For me, the most valuable take-away from the PDC wasn't the free bag (it's starting
to come to bits), the mound of advertising inside it (thrown away before I arrived
at the airport), or even the geeky gadgets and toys (there's only so many pen/torch
combinations you can find a use for, after all). It was the hands-on labs that accompanied
the sessions themselves.
The challenging thing with a conference like the PDC is that there are so many new
ideas seeing the light of day for the first time - even for internal employees of
Microsoft. Different teams each brought their own pieces of the jigsaw to the table,
and you had to assemble the pieces together yourself to try and identify the overall
picture. It's only after the conference that you get to do the assembly.
I'm a kinaesthetic learner - hearing someone talk about the way something operates
isn't enough for me, I need to physically go through the process myself to get a feel
for the steps that need to be taken. Hands-on labs allow me to do that, but a crowded
lab room in a conference is not exactly the best learning environment.
Fortunately the Longhorn and Indigo hands-on
labs are available for download from the PDC site. If you weren't able to attend the
PDC but have downloaded the Longhorn bits from the MSDN Subscribers area, it's well worth
your time to run through a few of the labs. I've just spent a few hours going through
some of them, and it's really improved my understanding of the Avalon event model
and the XAML syntax. Even if you did attend the PDC but like me missed out on the
labs, take some personal development time to get familiar with this material - it's
better than any of the articles out there and will give you a better grounding in
the technology if you learn in a similar way to me.