Leaving Las Vegas: Mix09 wrap-up

I’m heading back to London after 3 days at Microsoft’s Mix09 conference in Las Vegas. I took the opportunity to ask a few delegates what they thought. One thing that everyone seemed to love was SketchFlow, a new feature of Expression Blend which enables designers to sketch out design ideas, distribute them for discussion and annotation, collect responses, and export the results to Word to create a report or proposal. It looks like SketchFlow has been influenced by Bill Buxton, who gave a keynote at Mix, since it embodies one of his key ideas, that design ideas should not look too finished as that inhibits the response.

There was also enthusiasm for Silverlight 3.0, with its numerous new features including out-of-browser support. Several Adobe folk were at Mix sizing up the competition; one was Mike Downey who commented:

I’m really impressed by how much Microsoft has gotten done with this whole platform so quickly. They’re catching up really fast. #mix09

It’s true that Silverlight is maturing with remarkable speed, and many of the developers I spoke to were using it or planning to use it.

That said, we are really talking about Microsoft platform people, most from a developer background. I got some insight into what Microsoft is up against chatting to some design students and a lecturer on the bus to the airport. Microsoft sponsored their visit to Mix in an attempt to get them interested. They all use both Macs and Adobe tools; and the lecturer said to me, “we already get the students to install 7 different pieces of software for the courses we run; why should I add two more (meaning, I think, Expression Blend and Visual Studio)? The Mac issue is huge; there is some work being done to support Silverlight design on the Mac, but it is rudimentary in comparison to Blend.

The sessions on ASP.NET MVC were well attended and of the developers I spoke to, those who grasp what it does are delighted with it and intend to use it – several had evolved their own ASP.NET frameworks out of frustration with Web Forms. It appears though that Microsoft didn’t pitch ASP.NET MVC in a way that communicated well with developers not already familiar with it. Some had attended sessions but still didn’t really grok what it does.

Mix day one, with the Buxton/Guthrie keynote, went down better than day two, which had the IE8 launch and Deborah Adler presenting her research and commercial success designing medicine bottles – interesting but over-long in a web conference. IE8, which was a highlight of Mix08, didn’t make much impact here as everyone already knew all about it, and it no longer looks so impressive one year on, even though it is a big advance on IE7.

Windows Azure didn’t appear to make much impression here, though there is relief that SQL Data Services is getting full relational features. I attended a UK round table on Azure with the other UK journalists who made it out here, Jon Honeyball, Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe. I observed that Azure is widely misunderstood or not understood, that the follow-up since PDC has been poor, and that the web site relies too much on videos and is confusing to navigate; the early access system based on developer tokens is also problematic. I reckon Microsoft needs to do more work on communicating what Azure is about, if it is to win any mindshare from other cloud contenders.

Still, overall this was a good Mix; one delegate said it was the best Microsoft conference he’d ever attended. The wi-fi worked. The conference layout is good for networking and the warm atmosphere was not just a consequence of the desert air.

By the way – Mix10 has been announced, same place, March 15 – 17, 2010.