My Tech.Ready (Well at least the parts I can talk about)

I'm starting my long flight home from Seattle to Auckland. Please join me for another long convoluted post about this week abroad all written and linked while disconnected from the Internet 😉

Each year technical Microsoft staff that are based out in the field fly to Seattle to attend a week long technical breifing. The briefings takes place twice a year and unfortunately I have got myself into the winter cycle. That said the weather has been great! I'm sitting in Seattle airport watching the sun set over the snow capped mountains and there is hardly a cloud in the sky.

The purpose of the briefing is for us to network with others doing the same job in other countries, to learn from product teams and to feed back customer information that we have encountered in our geographies.

This event is the pre-cursor to public events like Mix and PDC where many of the technologies we are discussing are seen in public for the first time.

So what are some of the stats for this year's event?

There were 6000 people in the keynote on Monday morning, there were ~700 session with >35 sessions running concurrently in each timeslot.

Since every session was recorded and streamed around the company worldwide in real time. This conference became the largest live meeting site in the world.

I made an effort to track down, see sessions and introduce myself to some of Microsofts new hires during the week.

I very much enjoyed Will Tschumy's (Ex Director User Experience for Flock) session on brokering the User Experience conversation with developers. Ethnography was mentioned more than once but the general principal here was that if you invest in UX upfront in a project it is much cheaper and easier than making changes later. The more time I spend with User Experience people the more I am convinced about this... if you are in Auckland on March 15 you might like to attend Intergen's twighlight event "Why User Experience and Usability are important to businesses online". Also I recommend reading Allan Cooper's "About Face 2.0" as a great introduction to the principals of User Experience.

I attended an architecture de-brief for the Otto project. This is a client based e-commerce store that extends Otto's web site to offer a premium service to their customers (similar to the New York Times reader). This was very insightful particular as we learnt how the project was designed by a German pioneer design company SinnerSchrader. Since showing this project at the Windows Vista consumer launch in Europe Otto has received many requests by other online and catalog retailers to license the engine they have built for their own WPF based client stores. If you have .Net 3.0 installed or are running Vista check out the Otto Store here (warning takes a long time for the inital catalog to be downloaded and cached locally and at the last stage they have there window on top of other windows which is annoying). I took a couple of screen shots of Otto in action below.

Watch Videos of models wearing the clothes... Add Clothes to your wardrobe and dress your model up with the clothes that you choose.

The store is harder to navigate if you don't understand German but a couple of things to note, all the images in the offline store are syncronised with images available on their website and are simply presented in a different way. The catalog is "updated" from the web each time you open it. The 'Mix n Match' (shown above) allows you to experiment and dress the model with different outfits as you browse the store. If you've read 'the long tail' you'll realise what Otto are doing here. They are using a smarter UI to make their catalog more accessible to their customers so that they can sell their products further down the tail thus creating a competitive advantage in a world where shelf space isn't limited and your preferences can be visually served up front and centre.

Bill Gates' presentation on Wednesday was very good. I have seen Bill speak at conferences a few times now and this was IMO indeed his best work. It was a very forward thinking presentation he talked about Microsoft Research and some of the projects that moved out of the research labs into commercial projects. It was interesting to hear about the tablet PC's begining in research and that there are more than two million tablet PC's sold world-wide. I've mentioned many times that I love my tablet. This morning I downloaded todays New York Times into the reader & used pen flicks to turn the pages reading in portrait mode in the tiny seats as I flew into San Fran. I couldn't help but smile when I saw others struggling with paper newspapers in the same seats! Incidentally I learnt this week that the Ny Times are now getting more page views in the reader than on their website!

Bill also talked about Moores Law and how the "free lunch" speed increases in our processors is coming to an end (possibly around 5GHZ) & how a much greater emphasis in the future will be put on writing parallel code for client machines running 8 or 16 core processors. Bill talked again about the concept of verifiable composability. In this brave new world we may need to go back to basics and re-invent the way we write software to take advantage of the multiple cores that are at our disposal. I couldn't help but be taken back to this post from a few weeks ago. It is no secret that Bill regards Ray Kurzweil as the greatest futurist of our time and he referenced his book 'The Singularity Is Near' during his presentation. Bill spoke with passion & genuine excitement of what is just around the corner in this fast moving technology age. Greater processing power on the client coupled with advanced virtualisation and the widespread adoption of services & backup in the cloud makes for a very interesting future indeed.

