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Twofer. Or, Little XML Grrrl arrives in the Big Microsoft City…

This is going to be 2 posts in one. I didn’t post last night because I had a nightmare travel day and arrived at the hotel to find that I had no power cord for my computer.

Good thing Thomson has offices in Boston! They set me up with power this afternoon, so I’m good to go.

Note: Beware of pilots who tell their passengers that we can’t take off until they “Ctrl+Alt+Del” the plane. Be very wary. Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time familiarizing myself with the C & D concourses in PIA yesterday morning and afternoon.

But I got here in time for the TechEd Keynote speech where Microsoft laid out their 4 promises to taking over the world… woops… I mean satisfying their customers… via a theme based on the Fox show, 24. Only they called it 4 (4 promises) and there were only 4 episodes, each lasting 4 minutes. The promises? The usual stuff: infrastructure, security, agility, and end user results.

In my blurred sense of reality (having started the day at 5 a.m.), I had this little vision of boxes of Microsoft apps. running agility courses (you know, jumps, weave poles, tunnels, etc – like dogs!) in this large conference center which has surely hosted at least one or more dog shows… Lack of sleep will do that to a body.

But enough of that. I’m here, I have a power cord, so let’s get on with it.

This conference is the biggest conference I’ve attended. And those of you who know me know that I’ve got a few conferences under my belt. I’m definitely getting my exercise – what between all the walking from here to there, carrying varying amounts of weight throughout the day as vendors literally toss the swag at us as we walk by. Not that I’m complaining about swag, mind you. I needed new T-shirts, anyway. They’re keeping us well fed and hydrated so I really have no complaints about the venue.

One guy is getting around the convention center on his segue (remember those weird gyroscope people movers that were a flopping rage a few years ago?). My guess is that this wasn’t his first TechEd experience.

Takes aways from today: 8 years of usability research went into the Office 2007 UI redesign. So all that time I thought Microsoft was watching me like big brother with their “customer experience improvement” program, I could’ve been contributing to usability research. Hmmm.

But seriously, the new Office 2007 UI is gorgeous. The new graphics engine that runs charting in Excel, Word, and Powerpoint is gorgeous. The “live preview” of formatting configurations and fonts are gorgeous. End users will be very excited by this interface. Developers and power users will hate it because it’s like your mother-in-law came in and rearranged your kitchen while you were on vacation.

Where did she put the damn coffee cups?!? Oh… Well what the hell are they doing over there?!? That’s not where they go…

The other thing that structured editor proponents aren’t going to like is the fact that all of the really slick stuff that end users are really going to love happen to be document formatting related. This will put the cause for structured authoring back a few years, as we will have to reconvince our users all over again why they shouldn’t care about formatting over semantics. Sigh.

The other big takeaway from today’s sessions was how important Sharepoint Services are to pretty much anything and everything to do with Microsoft Office workflows in this New World of Office 12. Basically, Sharepoint pulls everything together so you don’t have to create a patchwork system of some stuff in this flavor, some stuff in that flavor, and a whole lot of chewing gum in between to hold stuff together. Sharepoint is supposed to let you create your workflows and integrate everything like legos – snap it all together and you’re golden. At least that’s what they’re telling us.

I’ve been hearing a lot about “snap together” application integration approaches lately, both at home and abroad, so I’m not entirely surprised to be hearing this from Microsoft. Snap together applications are apparently the “new black” in application integration this year. That realization aside, they do make a pretty good argument about the fact that our business is NOT playing with Microsoft applications – it’s whatever our business is – publishing, regulatory submissions, whatever. If Microsoft can provide a lego block approach that really works, we spend less time playing with software and more time concentrating on our actual business. I think they could be on to something here…

And what about the XML stuff? What about the Open XML formats? What about smart documents and XSLT? Well, it is only Monday, and they Open XML format sessions don’t happen ’til tomorrow and Wednesday, but over all, Microsoft is still treating XML very much as a middleware/data type of creature – something that’s really useful under the hood, but that must be hidden from end users at all costs. They are definitely coming around to seeing the advantage at being able to get at information semantically – all the cool things you can do in knowledge management, drive workflows, and rearrange things are definitely up for discussion. But .NET books at all of the publishers (Wiley has quite a presence here, BTW) far outnumber any XML offerings. Even though XML is running all through Microsoft products now (driving, for instance, the the new Office UI Ribbon, and configuring processes across virtual servers), it’s still considered very much a side dish in the Microsoft world.

And that’s pretty much it for today. I got to see our InfoPath vendor’s 20 minute “chalk talk” about their new InfoPath-based project management product, which was very cool. I got to talk to Altova XML Spy developers about table parsing (a conversation that will most likely be continued if I have anything to say about it). There are neat things coming around the bend for future versions of VSTO that will definitely ease current security and deployment issue pains.

And with all the information coming at me (at about the same rate as the T-shirts and pens), that’s enough for what was essentially Microsoft TechEd 2006 Day #1 of 5.

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