The Visual Studio Launch 2010 Boston Event, Reconsidered

Now that I’m a day or so removed from the Visual Studio “Launch 2010” event in Boston, have plenty of sleep under my belt, and the benefit of hindsight, I’d like to recap my impressions.

I still consider Launch 2010 a significant disappointment, especially compared to the “Heroes Happen Here” launch of Visual Studio 2008 / SQL Server 2008 / Windows Server 2008 that was held in Manchester, NH, two years ago. But I should explain why, and maybe at least put in context, if not rephrase, my criticisms of Thursday.

Attendance: I need to clarify my attendance estimates from Thursday.

I’m guessing there were about 1,000 people in attendance at Launch 2010, which had three tracks: two all-day tracks for developers and IT professionals, and a half-day track for managers / decision makers. Of the total number of attendees, well over half  — at least 500 — were in the developer track. I don’t have an exact count because I don’t know who to ask for one, and I doubt there is an accurate count in any event, because Microsoft was allowing walk-ins throughout the event.

However many people were there, it was too many, at least for the developer track. They ran out of seats by 9:30 AM and it only got worse until 3:30 PM, after the ASP.NET session, after which a large number of people left. I did pop in on the IT pro track, after I couldn’t regain my seat following lunch; there were a few empty seats available there.

Allowing such a significant overflow is a huge kick in the balls. I took the time to register ahead of time. I took great pains to ensure I would arrive on time. If you’re letting people filter in six hours after they were supposed to show up, you’re not being fair to me — especially if I can’t fully enjoy the event.

To me, this is straightforward: If you want people to come and go at their pleasure, don’t bother with preregistration.

Otherwise, start the event on time. If, say, 100 preregistered guests don’t show up, then allow 100 walk-ins to attend — and make them wait for a break, just like if they walked in late to a play or opera. In other words, Microsoft, have respect for the people who demonstrated their interest and sincerity by taking pains to follow the preregistration requirement and honor the schedule.

There were a lot of people at Heroes Happen Here, too; several hundred people went to the developer track. But I don’t recall people having to sit on the floor, or losing my seat, or being swept away by a human wave every time there was a break.

Event staff and organization: The event staff was friendly, but their organization was awful.

I registered for the developer track. When I checked in, I received the developer track evaluation form. But my name tag said I was in the IT professional track, and the agenda they gave me was for the IT decision maker track. As I noted previously, lots of us got the wrong agenda, which — coupled with the hotel serving lunch early — caused a mixup that helped to ruin an already boring seminar on SharePoint.

When I asked for the proper agenda, immediately after the first seminar ended (about two hours after the event started), they told me they had run out.

At Heroes Happen Here, I received all the proper materials. It appears Microsoft used the same contractor to manage both events (CRG Events), so how things got so messed up is beyond me.

The hotel and its staff: As I said before, the Westin Copley Place is a very nice hotel. And the hotel staff was excellent, from the housekeepers to the managers.

Trash was policed often (which was critical, given the mess created by soda cans, coffee cups, plastic cups, bag lunches and a bunch of worthless papers shoved into the event packet); the management was constantly checking with event staff, and on their own accord, to ensure things were going well; I did not see or hear a single problem related to the facility.

The food served was excellent and plentiful. Even the coffee — Starbucks — was of considerably better quality than one normally encounters at a continental breakfast.

The Radisson in Manchester, NH is also a nice hotel and also had a good staff, but it’s the difference between a Camry and a Maybach.

The swag: Yes, much of my disappointment is with Microsoft not offering fully functional copies of Visual Studio 2010. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask, in exchange for giving them my audience for eight hours and evangelizing on their behalf, to get a useful copy of the thing they’re flogging.

At Heroes Happen Here, they not only gave away copies of VS 2008 Professional, they also gave away a copy of Windows Vista Ultimate and evaluation copies of Windows Server 2008. Additionally, because SQL Server 2008 wasn’t ready by the time of Heroes Happen Here, Microsoft sent us, later, fully functional copies of SQL Server 2008 Standard.

I really have to believe that the same could have been done here. At best, Microsoft shouldn’t set an expectation like this and not follow through later. Or, they should state in the event FAQ that evaluation software only will be distributed, rather than saying that “information is not available at this time.”

The Heroes Happen Here software offering generated tremendous amounts of goodwill, at least from me. Launch 2010’s paltry 90-day evaluation disc, and the Desktop Optimization disc (PDF file) that I’ve already thrown in the trash, pretty much destroyed that goodwill in a fell swoop.

