Friday, April 21, 2006

Microsoft US National Architect Forum, Vail, Colorado

So here I am at the Microsoft US National Architect Forum (USNAF) at Vail, Colorado and it is the last day of the event. Was too exhausted to blog at the end of each day. But, here it is. I decided that I will slog for another 30min. and get the blog post up. Update: Well could never finish it that day or the day after, so here is after a week... Tuesday, 18th April, 2006 I flew from Houston and I met my buddy Travis from work and his wife Jenni at the airport. We checked in our baggage and subsequently caught our flight to Denver. That's when things started to get weird. Long story short, we missed our connecting flight to Vail and Jenni lost her carryon. After several futile attempts to find the lost baggage, we head out to get on a shuttle that would take us to Vail in about 2 hrs. With no other options, we just ride... After a few minutes of ride, I thought that it was a good thing that I took the road trip after all, as the sights were just breathless. Nice landscape with snow capped mountains... Coming from Houston, it is a big thing. We have no grade at all in Houston and it is flat as a pancake. Well, after 2hrs ride, I checked in to the Cascade Vail Resort & Spa hotel. It is a nice hotel. I met my other buddy Wynn and his wife Paula at the reception desk. They just got back from the slopes. Next, I went to the USNAF Registration booth and got my badge for the event. The registration area was well organised and my badge had these pre-printed cards for the breakout sessions that I had signed up earlier. So far so good. Next, I went to the Expo hall, to test drive a mobile device - a Treo 700 with Windows Mobile 5.0 on it. This was actually very cool considering the geek I am. I always wanted to own one but this was an excellent opportunity to try it out for 2 days for free. The voice and data services was all live via Verizon and I used it for all my calls and messaging/chat for the rest of the conference. Big thumbs up for this. Now, it was time to go to the Welcome party that was organised for all the attendees. Nice food and free bar. What else could you ask for, after a tiring day... It was well organised with lots of food, drinks and a live band. I met my boss Ross and my other buddy Sunil there. We hung out for a while, mingled with some other attendees and finally called it a day around 10:00pm. I came back to my room and retired for the day. Wednesday, 19th April, 2006 I got up early at around 6:30am (painful, I am so not a morning person) and later met my buddies from work down at the reception. We took the shuttle to the Marriott hotel for the first session for the event - the Keynote that started at 8:00am. Simon Guest did the keynote session - "Putting the User back in Architecture". It was an interesting perspective. Then, I attended the session by Intel - "Intel's Service Oriented Enterprise". It was kind of uninteresting for me atleast as it was targeted at the Infrastructure Architects and I sat through it while I ate my breakfast. Then we had a session from the gold sponsors Infosys - "Architecture Led Business Transformation" by Prasad Joshi. I knew Prasad Joshi from the days he was in CGI. These sessions where really targeted with sales in mind. Again, not so interesting for me. Soon after we broke for lunch. The food was good and they served Starbucks coffee throughout the conference. I juiced up and then started the marathon for the roundtables and breakout sessions. The sessions that I attended: Architecting Secure, Reliable and Transacted Distributed Applications (roundtable) by Keith Pijanowski The roundtable format looked promising as I thought that it will be interesting to have a discussion with peer technologists. The moderator Hanu Kommalapatti and speaker Keith did a good job in outlining the questions and answering them. I believe it would have been better if the speaker could have shown us a quick small demo. I had seen presentations and demos at site, so I was not all that unhappy. WCF is very cool and solves a lot of current problems with a lot of ease. Going Mobile - 10 Architectural Stratagems (breakout) by Rob Tiffany Well, I thought it will be nice to mix it up a little and attend one of the breakouts. The format here was the usual presentation with demos but for a small amount of audience. The presentation was very long but Rob did a good job in answering the questions. I thing particularly caught my eye, and that was .NET Compact Framework 2.0 still did not support stored procs. Most of the cases it is not a big deal, but when I was writing business applications in .NET CF 1.0 I realized that all the stored procs that are used by my desktop/web applications cannot be reused by the CF application. Which means I cannot reuse my DAC. I had to create a new CF DAC for my CF applications. I was a bit disappointed that CF 2.0 still does not have stored procs. Although, MS came up with SQL Everywhere, a mobile version of SQL Server and with a smaller footprint than SQL Express. It was an interesting presentation. What will the new Windows Presentation Foundation Architecture mean to you (roundtable) by David Chappell I was really interested to find out the opinion of other fellow peers about their roadmap for upgrading to WPF, but was disappointed as most of the folks were unaware of the technology. The discussion was mainly about Winforms vs. Webforms. David did a good job in outlining the feature set of WPF and explained the features really well. I found myself answering quite a few questions as well. I have been following WPF since it was called "Avalon". Very very exciting technology and I explained to the group that it was really fascinating that now because of XAML, an application developer can literally share the project with a designer who can then use the Expression Family products like Acrylic, Sparkle or Quartz to define layout and styles. This is one of the most interesting capabilities that I am drooling on. It works as I speak and you can download the April CTP's to try it out. Another important thing would be inclusion of the Visual Studio XAML designer codenamed "Cider" which enables developers to preview UI written in XAML. Although, XAMLPad was cool, Cider is just amazing. There are issues as in all Beta products, but the future is very promising. Another technology that David pointed out was XML Paper Specification (XPS). It is I guess MS's answer to PDF.