Kevin Schofield, head of Microsoft research followed Bill Gates. MS research is this year celebrating their 15th Anniversary. Kevin showed some mind blowing innovation! If only half the things that Kevin showed cross the chasm and make their way into commercial innovation in the next 3 to 5 years the world will be a better place.

I was very happy also to see the progress with WPF/E. Tooling is getting better for both the designer & the developer and there is a nice open jscript + XAML model available to try today in the browser & cross platform (yup search engines can index it!). Check out this site (click the left icon then use alt+v then c to view source if you are using IE7) that was built usign WPF/E as part of the Vista launch in Slovenia. There are some big new announcements coming up in this area at Mix so book your ticket to Vegas or check this site on April 30.

On Wednesday night I went out with Tony Chor (Principal Group Program Manager Internet Explorer or 2IC for short). I must admit that I have been quite suprised by all the press (1, 2, 3) surrounding Robert's presentation at foo regarding Mozilla's proposed offline support for web applications. Juha wrote in his Friday fryup "I asked Nigel from Microsoft if Redmond had anything similar to this coming up, but it doesn’t look like it"... how can you take two unrelated comments like that & put them together? We are not talking about features/timelines/dates or codenames for the next version of IE just yet.

What I can tell you... The IE team has more than 200 team members (sorry Asa I low balled that number when I talked to you at foo) they are absolutely taking the standards route welcome Molly and as I said in my previous post as the standards bodies are looking at offline caching the IE team is looking at it too. That said will any web developers actually write their applications to support the new offline capabilities if they are made available by the browsers? IE has had support for some of this for a long time in the form of the userData behavior which is used by Google but very few others. It isn’t quite as powerful as what the WhatWG has proposed here but it is pretty close. In addition to WhatWG Robert wrote... "The only really new API is an API for storing application pages in the "offline cache", and that's just a new "rel" keyword for the element. So it should be pretty easy to add this to any browser."

I caution you all not to blow this up at such an early stage as this feature may not make it into the final build of FF (or IE)... does anyone remember places or winfs?

If you are running on windows and want an offline version of your gmail today why not use Windows Live Mail Desktop, I love it and I use it to work with my hotmail account while offline.

While we are back on the Windows client side at the launch of Vista Mary Jo Foley asked where are all the 3rd party Vista applications? In response Tim Sneath did a great job summarising a bunch of these (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8). Although this is a good selection it is by no means conclusive. One of the ones that I saw for the first time during this week was a "showcase " piece of art created by the leading design firm in Japan. they were experimenting with using 2D raster images in a 3D plane. This is what they came up with... .Net 3.0 runtime required... this is not a video click the camera icon then try interacting with the 3D environment by using the zoom controls while the animation is playing. Also I see Warner Brothers Japan has a Vista ap as well. 

Another thing I did this week was spend quite a bit of time listening and talking to John Lam about dynamic languages and the web. John was the only presenter I saw running a Mac this week, I guess it's the best way to test cross platform. Again if you want to hear more go to Mix or check if out virtually late April. If you want to see what Microsoft is doing with dynamic languages today travel to It was great seeing Polita of "Blinq" fame involved in these presentations. What do you guys think about getting this team down to NZ and Australia for Tech.Ed?

Thursday night was the party, it is a challenging task to feed and entertain 6000 people but the organisers did a great job of doing just that. Each different part of the warehouse on the pier was set up with food, music & dance from a different part of the world. I very much enjoyed the Jam session where anyone could pick up an instrument & get involved... some MS employees had some real talent here.

For the keynote on Friday we were spoilt with a presentation by Chris Bangle (Director of Design at BMW). IMO Chris was brilliant & very inspiring (yes I know he has his critics). He started... I'd like to thank Microsoft for teaching me the secret of dreams. I now know that they are simply your brain defragging over night!


Chris took us all In a very insightful journey of car design... he explained the visual language of the surface itself he explained how his designers learnt the skills of "industrial origami" and showed us new techniques st shaping steel in a way that it is asymmetric and creates an emotional connection. He took us through the 3 step design process that they employ at BMW (Understanding, Believing, Seeing). He talked about the importance of computer modelling in car design but he stressed that their modellers are clay sculptures first so that they don't forget that the computer is simply a tool. Virtual design is important but you must take your creation out into the wild at some stage to ensure that it speaks to your target audience. Also Chris is a strong believer in putting the best tools into the hands of the Consumer. Everyone can read & write but there are plenty of great authors still earning a crust. Chris believes in having a 'Consumer Dialog' joining humanism with industry and seeking consumer contribution in the process of design.

