Tech-Ed 2013, Madrid

Tech-Ed 2013, Madrid

I attended this years Tech-Ed. This first post is only a handful of the pictures taken on the town and at the sessions, after vacation I will try to summarize the best of what was said and done. For now the main impression and message is that the future is in the cloud, with Office 365 and Azure, and with new mobile devices, running on Windows 8.

(Speaking of which I got a much more favorable impression of the new Surface Pro tablets, and Windows 8 laptops, than the feeling I got from my Surface RT, still “first impressions last” so I remain slightly skeptic for a while still before fully embracing all the news)

Another major news was of course the announcement of the Microsoft-Oracle partnership, allowing and supporting Oracle servers and solutions onto the MS Azure cloud. This will be really interesting to use.

Tech-Ed, Madrid, juni 2013I also particularly liked the second keynote (titled “Windows is the future”), really impressive display of features and functionality as well as some nice new devices.

Windows is the future, Tech-Ed, Madrid, juni 2013On the way home from the sessions I took a small detour to watch the “Porta de Europa” monument. The diners didn’t open until 9 in the evening anyway so there were a few hours between conference end and the possibility to get something to eat.

Porta de Europa, Madrid, juni 2013Also seen every day from the bus between the hotel and the conference hall was Palacio de Comunicaciones at Plaza de Cibeles, I believe this was some town ministry house. Really nice design.

Palacio de Comunicaciones, Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid, juni 2013Thursday after work I was so tired I just went out and walked a bit in the peace and quiet in Parque del Retiro, the old royal park now open for the public, with its nice lakes and statues.

Parque del Retiro, Madrid, juni 2013And, though some colleagues complained about all the photos of restaurants and other non-work related places, I actually did have to eat every day and sleep in the evenings, and I chose not to go to Burger King every day, so naturally I did catch a few nice photos of the surrounding locations.

Casa de Campo, Madrid, juni 2013

A house with a wall of plants, from nearby the Museo Nacional de Prado

Madrid, Juni 2013

A church, also nearby the Museo Nacional de Prado

Madrid, juni 2013

And restaurant La Pesquera, where the country gatherings were held (for Denmark, this year being the first I wasn’t there as Norwegian… :))

Restaurant La Pesquera, Madrid, juni 2013

And last, quite surprisingly, I was able to take all of my notes using my Surface RT, using OneNote and Twitter. So it can actually be used quite ok on travel and to take small notes. As it was now it only lacked corporate email.

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Things I shouldn’t have tested in the last minute

I was planning to reduce the weight and leave the laptop at home, and only bring the Surface tablet to Tech-Ed. And I got the bright idea (or so it seemed at the time) that I would need work email on it as well as my private mail.

And it had completely slipped my mind that I had tried this once before, and it didn’t work then either. So I enabled email, it required setting of some policies, oh well, let’s accept those (I thought I should know the impact), and sync away.

The first problem to come up was that the mailbox is quite large and the sync is horrendously slow, not at all like on iPhone or iPad, but painfully slow. And once sync’ed it is even more painfully slow to actually try to switch mailboxes, quite unusably slow. But I thought I could live with that for a week. Until I noticed that the enforced policies had also removed by numeric pincode login and replaced it with the original 25 character randomized Windows Live account password. Which won’t really do at all in real life.

So, mailsync quickly removed, and now for the exciting task of (once more) trying a systems restore without loosing too much things. This time around I will make sure to write it down, in the hope that the next time I get the bright idea to try to use email on the Surface I will read here first and refrain from it…

The long chain of linked accounts

So Tech-Ed Europe posted on Facebook about their new conference app. That seemed interesting and I of course had to try it out, and so downloaded the app for IOS (seems it is available on Surface as well, that would be one of the few I’ve found that I might use, but I won’t drag the Surface with me with only that one app, anyway enough about that…).

And login failed… ? And I had to read the manual… 🙂 And discovered that I needed an EventBoard account, which could be linked to my Channel9 account, which I believe I created just to be able to create the Tech-Ed schedule, and was linked to my MSDN account which was linked to my Windows Live account, which in turn is linked to my company account.

In theory all this works well, even though I now have 5 different accounts (or maybe MSDN is just a profile, so 4 then ?), with 4 (or 5 ?) different passwords, (and some people wonder why I think the absence of a working Metro-release of Password Safe is bothering me), and all of this just to be able to attend a conference, know the schedule for the sessions I plan to attend, and have those show up in the conference app. Not the smoothest way to go, but as the linking is quite seamless once in place it’s fair enough.

Except that it doesn’t work! Since the schedule only shows up in the PC webbrowser and does not show up in the app…

Surface reflections

I’ve had my new Surface RT for nearly two weeks now and despite my best wishes to make it work I am about to give it up, as currently the feeling I get when trying to use it takes me back some 20 years to the early start of using Windows NT 3.1. Sure we ran the most secure PC of that time at the time of its release, but as we couldn’t run much more than Notepad there was little point to it, and the same goes here as OneNote, one of the few working apps, is really nice, but from functionality perspective I would compare it with a notebook app.

