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Windows Server 2003 & VS.NET 2003 Launch Event

by John Peterson

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)
  • Free lunch
  • 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 networking front. 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.

Free Lunch

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.

Conclusion

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.


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