Omicron Llama

Coding all day, every day.

SharePoint Conference 2012

So this year I was given the opportunity to go to the Microsoft SharePoint Conference at The Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas this year, and damn was it an experience! After a week of being back in the UK I thought I’d just jot down a few thoughts on the conference overall, as well as some key messages I took away from the event.

EDIT: This turned out way longer and less organised than expected. The conference, however, passed way quicker and was far more organised than this 🙂


Mandalay Bay Hotel overlooking the Convention Center

We’re all headed to the big blue!

MS were really pushing Cloud stuff big time. Most session demos were hosted in Office 365, and given the problems with the wireless connectivity, most of these demos seemed to work really well! They were keen to show off the performance of Office 365 too in the keynote, where the demo environment was apparently hosted in datacenters in the Netherlands (some 8000km away) with sub-1 second page loads every time (though how they forced their environment not to use a geographically closer one I don’t know, and something they didn’t allude to either). New technology demos (of the App Model for SharePoint and Office) were all using Azure-hosted solutions too.

It was emphasized (although only a couple of times) that the ‘classic model’ of SharePoint development (now known as ‘full-trust solutions’) are still fully supported ‘for the time being’, though it’s strongly suggested to consider the new App Model (starting with SharePoint Hosted) when scoping out new development requirements for projects. It was also made ‘official’ that the Sandbox environment is officially deprecated, though Sandbox solutions will still work, they probably won’t at all in vNext.

Opportunity awaits!

Going on from the App Model for Office and SharePoint, they were keen to demonstrate that it’s now possible to develop small apps for the two that can be available for purchase from the App Stores for both products, which present opportunities to monetize on add-ons that can be available to potentially millions of Office users across the world as everyone upgrades to Office 2013 (although I reckon it’ll probably take until the vNext release of Office to get to serious numbers of potential customers).

Simplicity wins the crowd

Throughout the week I saw examples of the crowd going ‘nuts’ (from minor applauses to raucous cheering) for the most trivial of updates to the user experience, from things like dragging & dropping directly into document libraries in the browser, to the ability to paste ‘raw text’ from formatted documents such as Word into Publishing page text fields. It seems true that no matter what huge architectural changes you make to the platform, people still love the smaller changes that the end users actually notice. Good to see Microsoft making these changes though.

Everything works much better in other browsers now, too. Even ‘Napa’, the browser-based development environment for SharePoint-Hosted apps works perfectly in Chrome. Think of a trimmed-down Visual Studio with a full code editor (complete with IntelliSense and syntax checking), but without a Design view, and that is Napa. Very impressive, and even moreso by the fact it works in Chrome.

SharePoint Designer? What SharePoint Designer?

Although I attended maybe around a dozen of sessions throughout the week, I don’t think I even heard SPD being mentioned once. We all know (or should’ve by now) that the Design View has gone (making some people kinda pissed, to say the least) one thing I did notice is that according to the MSDN Documentation, there are some deprecated API sets, both of which I believe SPD uses almost exlusively. Does this mean huge changes to SPD vNext, or maybe it’ll be disappearing altogether!

One of the coolest things to come to SharePoint 2013 for designers is the ability to author their designs using whatever HTML design package they fancy (they demonstrated Dreamweaver), and to upload their designs directly into SharePoint (using something called the Design Manager) and have it generate the masterpage for the site. This might be another downfall for SharePoint Designer, who knows. I didn’t see any sessions on creating Page Layouts though (I only saw one WCM session but it didn’t touch on this), so I’ve yet to see how these fall into the Design Manager in SP2013.

Yammer

I’m beginning to hate that word. Purely for the lack of direction that Microsoft seem to be taking with this seemingly rushed aquisition. They’ve sweetened the deal for some, by giving all new Office 365 customers the full (normally paid-for) Yammer service as part of the bundle. Integration between the two services seems very hack-and-slash, with the ability to ‘link’ through to SharePoint from Yammer, and to roll-up content from Yammer into SharePoint, but that’s about it. Yammer got a decent amount of coverage in the Keynote, but everything that was shown off about Yammer was already a feature in SharePoint’s Social features, but the two are completely separate. I really hope that either Yammer is fully pulled into SharePoint or the Social features of SharePoint get dropped, as this is one area of Microsoft where it seems there is no clear vision whatsoever on where things are going. If I was a key decision maker I’d be pretty frustrated at this.

The Keynote was quite well presented, felt like some
huge concert from the front row

Freebies? What Freebies?

Considering the tickets for this conference were verging on $2,000 each, one thing that was hushly mentioned throughout the week was the fact that a few weeks previous, attendees to the Build conference received a Surface with Windows RT and a Nokia Lumia 920, whereas we got nothing of the sort. I do suppose you have to remember that this conference is not primarily a developer conference, but you’d have though that if they were pushing Cloud so much, there’d be some kind of discount or vouchers for Azure and Office 365 (longer than the standard 90 days that currently anyone can get). There was occasions though, where you thought that you (or your company) has paid nearly $2,000 to be advertised to for four days. It’s a cleanly good job, however, that were the usual community speakers, recognized faces, and networking opportunities that helped make the conference an awesome all-round experience.

In the Expo Hall there was an area devoted to Microsoft Products we all know and use daily, such as Visual Studio, Project, a stand for web stuff, and others. Manning these stands were folks from the Product Groups and communities who were keen to talk about new stuff and give demos. That was pretty neat for anyone who didn’t get a full pass and an Exhibit-Hall only one.

Entertainment

Unfortunately due to heavy jetlag I was unable to make it out to the Monday night parties, but the general message from others was that the Avepoint Red Party seemed to be the best (closely followed by Axceler’s party) – though I did nip for a bit out with a few folks to the Vesper Cocktail bar at The Cosmopolitan (a very swanky place indeed, though at the time I had no idea how prestigious a cocktail bar it is!).

Jon Bon Jovi and The Kings of Suburbia played a pretty decent set on the Tuesday night event at the Mandalay Bay beach resort outside the hotel, I think that the gig had just the right amount of ‘cheese’ that you could hand to 10,000 IT folks.

Overall

Overall the conference was indeed worth it. A huge advert at times, but enough of the usual suspects to make up for it. Here’s the biggest messages:

  • Cloud is better
  • Full-trust solutions out, Azure In
  • Social is still vision-less but still talked about hell of a lot
  • Andrew Clark knows his cocktails
  • It is indeed possible to feed 10,000 folk without massive queues, and provide real table service!
  • Next time I do something like this, head out a few days earlier to recover from jetlag, and to see some other sights the place has to offer!

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