Every once and a while I get the urge to go to one of the many
free events that Microsoft puts on. I checked the
Microsoft Events site
to find an event that might be interesting and ran across the
Windows Server 2003 & Visual Studio .NET 2003 Product Launch.
I checked my calendar (more on this later) and, not finding
anything important scheduled for that day, I signed up online
and prepared to spend the day being brainwashed into thinking
that Microsoft can do no wrong and that I must have their latest
and greatest product in order to survive.
For those who have never been to a Microsoft event, for the most
part they're propaganda fests or, to put it another way, it's a
full day Microsoft commercial. So why would I want to go to one?
Well, aside from getting to network with your peers, getting some
free gadgets from the vendors, and getting a free lunch, they
actually do provide you with an opportunity to learn about the latest
Microsoft products and get the inside track on the latest killer
features. So in summary, here's what I was expecting:
Networking with peers
Talking to vendors (a.k.a. get cool stuff)
Presentations on Windows Server 2003 & Visual Studio .NET 2003
A Great Start
The day started like any other... get up, check email, shower, get
dressed, etc. I decided to take the Metro to avoid rush hour
traffic (and because my car was in the shop... which will become
important in a little bit) and got to the Omni Shoreham Hotel with
10 minutes to spare. I walked in and I saw no sign at all that a
big MS event is going on. No signs... no people directing me where
to go... no nothing. I whipped out my confirmation email to check
that I was in the right place and found that I was. A little
confused, I studied the printout carefully and checked my watch
to be sure I had the time right... I did. Then I noticed that
while I may have had the time right, I had the day wrong! The
event was tomorrow. The launch was scheduled for May 7th, but
when I had checked my calendar, somehow I had gotten confused
and checked it for the 6th. From then on I had just assumed
the event was taking place on the 6th. Well, feeling like quite
an idiot, I left the hotel and tried to find something to do in
the area to justify my taking the Metro clear across the city. It's
then that I remembered my broken car. The repair shop had left me
a message the night before saying they had replaced the gasket on
the turbo oil return line and that I could pick it up at my
convenience. They were two short Metro stops and a courtesy
shuttle away. Having saved what little dignity I could by
coming to the realization that I would have had to Metro here
to get my car anyway, I proceeded to pick up my car and drive
home. It would have been a pleasant morning drive too, had it
not been for the oil (that spilled all over the engine through
the faulty gasket), which was now burning off and causing the
car to smell like an oil-fire.
Let's Try This Again!
Having just taken Metro the day before, this time I drove. I
arrived a little late, but I felt justified considering I had
actually beaten everyone else by a full day! ;)
I stopped by the registration desk and picked up my bag. It contained
the schedule, lots of junk mail type flyers, a nice little MS notebook,
and a much nicer then average MS pen. It also contained an
"Attendee Portfolio" which included some special
offers, lots of product info, trial versions of Windows Server 2003
and VS.NET 2003, and a few other CDs/DVDs loaded with slides,
whitepapers, and lots of other cool stuff. Not a bad haul just for showing up.
I mentioned earlier that I was expecting four things from the
day... so I'll start going down the list:
Networking With Peers
I got to the keynote and did a quick guess-timate at the head
count... I figured around 1,000. I was way off... I later
learned that the count was just over 3,000. Depending on how
you look at it that's either really good or really bad on the
There were some developers in the mix, but there were a lot
of non-technical people as well.
I left disappointed... I talked to several
people, but didn't find anyone who seemed to be worth
keeping in touch with.
Talking to Vendors (a.k.a. Get Cool Stuff)
Again not much luck... Dell had some cool puzzle pens and Wyse
a neat little compass/clock/carabiner type gizmo, but as a whole the
freebies were mediocre and the vendors were too swamped to
be able to spend any time talking with you even if you were
interested in their product.
I wasn't expecting much on the lunch front: a sandwich, some
chips, maybe some fruit. Well they tried to class things up
a bit... the little signs held by silver holders said
"Roast Beef and Brie", "Turkey and Avocado"
and "Ham and Cheese Wrap." A little note for anyone
who cares... nice food does not come in brown paper bags.
