Each year, Microsoft invites current MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals) to Seattle for their annual MVP Summit. MVP's get access to Product Group specialists and other dignitaries from Microsoft who share their visions of what Microsoft is doing and where they are going. Some of this information is "not to be disclosed", meaning that the MVP can find out about it but we aren't supposed to talk about it until the bits are released.
In sum, we get wined, dined, and seminar-ed to death.
This year, as I did last year, I had mixed feelings about the whole thing. Yes, I got to meet and talk with people who I respect such as Scott Guthrie ("Mr. ASP.NET") and Anders Hejlsberg, "up close and personal" which is always gratifying, as well as my MVP lead Rafael Munoz, who has been a fantastic resource for me as a .NET professional. Among other notables too numerous to detail, I also ran into Jason Alexander and Rob Howard, and we got a chance to chat about the OpenID .NET implementation that Jason is working on. If you haven't heard about OpenID, I predict that you will. It's basically SSO (Single Sign On) for dummies, and it does everything that Microsoft originally wanted with "Passport", except that it's already open-source and nobody is crying "world domination" like they did then. In fact, Microsoft has already formed an alliance with the OpenID gurus to lend its anti-phishing technology to the mix and provide support for CardSpace in OpenID.
(As a side note, I've already seen one blog comment that "OpenID sure beats Cardspace" -- heh -- OpenId and CardSpace are two different things. They are complimentary - but making that sort of claim instantly reveals that you are a Microsoft basher who has no earthly idea what you're talking about!)
On the other hand, I had to sit through some more or less "canned" sessions with presenters who, for lack of a better phrase, I'll characterize as "not completely up to the task". Fortunately, if you aren't happy with a session, there are usually 10 others going on at the same time, so you just get up and go somewhere else...
Those who have noticed, as I have, over the last couple of years, a sea change at Microsoft in terms of being more open to the developer community and more sensitive to the accusations of "Microsoft World Domination" syndrome should be gratified to know that Microsoft continues to open up to the rest of the world, making great strides in interop with their brethren in other companies as well as with the open source community.
The perennial "Microsoft Bashers" may continue to be deceitful and arrogant (not to mention plain ignorant!), but the fact of the matter is that MICROSOFT HAS CHANGED - and it continues to change. This should be self evident to even the most jaded Microsoft - basher when they see thet all of the source code for Microsoft ASP.NET AJAX has been made freely available by Microsoft to anyone with the inclination to download it.
A further example of this is the Iron Python (.NET) release which is true to the Python language and shows the dedication of the decision-makers at MS to support "non - Microsoft" technologies and languages and to be willing to spend money and man hours to put their money where their mouth is, dynamic languages being what i consider to be the next big frontier for .NET and the platform. The upcoming Oryx release, which plays well both with dynamic languages and LINQ, is another example.
New innovations with WPF/E (Windows Presentation Foundation in the browser), Oryx and LINQ, some of which I'm not allowed to talk about yet, are sure to blow your mind as a .NET developer in the next few months as new CTP releases and announcements come out, particularly at and after the MIX '07 conference in April.
And the great news is that ORCAS, the next big release of Visual Studio coming at the end of this year, has a huge number of innovations and improvements, and it will be the first version of Visual Studio to be able to target whatever Framework version you want -- just based on stuff you've got defined in your project configuration file.
But some things go backwards. I'm not a smoker, but I really enjoy a good cigar once in a while. Unfortunately, Seattle is basically a "no smoking" city. I mean, you can't even light up on the fyookin' STREET, unless you are 25+ feet away from the nearest door somewhere. So my good friends Bill Jones (MVP) and Robbe Morris (MVP) all had to go outside after our fabulous (and very expensive) Ruth's Chris farewell dinner to go find somewhere to light up and enjoy a decent smoke.
Aside from that, I'm happy to report that Microsoft as a whole seems to be moving in the right directions - opening up more and more to the developer community, putting out CTP releases on shorter build cycles (like 3 weeks to a month) and being much more interested in what you, the developer, have to say about all of it.
If I can help, don't be bashful. I'm always working to expand my contact list. I have some pretty good friends inside Microsoft, and I'm working to get a lot more as time goes on. You can find most of my "contributions" at either eggheadcafe.com or at the Microsoft C# Language or ASP.NET newsgroups.