Having been given the choice of coming up here late last night or early this morning I did what any enterprising person would do and elected to spend the extra night up here at the Gold Coast so I could enjoy a leisurely start to my day. It was worth it too as instead of having to get up at 4:30 in the morning I was able to stroll out of bed at 8am, wander aimlessly around Broadbeach for a while looking for food and then casually make my way over to my hotel for the rest of the week. After wasting a couple hours on Reddit waiting for the appointed hour to arrive I headed on down to the convention centre and met up with the guys from LifeHacker, Allure Media and the other contest winners. It was great to finally meet everyone and to put names to the faces (like Terry Lynch and Craig Naumann) and of course I didn’t at all mind that I was then presented with the shiny new ASUS Zenbook and Nokia Lumia 900 to take home. Whilst I’ve given the Zenbook something of a workout already I haven’t had a chance to play with the Lumia thanks to my sim being of the large variety and it needing a micro.
Hopefully I’ll get some time spare to sort that out tomorrow.
We then headed off for lunch where I met one of their videographers and talked shop with everyone for a good couple hours over steak, wine and honeycomb bark. As an informal affair it was great and we were pretty much told that there weren’t any restrictions on what we could talk about, so long as they were at least tangentially related to Windows Server 2012. Thankfully it looks like the focus of this year’s TechEd is going to be about Server 2012 anyway so even if we were going to go off the rails we really wouldn’t have far to go. Still I was pleased to find out that our choices of sessions provided a good mix so that we were all able to go to the ones we wanted to. I’ve chosen to cover primarily Windows Azure and the cloud integration aspects of Server 2012 as whilst I’m sure there’s a lot going on below that level my interest, at least in recent times, has been focused on just how Microsoft is going to bring cloud down to all those loyal system administrators who’ve been with Microsoft for decades.
The keynote was equal parts run-of-the-mill tech announcements coupled with, dare I say it, strange forays into the lands of philosophy and technology futurism. Now I can’t claim complete innocence here as I did make a couple snarky tweets whilst Jason Silva was up on stage but in reality whilst his speeches and videos were thought provoking I struggled to see how they were relevant to the audience. TechEd, whilst being full of creative and dedicated people, isn’t exactly TED; I.E. it’s not a big ideas kind of deal. It’s a tech show, one where system administrators, architects and developers come together to get a glimpse at the latest from Microsoft. Delving into the philosophy of how technology is changing humanity is great but there are better times for presentations like that like say TEDx Canberra which was just on recently.
The technology part of the keynote was interesting even if it was your usual high level overview that lacked any gritty detail. For me the take away from the whole thing was that Microsoft is now heavily dedicated to not only being a cloud provider but becoming the cloud platform that powers enterprises in the future. Windows Server 2012 appears to be a key part of that and if what they’re alluding to turns out to be true you’ll soon have a unified development platform that will stretch all the way from your own personal cloud all the way back to a fully managed public cloud that Microsoft and its partners provide. If that promise is sounding familiar to you it should as HP said pretty much the same thing not too long ago and I’m very keen to see how their offering works in comparison.
There were also some performances from various artists like the one from Synaecide above in which he utilizes as Kinect controller to manipulate the music with his movements. It was certainly impressive, especially in comparison to the interpretive dancer who obviously had zero control over what was happening on screen, and these are the kinds of things I’d like to see more of as they show off the real innovative uses of Microsoft technology rather than just the usual PowerPoint to death followed by a highly scripted demo. After this all finished we were allowed to go off and have a look around the showcase where all the Microsoft partners had set up shop and were giving out the usual swag which was when I decided to take my leave (after raiding the buffet, of course!).
With all this being said I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the real meat of TechEd 2012: the new technology. It’s all great to sell ideas, visions and concepts but nothing is more powerful to me than demonstrable technology that I can go home and use right away. Those of you following me on Twitter will know that I’ve already expressed scepticism at some of the claims has made during the keynote but don’t let that fool you. Whilst I might be among Microsoft’s critics I’m also one of their long time fans so you can rest assured that any amazing leaps will be reoported and missteps pointed out and ridiculed for your amusement.
Now I’d best be off, I’ve got an early start tomorrow.
On a technical level I’m in love with motion controllers. They represent quite a few innovations that until just recently were out of the reach of the every day consumer. The release of the Wii put cheap, relatively accurate motion detection in the hands of hackers all over the world and saw the technology spread to many other sectors. Whilst I haven’t given any love to Microsoft’s Kinect the possibility of being able to do your own in home motion capture with the camera that powers it is a pretty cool prospect and I know it won’t be long before the hackers get their hands on similar tech and start wowing us with the applications. We already know my stance on the Playstation Move, with its oodles of technology packed into a hand sized magic wand.
Still if you walk into my living room that’s adorned with consoles, computers and all kinds of gadgets and gizmos the only evidence you’ll find of me having any interest in this area is a single Wiimote controller hidden away in a drawer with no console in sight. I only have the controller as my previous house mate was the one who bought the Wii and stubbornly refused to buy any more controllers for it. Wanting to actually play some games I forked out the $100 to get one but later ended up co-opting it for all sorts of nefarious purposes, using it to play World of Warcraft and a semi-successful attempt at using head tracking in EVE online. After we parted ways though I hadn’t had any compelling reasons to buy a Wii console save for maybe Trauma Center which I was only ever able to locate twice but never made the jump to purchase.
It’s not like I’m above buying an entire console for a single game either, I bought a Xbox 360 just for the chance to play Mass Effect the day it came out. More it’s that nearly every game on the Wii that I’ve wanted to play has either had a cross platform release or has been nothing more than a passing curiosity. I’d even told myself at one point that when they brought the black version of the Wii out I’d purchase one (it would match my PS3 and new Xbox 360 if I got one) but even after that happened I still couldn’t pony up the cash to get one, it just felt like a waste of money.
It could be that I really haven’t been giving my consoles a whole lot of love lately. The last two console games I played were Red Dead Redemption and Alan Wake, both engaging games but since then my attention has almost entirely been captured by Starcraft 2. I must admit I was intrigued by the prospect of replaying through Heavy Rain using the Move controller but other than that I don’t think there’s any other games out there that make use of motion controllers that I’d actually find appealing. In fact looking over the catalogue they all look to be aimed at a certain demographic: those who are traditionally non-gamers.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise as that’s the exact strategy Nintendo had when they first released the Wii, focusing more on the non-gamer crowd and heavily promoting the social aspect of it. As the Kinect and Move are both reactions to the Wii’s success it follows that their target demographic is identical as well. For the long time gamers like myself this hasn’t really endeared the motion controllers to us as the games really aren’t designed for us. Sure there are some notable exceptions but for the most part those who identify themselves as gamers probably won’t be investing too much in these new fangled exercise inducing devices. That doesn’t mean they won’t be successful however.
There is the chance that these motion controllers will make their way into my living room by virtue of integration with other products. I’ve been eyeing off one of the newer Xbox 360 for a while now as it’s quite a looker and has the benefit of not sounding like a jet engine when it’s loading a game. My natural engineering curiosity will probably see a move controller work its way into my living sometime in the future as well but until someone demos some cool hack that I just have to try it will be a while before that comes to pass. The Wii will more than likely stay on the back burner for a long time to come but there’s always the chance of a Mass Effect event happening that overrides the more frugal parts of my brain.