The XML Paper Specification describes the XPS Document format. A document in XPS Document format (XPS Document) is a paginated representation of electronic paper described in an XML-based format. The XPS Document format is an open, cross-platform document format that allows customers to effortlessly create, share, print, and archive paginated documents. - MS XPS website

Another very interesting topic was WPF/e. A lot of people speculated if this was the MS Flash killer technology. So what is WPF/E? It is Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere as per Microsoft. Well, here is what Mike Harsh has to say in his blog:
It is a cross-platform, cross-browser web technology that supports a subset of WPF XAML. WPF/E also has a friction-free install model and the download size we’re targeting is very small. WPF/E supports programmability through javascript for tight browser integration. The WPF/E package also contains a small, cross platform subset of the CLR and .NET Framework that can run C# or VB.NET code. Yes, we are bringing C# programming to the Mac.

And here is what Adam Kinney has to say in his blog and Mike Zintel says in his blog. Anyway, getting back to the roundtable session on WPF, it was most interesting to note that half of the people were actually trying to move to the Smart Client / Windows application realm and had their own speculations with respect to Web applications. The rest of the people wanted to know how would WPF be different from the existing Winforms platform and if WPF would have a smooth migration path from Winforms platform. David explained that WPF will support interoperability between Winforms controls with some shortcomings. What I have read and understood so far, my opinion is that WPF platform is a totally different beast altogether. Porting Winforms controls may look lucrative at first, but to appreciate and realize the real essence of WPF, one has to embrace and rewrite applications in WPF. The scaling, rendering of visual elements, new container and styling paradigms are a whole new technology. I am personally very very excited. Although painful, I am always there when the monthly CTP's are released. So, bottomline, this sessions was really interesting for me and I enjoyed it thoroughly. So that was pretty much the end of the day and I joined the Evening Reception later in the evening. Thursday, 20th April, 2006 With the nice breakfast in the morning, I was ready for a new day. The breakout / roundtable sessions were earlier in the day today. Smart Client Baseline Architecture Toolkit (roundtable) by Wojtek Kozaczynski I have heard Wojtek before in the GAT sessions at TechEd. He is a very good presenter. He was heading the development of the Composite Application Block (CAB) which was recently renamed to Smart Client Baseline Architecture Toolkit. I was prepared for a good round of technical discussion. I as part of my group in our company, have developed a very similar MVC based framework and have till date deployed two enterprise wide applications using the framework. I was in this session to find out the latest development in CAB. I was also interested to find out if Microsoft had any inclination to take CAB and productize it. Wojtek told us that Acropolis was the codename for such a product. I was happy I was attending that session next. The discussion started with an overview of the framework by Wojtek. But, soon, the discussions starting going stray. I was disappointed because most of the attendees started discussing their internal issues regarding deployment, COM etc. While the moderator tried his best to keep inline with the current scope of discussion, half the session was hijacked. Anyway, I got most of my questions answered, so it was not too bad. This was another interesting session despite of some time being wasted off topic. Acropolis: Microsoft's New Composite Application Framework (breakout) by David Hill This was an exciting session that I had no clue about. I first heard about this product at this conference and was really inclined to find out more. My other work colleague Travis also joined the session. David's presentation was very very good and covered a lot of details about what the product was. Although it is understandable that the specs could change dramatically but the gist of the presentation was amazing. I was really happy to see Microsoft think in this direction. This will be an attempt to bridge the gap of an non-existant UI framework in Windows application development. The cool part was that by leveraging WinFX technologies, Acropolis could mix and match WPF, WCF and WWF to help build compelling products. The rich designer support was very cool as well. The dream of composing an application merely in a design surface is not far beyond. The first CTP's for Acropolis would come out in late 2007. Me and Travis were very excited after the presentation and spend a long time explaining the stuff we heard to our other colleagues. This was by far the BEST session I attended at USNAF. The next session was a panel of customers that discussed the challenges of selling the value of architecture and concepts such as SOA within the enterprise. Majority of the session was the moderator asking questions to the panel members and the last 20 min. or so was dedicated for open questions from the audience. I thought that it would have been better if the whole discussion could be a question and answer session involving the audience and the panel, with the moderator just keep the discussion inline and intime. The next session was Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead People Who Deliver Technology by Paul Glen. We got the book Leading Geeks by Paul Glen in our conference bag and at first sight I thought it would be just another management book. Well, Paul came up on stage and in 5 minutes he had the whole audience rolling on the floor with laughter. He is a good speaker and conveyed his points with brilliant examples and scenarios. I had my boss Ross and 4 other colleagues from work and we were just laughing crazy from what we heard. It was as if whatever Paul said, one of has thought about it in their minds. Just amazing! It was by far the best non-technical presentations in this conference. Kudos to Microsoft for arranging this and thanks for the book. With Scott Kerfoot delivering the closing sessions and the drawing for prizes (Ross was the only one to win the Digital Image Suite), it was a wrap. Very good overall. We were back at the hotel and after a nice dinner, we came back to the hotel bar for some drinks. We sat there chatting about various things and it was time to hit the bed. Next day, I did not wake up till 11am, as my flight was at around 4:00pm and we had to take a shuttle airport at around 2:00pm. Me, Wynn/Paula and Ross gathered around the lobby at around 12:30pm and waited for the shuttle. It was tiring trip back home and I was happy to be back. It was great venue in Vail, and a very good conference.

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  1. I also attended the forum. My short post is at

    I'd like to find a way to build some momentum coming from the conference instead of all of us going back to our own worlds to work this stuff out alone.

  2. Charlie,
    I wholeheartedly agree with you. We would need mass to move to a SOA kind of architecture and it will take a many of us to make that statement. Please keep in touch as I am very interested to gathering a mass around this initiative.

  3. I just read your blog posting on the USNAF. I’m pleased you enjoyed the event overall.

    I also saw Charlie Ward's comments suggesting that the event should live on after the fact.

    As the business owner for the event, I would love to see that happen and I would be interested in exploring ways for this to happen.