Tech Ed 2008—Unifying Everything

Tech Ed 2008—Unifying Everything

From a developer’s perspective, Tech Ed 2008, which attracted over 6000 developers to Orlando, doesn’t offer much that’s completely “new;” however, it does offer a great deal of value for developers who need to find out about existing technologies. If there’s a single overview word that one might use to describe the thrust of the conference, it’s “unification.” Microsoft is unifying the developer view into its existing technologies.

For example, starting with the small and moving toward the large, the .NET Compact Framework, the .NET Embedded Framework, Silverlight, Office, Visual Studio, SharePoint, BizTalk, and SQL Server all leverage developers’ knowledge of the .NET framework and its supported languages in very much the same way; after becoming familiar with the framework and one language, you can build on that knowledge to write applications intended to run embedded in other devices, to run on mobile devices, to deliver rich content through a browser, integrate with Office applications, run as standalone desktop or Internet-connected applications, or run custom code inside SQL Server—all without having to learn a completely new environment or language. Unification is the theme not just with developers, but with architects, development managers, designers, testers, and maintenance; the newest and upcoming toolsets cover the entire application lifecycle.

One of the most exciting additions to this lineup is Silverlight—no, not the 1.0 version; the new 2.0 (still beta, but soon to be released with a Go-Live license) version. Silverlight puts Microsoft’s WPF technology—specifically XAML—front and center in the development world.  The new version not only improves rich media (video/audio) delivery, but moves beyond JavaScript, letting developers write Silverlight code in familiar .NET languages such as C# and VB—and some newer ones, such as IronPython and IronRuby. If you haven’t started exploring WPF, I highly recommend it.

Bill Gates, giving what may be his last keynote for Microsoft (he’s stepping down at the end of June to concentrate on his work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) mentioned two other noteworthy topics. First, SQL Server 2008 (soon to be available as RC 0) adds the ability to store geographic location points (geopoints) as a native type. In a brief demonstration, he showed how a user could identify a point, and an application could request additional points of interest within a circle with a defined radius from that point. While perhaps not groundbreaking, adding location data as a base type both simplifies developing location-aware applications, and elevates them to mainstream status. 

Other enhancements to SQL Server 2008 include support for external blob storage in the file system, on local NTFS-formatted drives. Storing blobs externally gives SQL the ability to manage files and large binary data blobs in an intuitive way, letting developers treat them as standard file streams, while still taking advantage of SQL Server’s transaction, rollback, and backup features. This also helps to avoid the performance penalty associated with storing large blobs internally.

Finally, SQL Server 2008 adds support for hierarchical data (tree structures). While it’s been quite possible to handle such data before, T-SQL itself provided no assistance. Because tree-structured and hierarchical data has become ever more common, that’s a welcome addition.

Another welcome technology, although still under development, is enhanced modeling in Team Studio.Brian Harry, a Technical Fellow in Microsoft’s Developer Division, demonstrated how code submitted to a project repository containing a model of the application can be tested at check-in to ensure that the code contains no dependencies that would break the model. As applications have become ever more complex, improved modeling support helps to unify the original architect’s vision of not only the application but the application code itself. The modeling support will ship as part of “Oslo,” Microsoft’s code name for its upcoming model-driven and service-enabled application toolset(Oslo is MS’s vision, but what, exactly, is it? What kind of app? EG). Brian said developers could expect a CTP of Oslo at Microsoft’s PDC conference in October.

Being in the front row for perhaps Bill’s last keynote reminded me how long I’ve been working in this industry; I remember when IBM chose the relatively unknown company Microsoft as the supplier of its PC operating system—DOS. Bill’s departure comes at a time when development is undergoing a major shift, where instead of having to learn new languages or new hardware platforms to gain new capabilities, developers can concentrate on gaining deep knowledge of their core focus areas, relying on tool improvements to give them access to new capabilities and new devices, while still using their existing tools. We all owe Bill a debt of gratitude. Sure, he was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, but he also helped create our industry and make developers a driving force in the modern world. Thanks, Bill. Good luck in your new endeavors. You’ll be missed.

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