Microsoft are doing a terrific job of demonstrating how to run a conference with their Mix09 conference, which is happening in Vegas right now. Click on the conference url while the keynotes are on and it is as if you're there.
A live feed of keynote content - speakers and what appears on the projection screens - is right there on the front page along with a live twitter #mix09 stream.
My typical conference experience is to show up at the venue with laptop bag and lots of paper collateral, watch people on stage with the slides to their left or right, make notes, tweet, have a browser open with Twitter search on the conference hash tag and ask for the slides on a flash stick after presentation.
Rolling up all of the above into a seamless, single browser window, time efficient experience which allows us to focus on their presentation of the primarily user experience and visually focused conference presentations is hugely attractive and Microsoft have clearly done their homework to create a compelling and accessible experience. (It will be interesting to see what the archived versions are like).
This is also smart thinking because they are minimizing multi tasking to let us focus on some terrific demos. Although there's a great deal of difference between demos and the product you sit down to use on a Monday morning to get stuff done, Silverlight appears to be coming on in leaps and bounds.
I've been getting my arms around Adobe Master Suite, the 'whole enchilada' compendium box of virtually all the installable Adobe creative products, for the last couple of months. This is the industry standard toolkit visual and audio creatives use in the communication industry and you'd have to be a genius renaissance person to be able to get up to speed on the sophistication of all the products from a standing start.
The roll up of Macromedia and Adobe into the communications juggernaut Adobe has become has created a formidable set of tools (Photoshop, Flash, After Effects,Illustrator...) and technologies ( Flex & Flash code...), and continue to make the running at the cutting edge of developing creative tools.
There's a significant collaboration component in all this which I'll cover in a future post, but most user experience whether on the web, TV or film has been created with Adobe products.
Microsoft are going second and playing catch up in this space: Mix09 is an 'eye candy' conference of seductive user experience demos using the various technologies Microsoft are rolling out. To their credit, Microsoft are not afraid to fail live (apps not launching, video not appearing when called in demos) nor are they concerned disparaging comments might appear alongside those failures in the twitter panel.
There are some terrific new products being launched by Microsoft this week: since they are doing such a great job of providing a very coherent online exposition I recommend heading over to their site and exploring some of their demos.
Standouts for me so far are tools like Blend, (scroll down for screenshots), which allows rapid prototyping for interaction designers, going from pencil sketches to agile drag and drop processes that quickly build out workable demos (aimed at the video game development and advertising markets I think).
While vector graphics user interfaces have massive instant appeal historically, sites created in Flash have been somewhat inflexible to adjust once they are created. As the medium has matured Flash and increasingly Silverlight has typically been used for high value consumer branding work for blue chip companies (brands now account for 30% of the value of the S&P 500).
It's easy to see why Microsoft want a slice of this pie along with the increasingly valuable post passive viewer TV space (the next winter Olympics will live stream in HD via Silverlight).
The online experience enabled at Mix09 online is a terrific showcase for next generation thinking by Microsoft.