The worst developer conference I have ever been to (and I have made a habit of hanging around these things for the last half decade) has to be the unfortunate couple of days I spent with Gupta Technologies a few years back now.
I pretty much agreed to go as it was being staged in Berlin and I wanted to see the Brandenburg Gate if I’m honest with you.
In fact, it turned out that it was held in a pokey little Novotel in some godforsaken sub-district of Berlin called Potsdam. I actually had stitches in my leg after an accident I’d had in Pennsylvania and had to find my own way to the event by local bus. Next day, the PR manager gave the keynote address and I had to have dinner with the most humourless bunch of souls I’ve ever met.
So what’s my point?
Well, in the sessions that I was subjected to (sorry, the sessions which I attended) the speakers exposed a whole bunch of pre-alpha software that was ragged and half-baked - so they asked the crowd to bear with them as they tried to demonstrate the goods on show. With an already negative mind-set engaged, I understandably thought – what a bunch of losers, right?
But maybe I was wrong. Perhaps showcasing rough software builds is a brilliant way of getting developer feedback right up front? Maybe it’s the best way of getting an almost Open Source style level of interaction from your user base eh?
Carry this idea forward to December 2008. I’ve not long returned from Milan where I attended Adobe’s MAX Europe web designer and developer convention. To their credit, at the point when most conventions are tailing off and attendees are getting saddle sore to the point of frustration, Adobe manages to shunt out a few beers and wines for the last session of the event and pack the conference hall for a presentation that ends at 7pm at night.
How do they do it? They host their “Sneak Peaks” prototype session of weird and wonderful ideas – some of which graduate to become full-blown products and some do not. This years highlights included:
SERVER-SIDE ActionScript: Basically, server-side ActionScript with ColdFusion and Flex is now achievable.
An ‘image combination’ offering with the ability to stitch scenes together and provide a fly through, rotation, zoom in/out experience. For some this appeared to be the wow-factor moment of the show.
NITRO: A brand new platform for designing, building and distributing Flash widgets on multiple screens across multiple targets i.e the desktop, mobile or even your TV.
MEER MEER: This service is designed to take the pain out of cross platform testing so that anyone using DreamWeaver can see what a web site looks in any browser and with any OS. The resulting views can be presented in ‘onion skin’ view so that they can be simultaneously overlaid for comparison with a slider to see how different browsers have performed their rendering process.
… and I’m telling you guys, the hall remained packed – the audience remained captivated and the applause didn’t stop. OK these were hardly half-baked ideas and they had been refined with the support of Adobe’s not inconsiderable technological might behind them… but either way, this is cool stuff.
Some of the demos failed. That’s good – a little extra bit of authenticity. Some of the demos were heavily graphically sexy and one could argue perhaps slightly done for the sake of showmanship. But others were deeply technical and easy to see being worked into 2009’s next-gen web development.
So there you have it. Prototype pre-alpha presentations: PR puff or professional pushing-the-envelope material? You decide.