Making the Business Case to Attend MIX 2008

Last December, I was invited to Microsoft to get a preview of what Microsoft was working on and would showcase more so at MIX 2008. They are definitely doing cool work, and I’m sure will have a lot of great things to showcase.

Now that I’m W2, I have to give my CTO a list of conferences I’d like to speak at this year. I negotiated 1 per year as part of my hiring agreement. Since I don’t see the need to be uber-engaged in selling myself when I’m 100% focused on my at work endeavors, that seemed fine as opposed to the regular 2 or 3 per year. I figure I can possibly finagle 1 more in if I play my cards right. The worse he can say is no. 360Flex doesn’t count because it’s in my backyard… well, sort of. Closer than Italy.

If I attended MIX, it’d be the first conference I’ve attended where I didn’t actually speak. I learn a ton at conferences in between the sessions; I don’t actually like attending sessions as much as I like engaging people outside the sessions. Either way, both are great places to learn. However, speaking at a conference allows you to be perceived as an expert at a subject matter, even if you really aren’t (same as writing a book). Further, it builds credence to your personal brand and thus makes you a more desirable candidate for hire. You get to learn, you build brand awareness about yourself, and you get to practice being a better public speaker. Therefore, it’s pretty easy to justify the money for travel & accomodations since if you speak, you don’t pay for conference admission tickets.

Not speaking at MIX 2008 isn’t such a bad thing; I’m a n00b in the Microsoft world. I’m a Silverlight n00b as well. Therefore, going to a conference out of my comfort zone, yet still relevant immensely to my industry, still seems like a good thing.

From a business perspective, there are a lot of reasons. First, I work for an online video company. We make money in allowing customers to have video on their websites and used in their software. They can deliver 24/7 networks, on demand video, syndication, and live broadcasts. Silverlight’s trump card, which its using to pole vault quickly into relevancy, is its cross platform angle at delivering windows video. This is important for a number reasons. My company has a significant amount of investment in Windows Media forming an end to end solution for live, 24/7, and on demand video with support for remote locations.

The technology that supports this based on what I’ve seen is way more mature on the back-end with regards to transcoding than Flash video. No one uses Spark anymore. On2’s price and back-end encoding solution examples are a joke and thankfully will hopefully get annihilated pretty soon by the tidal wave that is H.264, aka MPEG-4 Part 10… assuming licensing doesn’t spook people away. Thankfully, I have the luxury of bitching about those back-end solutions, but not actually having to code nor maintain them.

After seeing a 2 meg bitrate H.264 video stream from a secret FMS3 enabled-Akamai server today with no hiccups, I’m chomping at the bit. And so are our customers. Yes, they want to pay the extra bandwidth fee’s that are associated with the higher bandwidth consumption of H.264. Why? ‘Cause it’s the hotness! Curious if they’ll do so for VC-1?

To be fair, we debated getting 15 of us to all do it at once to see if we could clog our 30 meg pipe.

All you Net Neutrality people need to give up. H.264 content, and thus its immense file size, is yet another reason why telecoms and cable networks need to charge by bandwidth to make any money off of their, currently, dumb pipes. While I’m a major fan of flat fee’s as a consumer, I have a feeling that as businesses pay companies like mine to deploy H.264 content, millions of consumers will consume it. That is also consuming a TON more bandwidth when you look at it in scale. Mark my words, Texas is only the beginning.

As more and more customers ask for Flash video, both open source and commercial institutions are releasing a lot of better support for getting Flash transcoding solutions into a back-end work flow. That’s great, but there’s still a lot of great code deployed on Windows Media, today. The front end is the only problem. Silverlight hopes to remedy that with not just a solution to the suck that is using Windows Media on the web, but also a multimedia client technology to build atop of.

Some customers will ask for both as the marketing machine continues to crush all in it’s path. Therefore, Silverlight and Flash cannot be viewed as solutions unto themselves, but merely a solution for a particular customer’s need. Aka, you need to support both. This isn’t to return to the horrid HTML window pop-ups of the past where you chose what plugin to use. Rather, it’s to take advantage of already coded and working back-end services, additional codec options, and the fact that Silverlight is a rich internet platform just like the Flash Player is.

That last part is the main key here. We are using Flex and Flash at work for both PHP and .NET and so are a variety of other companies. However, I have a feeling a lot of companies that are either using .NET exclusively, or are associated with firms that use .NET for specific services will want a Silverlight solution from us when given the choice between Flash or Silverlight. You can either say no, and not take their money… or you can say yes, give them Silverlight, and take their money. What’s the cost?

That is a rehetorical question as I don’t know… building Flash video players that scale for millions of customers is hard. Maintaining that code, sequestering custom development for those customers who front bling in organized code repositories, and balancing legacy features with additional latest greatest is REALLY hard.

As I read the above 3 paragraphs I just wrote, it really has less to do with learning Silverlight for it’s own sake (features that Flash Player doesn’t have, some features done differently, and different way of doing things to expand my personal horizons), but rather to ensure that when customers (while I’m W2) and clients (if I ever go back to 1099) ask for Silverlight solutions, I can give an informed answer.

