I know Mix was a full two weeks ago, but I thought it might still be worth sharing my trip report for those of you who didn't make it. I should have posted this earlier, but after Mix I spent an additional week in deep-drive training up in Redmond. It has been an amazing two weeks, but it sure feels great to be back home!

 

Initial Thoughts

I was thoroughly impressed with Mix. Mix was significantly different from other Microsoft events in many ways, and I kept notes all week about how they differed. To begin with, there were certainly noticeable stylistic differences. I've been to other Microsoft events where notebooks have been given away with plastic covers, but Mix notebooks had an additional decorative organic overlay that existed only for visual appeal. The stage was heavily styled and there was a live three-man band playing upbeat polka music. The colors chosen for the event were much more vivid, and quite frankly the swag given away in the attendee bags was well above and beyond any developer event I've attended.

But beyond those obvious differences, I'd argue that the most welcome ones were much more subtle. People's moods were much more upbeat, they were happy and there was a significant feeling of energy and interest. It's obvious that the announcement of Silverlight and the Expression suite was huge to Microsoft. Virtually no expense was spared in making the event hip and making designers and developers feel like they were truly experiencing an industry changing event. I believe most attendees really felt like they were experiencing the beginning of something new and something big.

 

Event Info

The event had two keynotes. The first keynote was one of my favorite sessions for the entire conference and really got people excited. There were a lot of cheers and the audience broke into wild applause at several points.

The keynote drew such a crowd that they had to have an overflow room. This was where many Microsoft employees watched the event, including those from our team. I really wanted to be in the main room, but it was still neat in the overflow room because you could hear and see the Microsoft people cheering for their teams when they were mentioned or their demo was shown in the keynote.

Beyond the keynote, Mix was broken out much like any other conference with sessions in various rooms of various sizes. We had a few sessions with way more demand than space available, but luckily they had enough time in the schedule to redo those sessions and get the rest of the attendees in.

 

Session Info

In all, I feel the event was extremely well planned. For the most part, the content was exactly right and presented perfectly for the target audience. Almost every session included a Mac and some sessions were done entirely on the Mac without a Vista PC in the room at all. Interestingly, the sessions I saw that were Mac-only were developer sessions and not designer sessions as one might initially think. This was of course because Expression is Windows-only and I think the Mac-only sessions were to show off the cross-platform and cross-browser capabilities to the devs.

I only had three minor issues with the sessions. The first is that there was a noticeable amount of rehashing information. The demos in the keynote were incredible, but they were reused many times throughout the sessions. It's OK to do that a little bit, but I saw how to use Expression Media Encoder to make a skinned Silverlight media player probably three or four times.

My second issue was with a session that was supposed to introduce Silverlight 1.0 to designers. There is no managed code and no control model in 1.0 (see 1.1), so this session got deep into JavaScript and code behind. I know we want to get people interested in Silverlight right away, but this session seemed too deep or targeted at the wrong audience. I noticed a lot of blank stares, but I was also sitting next to a couple of 'Interactive Designers' for this session and we talked briefly afterwards. They said they were comfortable with JavaScript from doing interactive websites and that they understood everything they saw. So maybe more of the audience 'got it' than I thought. I just don't know how many were pure designers and how many dabbled in scripting too.

My last issue is that it felt to me like there was a lot of reuse from the National Broadcasters conference. I know it's the same technology, but I also read that the conferences were supposed to target different audiences. Some of the second keynote speakers like MLB and NetFlix just felt like they were talking to the media industry and not to the content creators. This isn't entirely bad as all of the speakers were very well received. I would just like to have felt more like they were speaking to the audience at hand.

Again, I really considered those minor issues and overall I think the sessions were spot-on and the message well received. I give full kudos to the planners and organizers.

 

Open Source

This could have fit under the Sessions section above, but I think this one was important enough to call out on its own as it was very unique and very interesting. It honestly wasn't my first choice but it happened at a time when other sessions were overflowing. All three individuals from our team ended up at this discussion and I'm glad we did.

The panel consisted of six individuals and Sam Ramji was the open-source presence for Microsoft. Other guests included William Hurley (BMC Software), Rob Conery (SubSonic), Miguel de Icaza (Gnome & Mono), Andi Gutmans (Zend Technologies, PHP), and Mike Schroepfer (Mozilla). The room was considerably full and I was glad to see such a positive disposition between not only the panel members but also the members of the audience.

The panel indicated they were appreciative of our efforts thus far and recognized we've come a long way in the past year. But of course they also feel we have a long way to go. A recurring ask from the panel was that Microsoft simply be aware of how much influence we have on the marketplace and to truly consider how our actions impact the open source community and the market at large. Lack of support for SVG in Internet Explorer was a key example. They said that all major browsers support it now, but because Microsoft hasn't added it to IE content creators won't adopt it. They want us to be aware that we own a vast majority of the browser base and when we are slow to adopt a standard we can slow the entire web industry. I think the points were well received; I would just like to have seen some sort of commitment made, no matter how small.

You view a replay of the panel discussion at this link.

 

Silverlight

Silverlight stole the show, no questions asked. Of course the tools that support it make it the complete package. I complain about the demo of using Media Encoder to make a styled player, but it really is a powerful and effective demo. There are several components of Silverlight that make it a strong contender to anything currently available:

  • Media Support
    • HD resolutions out of the box (720 now, probably higher later)
    • Existing standards supported (WMV / VC1), no need to recompress assets to a proprietary codec if they're already at 720 or lower.
    • Able to embed and respond to triggers in the media stream
  • User Experience
    • Able to expand UI to consume entire display, great for FS videos or kiosk-style apps
    • Time-based animations – This is a HUGE advantage. Flash uses frame-based animations and you must specify the target framerate in the clip itself. If the hardware can't handle it, the app runs slow. With Silverlight, beefier hardware simply means a smoother framerate and a better experience.
  • Developer Experience
    • Your choice of language: C# and VB of course, but with the DLR (Dynamic Language Runtime) you can now also choose JavaScript, PHP, Ruby and more (v1.1).
    • Full Visual Studio support with Orcas
    • Same skills on the desktop as in the browser - if you can do WPF, you can do Silverlight.
  • Designer Experience
    • Expression! These are incredible tools. Even the hardcore Flash folks were impressed.
    • Content can be exported directly from many of the tools Designers are already familiar with.

Silverlight appears to be a win-win situation all around. Some of the biggest demos, like the NetFlix one with streaming live video, were supposedly completed in as little as three weeks. Silverlight really has the potential to change things.

 

Final Thoughts

The entire experience definitely had a fun and exciting air to it. There wasn't much marketing or selling, in fact Infragistics is the only name I recall seeing. In a way, it really did feel like a 72 hour conversation.

This was an incredible event and I would gladly do it again. I met interesting people from development firms and design firms and even met some very cool people from within Microsoft itself. Being in Vegas and having the entire Pure night club reserved for attendees was interesting to be sure. But I also learned a lot that I'm excited to share with the team and with my ISVs. If Silverlight and Expression turn out to be as big as they have the potential to be, it will be cool to look back two or three years from now and be able to say I was there when it all got started.

 

For more information on Mix '07, head on over to the official Mix site. From there, you can view and download recordings of all of the sessions.