I won’t go as far as some friends (also testing Surface) suggested, as to donate it as a discus in the next Olympics, as for the time being it seems to serve well enough for children’s games, and I could sneak it in as a new toy for my daughters and re-conquer my two Windows 7 desktops…

There are several shortcomings as I see it but the overall greatest lack so far with the Surface is its lack of simplicity, user friendliness and total lack of apps.

It’s not going to compete with the iPad as long as it has no apps, and it will remain less than a normal PC since it can’t run standard x86/x64 applications either.

That sort of leaves it running OneNote, which is great but can quickly be replaced with other apps like Evernote (which incidentally takes less hassle to configure), running a few games, read some email and browse the web. All of these can be done on PC, iPhones and iPads as well, so there’s not really anything new.

The downside is the fight to get even the basic browsing to run.

– I have some 2600 favorites or bookmarks, of course not all are relevant, but I like to keep them for if (when) needed and have quite a big structure of groups to sort them into categories and use XMarks to sync them between PCs and between IE, Firefox and Chrome. (Sadly not Safari, but as most relevant sites comes as apps on iPad it’s no big problem anyway.) But Surface has neither favorites sync nor apps.

– I have about 170 websites using credentials, a few use tokens but most use user/password only. For a long time I used the same credentials everywhere but it became too high risk as it was a major task to change passwords everywhere if some site got compromised. So I use a password manager, in my case Password Safe, which works nicely on PC, iPad, iPhone and all other platforms I know except Surface. The lack of platform support makes it impossible to browse 95% of the sites as I don’t intend to manually type in 25 character long randomized passwords. And though I’ve found a competitor able to import Password Manager entries I’m not really keen in starting all over on all my devices simply for the sake of lacking password handling on the Surface.

So essentially it won’t do browsing either, beyond the most basic things like reading news and letting the kids browse the children’s channel on TV.

And it’s incredibly slow. Especially when browsing via Google Search, but IE is not directly lightning fast either. I assume I’m not supposed to browse the web via Google Search, but IE is so crippled it’s really of no use, it runs fullscreen and lacks all menues and favorites, and basically I prefer Google Search over Bing to get valid search results.

Then there’s also the general unfriendliness in getting stuff to work, like the Store, which for me at most shows 50 applications, total. And either there’s a serious lack of apps in the store, or it’s broken.

I suspect the latter, since searching for apps will turn up links pointing to the store which allows the apps to be installed while searching for the app inside the Store itself simply returns “no match” at in principle all searches.

At first I thought I had missed something and resorted to searching via IE and “Bing”, but again no matches whatsoever. But finally I found out that only searches via Google Search will return working apps from the MS Store. Microsofts own search engine does not. (Bing incidentally seems broken in other aspects too, as the Bingweather happily reports it to be raining while iPad weather and in fact a look out the window will tell you the sun is shining and not a cloud in the sky).

So, after two weeks of frustrated searches, I’ve come up with Dropbox, Citrix, a feeble early-bird of XMarks clone and a competitor password manager (MetroPass for KeePass).
It’s quite a way yet to compete with the AppStore which basically attacks you with (more or less but frankly rather good) recommendations of new apps, and where searches mostly return what you’re looking for, and usually with some additional related suggestions as well. (MS Store on the other hand most often shows only apps like the “1000 Sexy Girls in HD” whenever browsing categories, and no apparent way of permanently blocking them either…)

So, right now it seems the Surface either goes onto the shelf a few months until the app portfolio is larger, my concern is whether the apps will be enough in time for them to make any difference before the hardware on the Surface is outdated? Which is why I’m simply considering swapping it to the kids to play with for a while.

That just needs another round in locking it down, especially the Store, as they’re 6 and 3 and I don’t want them purchasing random stuff on their own just yet, for a few years…

Sad really, but I’m no longer finding the constant challenge of getting basic OS to work as fun as it used to be, nowadays I prefer actually having some time to even use the devices rather than just installing them. For now it’s back to laptop and iPad. I’ll check again closer to Tech-Ed if at that time it might be worth bringing along for the testing of it.

Tech-Ed Europe 2013

I am booked for Tech-Ed Europe 2013.

It’s being held in Madrid this year which will be interesting as I’ve never been there before, all my earlier Tech-Ed visits have been to Barcelona, though the latter is a really nice place and I will miss not going there.

It’s also nice considering I had going there in my development plans for the last two years but it was postponed due to too much project activities and lack of time.

Architecturally it’s also very well timed as we’ve just finished our biggest project in many years and I’m free to look for both technologies to fill gaps, ease user pains and increase user friendliness and also look at both Office365 and cloud technologies such as Azure which are “hot topics” right now in the organisation.