Do I want to be capable of responding? To be honest, no. I love doing Flash & Flex, and using Blend and Visual Studio is not yet as fun. If it’s fun, I’ll use it; if it’s not, I won’t. That joy in using products is what drives me to create quality software for my clients and customers, even when I’m exhausted. I think I see the potential, however. More importantly, I believe. A lot of people during the Flex 1 and 1.5 days said Flex was destined to fail because of it’s draconian business unit (except for Lucian Beebe, he is the f”ing man!), its insane price tag, and with a compiler that was on the server instead of the client.

Yet Flex is now an insanely successful product. Regardless of what the Adobe financial reports say, businesses are dying for good Flex talent. I knew it wouldn’t for 2 reasons. The first reason, and the most subjective and thus invalid, was my “aha” moment when using Flex 1 for the first time. I used 1 binding and built a form. What was special at how damn quickly I did it, and how flexible the component layout engine was. I knew I was using something special… even if it cost me $17 bucks for 2 demo CD’s since you couldn’t download a demo of Flex back in the day. I made that $17 back in consulting, so it’s all good.

The second was in meeting those in charge of Flex and deluging them with questions, accusations, and frustrations. They had a good grasp on the industry, fearful perception (I’d argue un-resolved frustration) around the Flash communities vitrol laced reactions, but most importantly a consistent drive across the team to take Flex to the next level. You could see this in the early days of the Flex team and their participation in Flexcoders. They’d not only answer questions in the community, but ask them back. They’d do what other companies sometimes consider a faux pau, and use their customers as sounding boards.

I saw that same thing at Microsoft, both while I was there, and outside the walls. That determined attitude, drive, and already deployed marketing budget means Microsoft means business. Granted, there are a lot of different facets, multiple hands in the jar, and way more challenges. Regardless, this isn’t Liquid Motion.

Us Flash Developers know that the only reason we were successful was because our plugin “just worked”. Those 2 words (in present tense) became a catch phrase used to sell Java developers on what Flash Player was a great runtime to develop for vs. JRE. If Silverlight gets there, and actually works well enough on both Mac and PC across browsers, we’ll see more and more agencies doing Silverlight work. We’ll start to hear about more and more Silverlight projects done behind the firewall (that’s where Flex started remember) and undoubtebly the obligetory Techcrunch series of posts about startups using Silverlight in some shape or fashion for the crux of their business. Even if it isn’t the crux, bloggers in the .NET sphere will be sure to tout it up as being so.

In conclusion, I want to go to challenge my assumptions. I hate Las Vegas with a passion (if I were single and 22… sure, why not, but I’m not now, so…). I want to see if the majority .NET shops really do conform to my stereotype of “using Silverlight because it was made for our back-end even though Flash or Flex would work just fine right now”. I want to also see if they conform to my stereotype of the same way Enterprise Java devs view design; as not playing an integral role in the development of applications, being only useful to make initial sales via eye candy. That same attitude results in hiring hybrids or “Silverlight Developers with design experience” to augment teams when confronted with customers who are used to working with agencies and are wondering why this software development shop doesn’t give a flip about the accuracy of their design comps. I want to see if the general consensus and excitement is really towards WPF, and not Silverlight… or if the .NET guys are really just biding their time to jump on board the RIA band wagon. I want to see those Designers who are actually getting paid to not just do WPF design, but Silverlight specific design work and actually using Design and Blend.

Additionally, I want to see Microsoft’s reaction to these things. Does it affect their attitude? Do they give off the appearence they’ll change direction or merely confirming they are on course?

Reading the blogs outside the Flex / Flash / Java / ColdFusion bubble, a lot of the .NET bloggers seem to be a lot like us. Completely in love with their technology, and willing to push it into areas other things may be better at, yet their love and drive make it work. I see a lot of similiarities and I’m curious how this story begins. Knowing so helps me contribute effectively to the business I now work for.

Besides, there is everything right with getting out of your comfort zone, meeting new people, and learning.

7 Replies to “Making the Business Case to Attend MIX 2008”

  1. Hi Jesse,

    We missed you at

    Glad to hear that you are presenting again at 360Flex.

    Given that you have negotiated 1 conference per year would you consider giving MAX priority over MIX?

    Yeah, I see you wrote “I figure I can possibly finagle 1 more in if I play my cards right.” But if there is a risk of “The worse he can say is no.” it would be nice if MAX were the sure thing and MIX were your maybe yes, maybe no conference.

    MAX 2008 should have some great new material for you to get excited about: Thermo, Bordeaux, talk of Flex 4 and CS4.

    Regardless, MIX is a great place to keep up with your friends at Adobe. It seems that a core of the Adobe product managers, developers and evangelists keep MIX on their schedule, giving familiar faces for “engaging people outside the sessions”.

    btw, if you have to come to Vegas … now that you are in the video on the web business, NAB is a richer source for what is hot in the world of video technologies and solutions.

    Wish you could make them all.


