It was my first year attending the annual FeWeb event and have to say it didn't disappoint. I signed up for the RIA track which started out with Christophe Herreman talking about the Eduma-tic e-learning tool they develop at IndieGroup, more so than walk through that project he talked about the workflow within their team, how they use SVN, unit tests, Apache Ant, continuous builds with CruiseControl and the XP practices within IndieGroup. I have to say it was one of the most practical and useful talks I've heard in a long time, you get to hear about code practically everywhere but an inside look at building an extensive application is really invaluable.
Next up was Wim Verhaeghen of Microsoft to talk about the Expression suite, I was genuinely excited to finally hear something about Silverlight and get a better picture of how, what when and where. After some slides we dived into demo mode and in a matter of minutes got a bitmap of a bird to fly across the screen and rotate 360 degrees. Basic stuff but pretty cool, one thing I immediately noticed is how they managed to complicate the concept of a timeline and turn it into a user interface even a 3D Studio MAX user would get intimidated by.
It did get better though, next demo was an imported video given some transparency with a semi-transparent rounded rectangle above it. When you clicked the video it rotated with some custom easing. The background was kept transparent so a background image assigned in the HTML showed through.
What is the deal with that whole workflow though? Create various storyboard objects, make something a resource or not -- is that supposed to be a tool for interaction designers. Wim showed how changes made in Expression Blend showed up a dialog saying "file changed" in Visual Studio where another person is using the XAML. Great, but isn't that expected behavior and how would that work in your team, does it require you to hook into some sort of source control system?
The whole thing wasn't extremely convincing, which is not to say that it doesn't have potential. With Silverlight 2 they've recently announced they'll have text input and other controls and have some subset of .NET in the plugin. Towards the end of the session we were presented with 'real world silverlight applications' -- one was a Microsoft mini site done by These Days and the other was silverlight.net. Are there any non-Microsoft funded projects online done in Silverlight?
In another year or two when the technology has had a chance to evolve this might become an alternative to the Flash platform solutions already out there but for now I don't see any compelling reason a sane human being would opt for Silverlight.
Last session in the RIA track were Wim Vanhenden and Nico Lierman from Boulevart to talk about AIR. I kind of felt bad for the Microsoft guy since all the cool stuff was being shown in Adobe technologies. It wasn't exactly a technical session but they walked through some compelling demo's of AIR applications: eBay Desktop, Snippage, Digimix, Google Analytics Reporting Suite, AOL Top 100 and of course the infamous Mariah Carey birthday widget.
To top it all off Wim showed an HD 1080p external quicktime movie playing in the Flash Player, the quality needless to say was mind blowing. Adopting H.264 is one of the best moves Adobe could've made and I think it has ensured the continued dominance of Flash as a medium for video on the web (and the desktop with AIR moving forward).
After a short break we had Marc Mestdagh talk about the achievements of FeWeb in 2007 and their plans for 2008, an introduction to the activities of the BDMA (Belgian Direct Marketing Association) and finally what was without a doubt the most entertaining keynote I've seen this year.
Google's Matthew Trewhella couldn't make it at the last minute and the editor in chief of Smart Business Magazine, William Visterin, took his place. I wasn't sure what to expect but it was alarmingly good. William talked about user generated content, social networks, the rule of three and reminisced about other trends we saw in the last year -- his closing statement made my night "in 20 years your grandchildren will come and ask you to make that sound the dial-up modem made".
I have to say it was an extremely enjoyable evening with friends and colleagues and look forward to more FeWeb events come!