Yesterday I travelled up to Birmingham for Microsoft's launch event for Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008.
The event was a bit of a mixed-bag, and developers on Twitter and Channel 9 seem to be quite vocal about being treated as 'second class citizens' (the event focussed more on IT department staff), with many talking about not attending a similar event in the future. For my part I thought it was an event worth attending. Of course that may have more to do with the fact I'm 'between contracts' and so didn't lose a day's pay on top of the travel costs of around £60 than anything else!
Microsoft seem to have abandoned evaluation forms, presumably relying on the fact the event 'sold out' (how can a 'free' event 'sell out'?!) as a measure of its 'success' instead. Their bad! A lot of folk are disgruntled that the much-touted free software for attendees turned out to be something of a 'sleight of hand' confidence trick. The promised 'free copies of Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008' turned out to be evaluation versions, albeit with a full year's evaluation period, with SQL Server actually turning out to be a CTP from 4 months ago. For those of us with MSDN subscriptions this 'swag' is largely irrelevant anyway, but for students who'd rushed to book the event based solely on the promised software it was hard not to feel totally conned! The official explanation from Microsoft is apparently that they had to offer '365 day evaluation versions' instead of the full product "for tax reasons", which strikes me as one of the lamest reasons ever for going back on a promise!
The logistics of the venue were pretty appalling, causing much delay and frustration, particularly for pre-registered attendees who found they had to queue for half an hour just to have their badges swiped, and many are pointing out how much better organised community events like Developer! Developer! Developer! are. Coloured badges were used to denote tracks (I.T. or Developer) but there appear to have been variations on a theme (eg yellow and brown badges for developers with brown badges getting priority) and there are stories of people being turned away from sessions because they had the wrong colour badge, even though there was plenty of room inside the session room, or of rooms being full despite people rushing to them straight from the keynote (which over-ran by over 20 minutes for no valid reason) etc etc.
People also seem to be unhappy with the technical content (if not the speakers) for Visual Studio 2008 - perhaps not surprising given that this newly launched product has actually been in widespread use since it was made available on MSDN back in early November, while these talks were (rightly!) aimed at someone new to the product. For my part, I thought the sessions I attended were all good, given that by necessity they had to be pretty much at the '101' level. No complaints about any of the speakers from me, and even though many found the keynote much too obviously sales-oriented I thought the UK Managing Director managed to give a far more charismatic talk than Ray Ozzie had done a couple of weeks ago at MIX08 in Las Vegas.
The only real disappointment for me was the final keynote - an excellent talk, but one which I'd already seen (and which has been available via video download for some time) at last year's paid-for UK MIX07 event. It was disappointing to have travelled all that way, only to find a months old repeat being the only offering for the last hour-long session of the day.
By common consent the biggest disaster area of the day were the Hands on Labs. Reports of lack of power, missing software files, inappropriate equipment (American keyboards instead of British), lack of readable instructions or even lighting to read instructions abound and I've yet to read a single report that says anything positive about the labs. The Americans seem to handle this sort of thing so much better than we Brits do.
On the positive side the community-organised events all seemed to go down very well. I caught a few of the competitions organised by the NextGen UK crowd and they looked like a lot of fun, and were getting appreciative yelps and cheers from those gathered to watch. In what's becoming a common theme in these reports of conference and community events, the highlight for me was the chance to network and catch up with folks I've met at previous community events.