I don't care how nice it starts out, 3,000 brown paper bags
being brought out tend to take the elegance out of any situation...
just keep it simple. Anyway I ended up with a turkey and avocado
sandwich, which might not have been all that bad had it not been
soaked in the juice from the pasta salad that they put in the
same container. The pre-packaged chips and cookie they got
right, but the rest of the meal left me thinking about what
I'd be making for dinner.
Presentations on Windows Server 2003 & Visual Studio .NET 2003
So now we come to the point of the whole event... the thing
everyone was here to get... information about the products
being launched. Unfortunately this left me least satisfie
of all. Aside from their "Do more with less" slogan
and tons of marketing hype, there was very little to learn.
In terms of Windows Server 2003, I found out that:
They spent a lot of time on security in Windows Server 2003.
IIS 6 is the main killer feature (as far as ASP/ASP.NET) is concerned.
The IIS 6 Metabase is now text based.
They added more command-line tools (which is a good thing).
There's some vague thing called Sharepoint Team Services that looks cool, but isn't out yet. (It's come to my attention that Sharepoint Team Services has indeed been out for a while and what Microsoft was talking about is the next generation of the Sharepoint line: Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies "v2.0". It's currently in Beta 2. For more info see http://www.microsoft.com/sharepoint/.)
Microsoft thinks everyone is still running NT 4. (They kept throwing around stats like "Windows Server 2003 has 60% less attack surface by default compared to NT4 SP3." Could we have a comparison to something that shipped in this millennium guys? I don't know too many people still hosting their web sites on NT4.)
In terms of VS.NET 2003, I found out that:
There is apparently very little difference from VS.NET 2002 aside from targeting .NET Framework 1.1 instead of 1.0. All the real changes worth mentioning seem to lie within the .NET Framework.
Upgrade is cheap for the time being (something on the order of $30). Probably related to my last point.
I need to check out App Center Test... it's not new in 2003, but it's supposed to be cool.
Projects are not sharable between the two. VS.NET 2003 can upgrade VS.NET 2002 projects (and in the process converts them to .NET 1.1), but then VS.NET 2002 can no longer read them.
VS.NET 2002 and 2003 can co-exist on the same machine. Why you'd want to do this... I have no idea. Why not just have VS.NET 2003 be able to target .NET 1.0 and 1.1? Can it? Whatever... I'll figure it out once I get the new version installed.
From what I could tell, the products and some of their features are
quite exciting, but there seemed to be a lot of comparison to NT 4
and Visual Studio 6 going on. Did I miss something? Haven't we
been using Windows 2000, VS.NET and the .NET Framework for a while
already? I'm not sure if the presenters got lazy and re-used
slides that were re-highlighting old features or were just trying
to emphasize that Windows now ships with the .NET framework
"in the box", but time and time again I sat there
thinking, "Weren't we promised these features in Windows
2000 Server / Visual Studio .NET 2002?" or "The .NET
Framework already does that... that's not new." Don't get
me wrong... I'm sure Windows Server 2003 is the best Windows
Server platform ever, and while we all appreciate the fact that
everything is more secure and it doesn't crash as often, shouldn't
it have been that way from the start? In my mind, aside from
the rewrite of IIS 6, we're talking about some minor evolution
here... as far as I can tell, the revolution has left the building.
All in all I was quite disappointed with the event... I was
expecting a lot of marketing and hype, but normally there's
some content thrown in for good measure. The marketing to
content ratio was much higher then it has been in the past
and I walked away feeling quite unsatisfied. The little I
saw of the products made me want to see some more, but the
event never delivered. I turned in my evaluation and got
the obligatory T-shirt, but instead of my usual compulsion
to buy whatever they were selling I left thinking:
"They've just told me I need to upgrade, but no one told
me why." From now on I think I'll be sticking to the
smaller, more developer oriented events. If you're thinking
of attending an upcoming launch event, do yourself a favor...
order an evaluation version of whatever product it is
online and spend a day playing with it. You won't get
the T-shirt, but you'll probably learn more and eat better.