I think Chris' presentation resonated with many in the room there is a real synergy with the design process at BMW and the sea change of user experience that is taking place at Microsoft. You just need to spend some time with products like Windows Vista, Blend and the 2007 Office System to experience the feeling that the software just fits and works with you.

I am now inflight halfway home... I'm still handwriting in portrait mode. I have all my notes to reference. My email (hotmail included) is available cached offline (along with all the Rss feeds from the blogsphere from the last week or so). My complementary upgrade came through on Air NZ and I am for the first time stretched out in a sleeper seat. I ate a great meal, watched Babel and drank some fantastic wine. Whats more I have power! very important as I had to run from my Seattle flight to make this connection. All we need now is WiFi on air NZ and I could actually post this... goodnight 🙂

Comments (5)

  1. Kirk Jackson says:

    Hi Nigel,

    Sounds like a cool trip. You should definitely try and get John Lam and the dynamic languages out for TechEd. He has been doing cool stuff for a long time now.


  2. Hi Nigel:

    Thanks for the great post. Exciting stuff. I read every word, saved a copy, followed some of the links (and will follow the rest later), put “About Face 2.0) on my wish list, subscribed to “Design Thinking Digest” and added a bunch of notes to myself for future review.

    I read over posts from over 700 blogs and this post may be the best one I have read this year. I especially like your extensive use of links to relevant sites, etc.

    I hope that you’ll be able to find more material in your notes from Tech.Ready that you will be able to post about.

    It would be nice if Microsoft opened at least some of the 700 recorded sessions to viewing by partners. Microsoft went to all the trouble to produce and record them and after the 6000 or so field staff view them it appears that they get locked away in a vault. That’s sad.

    BTW: You’re having the world’s largest Live Meeting probably explains why my machines were throwing cryptic error messages last week when I was trying to attend my meetings. 

    Thanks again, Nigel.

  3. nparker says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the great comment!

    "It would be nice if Microsoft opened at least some of the 700 recorded sessions to viewing by partners."

    The reason we don’t do this is due to the confidential nature of a lot of the sessions. The presenters elicit feedback and these sessions get refined and improved. The majority of the sessions from TechReady will be delivered to the public at either Mix, TechEd or PDC later this year where they will be recorded and distributed broadly.

    I needed to be very careful about what I posted above as almost everything discussed at TechReady is confidential until a given date during the calendar year. It is always a balancing act to determine what to share straight away and what to hold back so people see things for the first time when they support us by attending our big events.

    That said if anyone is planning on flying themselves to Vegas in April/May to attend Mix (our next big event) drop me a line about what you hope to get out of attending and I’ll see if I can secure a ticket to the event.

  4. Robert Banghart says:

    Hi Nigel:

    I read your comment shortly after you posted it and nodded to myself thinking, “Nigel is right and I should just wait patiently.”

    Your statement is definitely the safe, corporate approach nicely wrapped with the “confidential nature” buffer language. One reason I accepted it (and admired your craftsmanship) so easily is that sounds exactly like what I would have written in a former life.

    Even so, something bothered me and I let it simmer overnight.

    One of the things that bother me is what I’ll refer to as the confidential nature bluff. My comment was intended to encourage Microsoft to release some of the 700 sessions, not the most “confidential” of them. While some of the 700 sessions may have contained some “confidential” material, isn’t stamping the whole lot with that moniker and embargoing it from partners a bit of overkill?  

    A second thing that bothered me was the “The presenters elicit feedback and these sessions get refined and improved” statement. The presenters are eliciting feedback from Microsoft field personnel, many of whom are themselves presenters. There are several problems with this proposition. First, those people are extremely busy and may not have time to provide the necessary feedback. Secondly, they were just exposed to 700 sessions in one week and that has to be complete sensory overload in anybody’s book. Third, they are knowledgeable insiders who already speak Microsoftese. They aren’t the “public” to which the presentations will be directed later this year after going through the furnace of feedback driven refinement. As a result, any refinements can only be of a limited nature.

    What is missing from this refinement process is the user experience (UX). Doesn’t that leave us in a position where the software which the presentations are intended to explain and evangelize are offered as betas with significant user feedback loops while the presentations themselves are too confidential to be entrusted in user hands until they are locked down and presented at future events as fait accomplai?

    I sit through a lot of these presentations where the source material with names like  TN-***** has been around for a while, complete with narrator notes. It is a highly frequent occurrence that during the presentation, the presenter says something like,”Opps, that slide is out of date and erroneous,” or “Oops, that slide refers to xxx when it should have referred to yyy.”