  2. I think you may have missed the point us in favor of Net Neutrality are trying to make. It’s not an issue of paying for bandwidth. Everybody expects that you should pay for the bandwidth you use. The issue is weather bits are considered bits, or if bits coming from skype, for instance, cost more than bits from your blog. Oh and by the way, the reason for those bits costing more is because AT&T would like to sell you there phone / data service for one low, low price.

    If there isn’t enough bandwidth on the net to support all of this video, start charging more, and stop selling me ‘unlimited’ access when there is clearly no such thing.


  3. Bandwidth is only the beginning. Prioritization is next. I totally understand that a lot of pro-NN’s would prefer that all bits be considered equal, and no favor / dis-favor be given to them. I disagree. If I were runninig a business, and 1 persons Peer to Peer activities negatively affected the experience of other users, that 1 person should be charged for the affect of their bits. Whether this is 1 or 1000, it doesn’t matter.

    The same holds true for bandwidth consumption. As the rise in bandwidth consuming services rise, so too will their marketing departments be quick to capitalize on “less-capped” offerings, although, phrased in such a way that you are getting more, when in reality you’re merely paying for a slightly less handicapped service you’ve already been using.

    Even worse, I suspect they’ll start touting packet prioritization; aka, “If you use Time Warner’s version of Skype, it’ll operate at 2 meg capacity while the rest of your internet traffic acts as normal DSL and is charged thusly so.”

    I worked on front-end technologies for the above years ago. It’s just that I see bandwidth as the first step and packet stereotyping (whether done right or wrong) coming afterwards.

  4. Jesse, i loved the quote on enjoying using the tools. When i talk to other more traditional developers they look at me cross-eyed when i talk about the actual process of interacting with my software being important. I figured it was just that I had an art background rather than a computer science degree. “Focus on the process and the result will follow” doesn’t always fly with project managers! I played with blend and it’s nice but i don’t look at it and say-i’ll stay up all night to work with it. But i do think MS will improve the experience over the next few releases. anyway-good post.

  5. I like the point you make about not turning business away with Silverlight. I was originally a MSFT developer, but came over to Flex/AIR just over a year ago. For me it was really a case of right tool for the job. That and I was tired of waiting on something from MSFT for cross-platform development. That and a buddy told me that AS3 wasn’t the bastardized kiddie language of yesteryear.
    However, I think Silverlight 2.0 is going to be huge. There’s a plenty of CTOs at .NET shops that keep asking me about it. They want to improve their web apps, make them more interactive, make the UX more 2008ish, but they’re not willing to train a couple of developers. (Even though, I’m of the opinion that a skilled OO dev, whether C# or Java, will pick up Actionscript 3 in the matter of minutes, and be very productive in a month with the Framework.)
    I also agree with your assessment on the media companies supporting it. It’s not going to take long before a company approaches an agency like Digitas and say, I want this in Silverlight because of x-reason, like we have developers that might be able to maintain it. No company in their right mind is going to turn down a big project. Then the client partner will go to the dev team and they’ll be forced to ramp up on the tools — not because MSFT is pushing them, but because MSFT’s customers are pushing thier outsourced vendors. So, all you Flash/Flex devs who think you’ll be able to ignore Silverlight, you’re sadly mistaken. I don’t know too much about MSFTs tools to interact with standard Designer’s toolsets like Illustrator (other than Expression Blend, which I can’t imagine a Designer using), but I imagine that if MSFT’s tools don’t support it well, that there’s going to be a third-party that does, so the workflow from designer to developer will eventually be as good as the Adobe world.
    A note to you current Flex/Flash people, even if you don’t like MSFT ideology, you really need to educate yourself fundamentally in Silverlight. How are you going to talk to clients when they start peppering you with questions comparing their two options for development?
    I think the skills for making good rich internet apps are what’s more important, not s much the technology to implement. It’s still going to take clever design, tasteful animations, UX expertise to pull off good and unique Silverlight apps — something I’m not sure regular old-school .NET devs will solely have the experience for.
    At some point down the line, probably 6 months after Silverlight 2.0 is released, it’ll be difficult for an end user to know what’s Flash, what’s Silverlight. It just is. RIA will be another comedety technology like RDMS.
    OH, and one more biggie, especially with my experiences thus far with third-party components: I’m guaranteeing that the MSFT community (even if you must pay) will have so many third-party controls that it’ll make your head sping. This has been the history with third-party components for MSFT, starting back in the days of VBX (precursor to OSX controls in VB), through COM/OSX days, and into the .NET world. People make controls that do almost anything and are widely available. (Not to say that there’s not many decent Flex controls, they’re jot not as feature rich as say a it from Component One.)
    Oh, one more thing, I think the Jobs available working on the Adobe platform are a lot more interesting. It’s been a good side-effect for me. I just loathed going to one more insurance/financial company to crank out code…but now getting to work with media, at usually smaller, hipper places has been great.
    Now, if MSFT could make WPF run on OSX, that would be interesting.
    I think one thing that both sides (whether you’re Flex or Silverlight) should remember is that it’s not about the tools you use, it’s about the apps you make for your customers.

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