I’m not saying Microsoft needed to be as generous with software now as it was then. I would have been happy just getting a copy of VS 2010 Professional. I am saying that having three copies of VS 2010 Ultimate to give away, via drawing, to well over 500 people is actually counterproductive; it just rubs salt in the wound.

The presentations: Microsoft hires interesting and smart people to promote and support its products. It’s always great to hear from Chris Bowen, Jim O’Neil and Bob Familiar. And the remaining presenters — I’d tell you who they were, but I didn’t take notes at the time and I don’t have the right agenda to review — were affable and knowledgeable.

The keynote was a marketing pitch, plain and simple. The first session, on application lifecycle management, was entertaining but thin on practical examples. And the first SharePoint presentation was heavy on details about integrating old ASP.NET Web form applications, and completely deficient on Office programming.

Which was made more amusing since about three people, again out of about 500, held up their hands when the presenter asked who works in SharePoint. I was not one of them. Had he asked who does Office programming, I would have held up my hand — and I bet at least half the room would have, as well.

In other words, Microsoft wasted a lot of people’s time with that presentation; and even more with a second presentation on SharePoint that followed lunch.

Things got much better once Familiar, O’Neil and Bowen were allowed to do MSDN Northeast Roadshow-style presentations. But by then, my humor had largely turned.

Networking: As I said, opportunities to mix and mingle weren’t that great before or during the event, because there were simply too many people going in too many directions.

There was a mixer announced after the event, in the form of a Microsoft employee shouting it across the lobby and into the elevators. I wish they had told me about that ahead of time, so I could have planned for it. I would have come to Boston a day ahead and stayed over. At the very least, I wish they had not sapped all my patience by that time.

The building of relationships is what these events are supposed to be all about. But Microsoft completely forgot to structure the event to make that even possible.

What I take back: On Thursday, my exhaustion and exasperation came off as angry. In all honesty, at that time, that’s what I was: Angry. It was over as soon as I got to South Station, but I shouldn’t have been angry, period.

No one was operating with malice; at least, no one set out to make me wish I hadn’t attended. I am sure there are lots of reasons for things not going the way I wish they had; I am sure others consider Launch 2010 a major success; I am certain my perspective is neither authoritative nor omniscient. But I would be very interested in seeing the evaluation form results.

What I stand by: Pretty much everything. It wasn’t a very good event. It won’t make me quit .NET programming, and I did learn some useful stuff. But it sure lowered my opinion of Microsoft.

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  1. I admit, the San Diego session sucked. While I can’t fault MS for not giving away the same wonderful gift I receivded two years ago, the organization fully stunk. They didn’t even bother to try. Just a bunch of silly developer humor – and poorly prepared examples that didn’t work more times than they did.

    At 1:12 – Lynn wasn’t even started yet – but a note on the screen said: “Increasing productivity”. I don’t want to learn about productivity from a person who starts their presentation more than 10 minutes late. over 100 people sitting silently in the room is the heart of unproductive. At 10 minutes before 1, she should have been talking excitedly about new things we’d find while those arriving late were coming in. Those minutes were totally lost. While Microsoft has our attention, they might as well use it. There are nice things to talk about – before the meeting ‘starts’ standing there silently is a total waste. 10 other things went similarly bad for that meeting. Microsoft meeting managers sure dropped the ball on this one. However, 2008 was impressive.

  2. I’d have to agree with you guys. It was very disappointing. The presentations, with one exception, were horrible. Nothing but marketing talk and failing demos. I actually haven’t seen so many demos fail in a single day (this was the Atlanta launch). Not a good way to inspire confidence. The venue was way way smaller than for the Heroes Happen Here event. All the talks started late and the overlapped the next talk and so on. Of course, the biggest disappointment was with the lack of non-trial software. That was by far my biggest motivator to drive almost one hour each way through traffic to attend. I felt tricked; still feel the same way actually. I think MS would’ve been better off not having the event at all; it had the opposite of the intended effect.

  3. Thanks for taking the time and blog about the event. I’m registered for the May 27th event in Seattle, but now I will cancel and try to put the day to better use.

  4. Boy, thanks for the updates guys. I guess I’ll bow out of the Minneapolis event tomorrow. I, too, was hoping to get a non-trial version of VS 2010. I’m not taking a half day of vacation to go get pitched.

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