    By not allowing the presentations to be exposed to end users (under nda conditions if necessary) and providing a feedback loop, we often end up with a less than satisfying knowledge transfer – which was the raison d’être for the huge expenditure of time and money to produce the presentation in the first place.

    The issues I raised above about presentations created in a Microsoft-centric vacuum are rather unpleasant, they are compounded by orders of magnitude when the same process is followed in producing Microsoft Virtual Labs – which themselves are often based upon Microsoft presentations such as the 700 shown at TechReady.

    It is very difficult for an end user to finish many of them Virtual Labs such as those found at

    Despite going through the Microsoft refinement and improvement process, they often:

    1. Present lab manuals and virtual lab machines that do not match;

    2. Have links that lead to locations where files may have been located but are no longer present;

    3. Have instructions that use terms not previously defined;

    4. Have tasks that come to an end with multiple windows (and possibly multiple virtual machines) open that aren’t needed in subsequent tasks.

    Providing feedback to Microsoft for user experience issues that deal with webcasts and labs after the fact is painful, time consuming, and frequently does not reach the people who have the power to correct the mistakes. For example, see my TechNet webcast UX comments at While they are acknowledged, it is clear that resolution after the fact just isn’t going to happen and that initiating improvements is at the earliest of planning stages.

    To begin addressing some of the issues in the Virtual Labs I addressed my issues to Eileen Brown, a Microsoft Evangelist who I hoped would be able to get the ear of someone in the Virtual Labs to resolve the simplest of issues. She was able to do that as she notes at

    Again both of these instances were post “improvement and refinement.”

    I’m willing to resign myself to accepting the status quo. I just don’t think it is rationale or in the best interests of Microsoft or its partners to do so. Then again, I don’t have the power to change the status quo. Only those inside Microsoft can do that.

  5. nparker says:

    One of the things that bother me is what I’ll refer to as the confidential nature bluff. My comment was intended to encourage Microsoft to release some of the 700 sessions, not the most “confidential” of them. While some of the 700 sessions may have contained some “confidential” material, isn’t stamping the whole lot with that moniker and embargoing it from partners a bit of overkill?

    Yes I agree and in fact I did some more digging into this… one of my favourite sessions was Celso Gomes (Adobe Certified Expert and the ‘God’ of “WPF/E” demos who wrote the page turn sample over a weekend)… it turns out that he has released his samples from TR4 on his blog I guess speakers themselves are looking at their own presentations and choosing what to release more publicly at this point. Only problem here is knowing where to look there are so many softies out there blogging useful information these days, that is why I try to bring things together in my area of focus…. work as a bit of a herder if you like.

    "What is missing from this refinement process is the user experience (UX).  First, those people are extremely busy and may not have time to provide the necessary feedback. Secondly, they were just exposed to 700 sessions in one week and that has to be complete sensory overload in anybody’s book. Third, they are knowledgeable insiders who already speak Microsoftese."

    I disagree with this comment. I think this is absolutely the #1 event for people like myself who spend time with customers every day in New Zealand to take the conversations I have been having and drive change and improve quality at a corporate level.

    Unfortunately in a company as large as MSFT some issues don’t get addressed in the field until they bubble up to the surface at a large internal event like a TR. Trust me you need to read this post from my colleague Michael Kleef –

    There were ~ 6000 people at the conference but there could have been greater than this number involved in the event from offices worldwide.

    1. There are graphs around the venues showing feedback as it is being gathered as a % of complete feedback required per segment. This simple little competition keeps people actively critiquing the sessions.

    2. I like many others I guess only attended 1 session per timeslot and I focused on sessions that I have knowledge or interest in improving.

    3. Yes this is true in most cases but a show of hands at the start of the conference showed hundreds of people that were with MSFT less than a year (most had come from other companies or partner land). I worked as a senior developer at gold certified partner before joining MSFT and this was my second TechReady.

    I’m not going to touch on the virtual lab point as this is another kettle of fish… I didn’t try any of the labs that were on offer at TR4 and I know that there is a “your experience may vary tag associated with some of this work”. That said I have been successful in getting the go ahead for a project to build out some material created by partners out here in the field so hopefully that will resonate with other partners in the same space.

    Thanks Robert again for you comment it is obvious that you are very passonate and spend a lot of time thinking about how we (Microsoft) can improved our customer and partner experience… I hope reading this you feel there are people inside of Microsoft driving the change that you speak of.

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