the ones inside Microsoft, are paying attention to the possibility of Silverlight becoming the Web apps host of choice as opposed to Internet Explorer.

Just as Betanews readers have been saying, IE is becoming old news. Trouble is, the older that news becomes, the more of it there is.

A long string of interviews is next for us here at the conference, and we'll report on what we've learned from them later tonight and throughout the week.

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