Tuesday, October 30, 2012

BUILD 2012: Registration Day

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This is the first of a five-day post to share what I have seen, learned, liked and questioned during the Microsoft’s BUILD 2012 conference.

Today was the registration and welcoming day at Redmond’s Microsoft Campus. Right of the bat, I can say that the shuttle organization was great. If you were lucky enough to stay at one of the recommended hotels, then you have exclusive buses or shuttles picking you right at the door of the hotel to take you to the campus, with a service running around every 15 minutes. However, there are general shuttles running all over town every 20 minutes or so.

I definitely wasn’t one of the first to arrive to campus, but even arriving less than two hours after registration opened the queue was quite long. I’d say it took me around an hour to get through and pick my batch and freebies, and when I got out, the queue was exactly the same size. Is impressive to be around so many geeks.

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The freebies included a nice T-shirt, an especial MSDN issue, a guide to the conference and sessions schedule, a discount card for Microsoft retail stores, a voucher to use at the Microsoft campus store (normally accessible to Microsoft employees only and with discount prices), and a free offer to take certification exams while at the conference. Additionally I got my first batch sticker and a wrist band to attend the party. Not bad for a start.

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Afterwards I headed to the campus showroom, where people is supposed to get impressed and excited about Microsoft hardware and story while going through a bit of memorabilia. I had the opportunity to visit the showroom in early 2010 while on a Silverlight boot camp, but they did quite a few additions for this time. First, you go through some memorabilia items and photos of the original BASIC team.

Afterwards you get to Microsoft’s current hero device, the Surface tablet. They has an arrange of four Surface tablets showcasing the Touch and Type covers and the Windows RT OS.

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I must say that I was impressed by the feeling and responsiveness of the Touch Cover. Even if you don’t have much travel time and feedback from the keys, it feels quite comfortable. I was amazed by the feel and accuracy of the track pad, which although is small, it performs quite well. The Touch Cover feels great when folded, and the keys input is deactivated instantly when folded backwards. The Type Cover was really thin for being more like a classic physical keyboard. The travel time and feedback is noticeable and is quite accurate. Probably this would be a good addition to the bundle of you plan to write a lot (meaning, I’ll definitely get one).

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The tablet itself is great. Although thicker than other tablets and a bit heavier, it actually feels great. Well balanced and easy to grab and hold, even with one hand. The materials feel good to the touch, the screen is fingerprint resistant and the kick stand works as promised. I must say I really liked the tablet, and I could say is probably the best option out there.

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Apart from the Surface area, you get a separate stand with an arrange of Windows 8 laptops and ultra-books. Nothing impressive here if you are looking for the best of the best, or at least sleek hardware that can compete with Apple’s. I already mentioned in my IFA 2012 articles, that the Asus Zenbook is by far the best and nicest ultra-book in the market, and is what you should get if you can afford it. Moving forward, you get a setup installation with a PixelSense Table (formerly the original Surface). The table has an amazing potential to attract people and clients, and I still believe is the best multi-touch, multi-user device for retail installations. However, developing Surface apps is expensive and the device is still far too expensive, so third parties always find difficult to make a successful business case out of it. Still, the table had the best apps created by Microsoft and partners, and I always enjoy seeing people spending so much time playing with it.

After this, there was a stand with a few Windows Phone 7 devices (in a poor display to be honest) and then another stand with Windows 8 tablets, including the Asus Vivo Tab RT and the Sony VAIO Duo. I must say that the Asus Vivo tablet is quite compelling. It is light and comfortable, a good match to the Surface tablet.

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Channel9 had a section of the room reserved, but nothing was going on at the time. Hopefully, they will have some good shows going on during the conference.

I must say that the showroom wasn’t very impressive. Although they have cutting-edge hardware and a good range of installations, including big multi-touch screens, Xbox stations including some with Kinect sensors attached, nice lightning and all the new range of Windows 8 devices; the overall experience lacks an emotional impact. This is something that I can’t quite explain. I’m not much of an Apple fan, but I get the emotional reaction whenever I pop into an Apple store. This wasn’t like this, which is strange. I’d like Microsoft to become better at retail displays and emotional engagement. Hopefully this is the beginning of a better path for them, which indirectly will benefit all companies working on retail installations (keep in mind that apart from Apple, nobody else achieves the same, even when using Apple hardware).

After the showroom I did a quick check at the Microsoft store and noted a few things I’d like to get before I leave. You have one voucher only, and you can only use it once, so you need to get everything you need (and under the amount limit) in one go.

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Finally I got out of the building and headed to the welcoming reception for a couple of beers. I had the chance to chat and meet a few folk, discuss the expectations and the latest announcements. I also had the change to talk with a couple of Microsoft gurus, including the guys from Windows Azure and Windows Server (more of that to come in another post).

Now is time for me to organize my schedule tomorrow and have some sleep for an early start. Stay tuned, and see you tomorrow (By the way, all this writing, editing and posting have been done from a Windows 8 machine).

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