PDC 1998: Some Reminiscences


The very first PDC I attended was in 1998 in Denver (before I joined Microsoft). Don
Box reckons
this was an unremarkable conference
by PDC standards, and he may be right. Nevertheless,
I remember being blown away by the range of ideas Microsoft were working on. Some
of those ideas have since become a central part of Microsoft’s developer platform;
others have since been quietly dropped.

One of the sessions that attracted a lot of attention five years ago was an architectural
session by Mary Kirtland, covering the COM+ runtime environment. She demonstrated
an experimental C++ compiler that supported declarative programming. The idea that
one could express intent via attributes evolved into C# and of course today seems
almost mundane in the .NET world. Creating a web service from a normal class with
a simple [WebMethod] attribute still amazes people whenever they see it for the first
time, though.

Another session that held my attention was an otherwise dry keynote from David
Vaskevitch
, which was something of a “State of the Union” address about the Microsoft
technology roadmap. He had one slide that I’d love to dig up from the archives, which
showed the building blocks of the platform vision. Five years on, we’ll be handing
out bits of two of the last pieces of the jigsaw puzzle as part of Longhorn: Forms+
(now Avalon)
and Storage+ (now WinFS).
My guess is that both have changed beyond all recognition since this original slide,
but it’s interesting to note that the visions have stood the test of time one way
or another.

In fact, the longer I’ve worked for (or with) Microsoft, the more it seems to be the
case that most ideas bear some fruit eventually. Even Hailstorm, which was widely
viewed to have sunk without trace (certainly a search
on microsoft.com
reveals little of what was once a flagship PDC technology). But
much of the vision has been incorporated into MSN for
consumers; to a lesser extent, in the business arena by technologies such as SharePoint and Greenwich.

I’m looking forward to this PDC, not just for the detailed sessions on Longhorn, Whidbey
and Yukon, but for the opportunity to hear some of the brightest minds putting forward
their vision of software over an even longer term. I’d like to see a glimpse of the
work we’re starting now that won’t bear fruit for another five years time. Hopefully
Longhorn will be old hat by then!


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