Photo by Pieter Baert
I just returned from a nice evening in Brussels where Microsoft held a user experience event, showing some of what their technologies have to offer. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised about the whole setup. Nice venue, great food and drink and a nice atmosphere for networking.
While personally I thought the evening was more about vision than actual user experience it was definitely the best Microsoft event I've attended so far.
First session we attended was one on SharePoint -- not something I'd normally be looking at but we got to see how you could use it for public facing websites and integrate things like the open source Podcasting Kit for SharePoint.
Next up was the Microsoft partner program and the "Web Solutions Toolkit". It seemed like quite an interesting offer, though the user experience of their online registration form could be improved quite a bit.
Caught some glimpses of other sessions including Internet Explorer 8, Silverlight, SketchFlow, Windows 7 etc. but the one that really struck me was Microsoft Surface. Its not exactly a brand new product and you've all no doubt seen it, but getting hands on with the technology did bring it home how multi-touch interfaces bring a whole new level of interactivity to the table (pun intended).
When using an iPhone or other touch enabled devices you get some idea of what that might be but real a real multi-touch, pressure sensitive and collaborative environment (up to 52 touches in the case of Microsoft Surface) is unlike anything else. Microsoft Surface will soon be available to the general public, but with a price tag of around 12.000 Euro I don't see it sitting in everyone's living room quite yet.
With Windows 7 fully multi-touch enabled and multi-touch screens like those by HP soon being a commodity, I see that as a logical first step. While not allowing the full collaborative experience it would allow you to go beyond the realms of the Microsoft Surface SDK and develop using any technology, which I would personally be a lot more interested in.
I had the opportunity to talk with Luc van de Velde, Microsoft's Director of the Developer and Platform Group, mostly on Silverlight and WPF. I'm hearing a "write once, deploy everywhere" story similar to what Adobe is working on, though the definition of everywhere might be slightly different. Designer/developer workflow is another important aspect I see getting addressed, again parallels can be drawn with the Flash Catalyst / Flash Builder 4 approach though in certain areas there I do see Microsoft with somewhat of an advantage.
I sense a change in Microsoft's marketing of their rich client technologies. Maybe less dominant and more pragmatic, but slowly but surely they're getting there. My guess is that enterprise is going to be the first battle ground where in my honest opinion Adobe might have a less compelling offering. On the other hand, user experience is still Adobe's strong suit and I don't see Microsoft overtaking them there any time soon.
I for one can't wait to see what innovation the next few years will bring!