Windows Embedded & Windows Mobile Seminar Summary

I just got back from the Windows Embedded & Windows Mobile Seminar (dubbed as NZ’s mini MEDC) held in the Christchurch Convention Center tonight. It was a great summary event and definatly worth while for those who hadn’t managed to get to MEDC this year. If I hadn’t gone to MEDC 2007 in Las Vagas it would have been a good consulation prize.

As well as Derek Snyder and Mike Hall, we also had Rob Tiffany tag along and give some great details on the Mobile LOB Business Accelator sample application and scalability of SQL Server Compact Edition deployments in large enterprise scenarios.

The start of the event was delayed by about an hour due to a late flight because of fog in Sydney. This gave a great time to catch up with other attendees before the main presentations. There was a surprising large number of companies represented, but without a shadow of a doubt, the prize for the most number of employees present would have to go to Trimble. It seemed almost every second person had a Trimble employee badge.

I went along just to support the event (one more bum-on seat) as I would like to encourage Microsoft to put on such events in Christchurch more often. While talking to Mike Zeff about numerious things, he mentioned the reason it occurred in Christchurch (and not Wellington or Auckland) was that they had held a similiar event in Auckland late last year (mentioned in his blog posting Event for windows embedded developers) and they considered it the South Island’s turn. When he mentioned it I remembered my disappointment last year about knowing such an event was on and not being able to attend it. So my hat is off to Microsoft for thinking of us South Islanders this time around.

Mike Hall gave a great high level overview of where Microsoft are heading in the embedded and mobile space. I found it interesting the approach they are looking at taking with Windows Embedded XP vNext + 1 (the one with a Vista core). At present there are a couple thousand odd components a user can mix and match when building an Embedded XP OS image, however selecting one probably through dependancies pull in 5 or 10 more. What they’re considering is instead having much coarser grained configuration options, something along the lines of “do you want media playback”, “do you want a web browser”, rather than individual API level control. This is making the product move more towards the Windows Embedded Point Of Sale (WEPOS) scale of the spectrum (which is basically configured by answering a number of questions at installation time), rather than Windows CE (the mother of all componentised operating systems).

I was interested in the .NET Micro Framework demos Mike provided. Although I had seen the sample applications he demonstrated before what I hadn’t heard (and was really benificial for me) was some behind the scenes discussions of how you go about porting the .NET Micro Framework to a new board, where they are at now for doing that (basically needing to be a big company with the ability to attend a porting workshop in Redmond for a month or so), and more importantly from my perspective where they are thinking of moving (opening up the porting SDK/tools to more people). I’m itching to get my hands on a chance to do some “real world” .NET Micro Framework development. I’ve already pre-ordered a copy of the Embedded Programming with the Microsoft .NET Micro Framework book by Donald Thompson and Rob S. Miles so hopefully it’s only a matter of time before I get to play with it for real rather than in an emulated environment provided by the .NET Micro Framework SDK for Visual Studio. I’m thinking of purchasing an EmbeddedFusion Tahoe board.

Tahoe .NET Micro Framework development board by Embedded Fusion

Derek Snyder gave his Silverlight for Windows Mobile demo as originally presented in the MEDC 2007 keynote. The eye candy looked good, but it’s very early days (apparently atleast a year away before things start becomming available) and performance did seem to be an issue, with some noticable slowness in the demos. But still very impressive nevertheless. What would have taken a couple thousand lines of complex low level C code for the current Windows Mobile platform, was able to be implemented within Expression’s GUI in a manor were a graphics designer would be comfortable. I imagine that in the next few years there will be more and more job offerings within development teams for a cross of User Experience / Interaction specialists and Graphics Designers. This could be interesting in the mobile space, where the UI design has moved little from the Windows 3.11 for Workgroups style days (well perhaps WM6 has shown some further improvements, but the basic premise is still true). The tool chain looks like it’s starting to take shape where that can happen without causing developers too much grief, and it’s exciting to see that this may happen not only on the desktop but also reach down into the mobile environment as well.

Rob Tiffany was pressed for time in his presentation due to the late arrival of the plane from Sydney and a desire not to drag on too late into the night. He presented a demonstration of the Mobile LOB Business Accelator sample application running on his PDA and along the way discussed some of the challenges of developing mobile line of business applications and how the Mobile LOB Business Accelator provided sample solutions to them. The more time I spend with the Mobile LOB Business Accelator and the Mobile Client Software Factory (MCSF) packages, the more I find things which really help take the pain out of mobile developement. I really like the Disconnected Webservices feature of the MCSF for instance.

The last bit of Rob’s presentation was him rapidly fliping through a bunch of slides about SQL Server Compact Edition merge replication and how to scale up the server side to support 30 or 40,000 client PDAs. It really didn’t make a lot of sense due to the pace he was forced to go at due to the late start, and it didn’t do his material justice. From viewing the presentation he presented in Las Vagas on the same topic I can tell you that he had a lot of valuable and interesting information to share.

So all in all a really positive night which left me feeling charged and energised thinking of lots of cool things to sink my teeth into over the next few months. So many new tools, technologies and geek gadgets, and only so many hours in the day to go around….

I would like to thank Microsoft NZ for organising the finer details of the night, and in particular to Mike Zeff for being a wonderful host and ensuring the night went off without a hitch.

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