TechEd 2006 - Day 3 - Zappa does Zappa and change is good

I didn’t get a chance to blog yesterday as it was a full day for me but here’s the recap as there were many things going on all over the place and the entire day is a bit of a blur (much like this blog entry is looking right now after 3 hours of sleep).

I was manning the Technical Learning Center (TLC) in the Offiice area. I’ll be here all week at various times so drop by and chat. It was great talking to everyone as there were so much diversity and different problems. It’s always interesting to talk to people about real world scenarios and see what people are doing (or wanting to do) with SharePoint. This helps me direct content to you that is most appropriate and valuable to you so please keep it coming (if you’re not here at TechEd or can’t catch up with me there’s always email). TechEd is such a great show and one of the biggest benefits (IMHO) is not the sessions, it’s not the keynotes, it’s not even the schwag (did I even say that?) but it’s the personal networking. I speak to more people in the Technical Learning Center than I ever have and either helped solved peoples problems, hooked up with new people and got them hooked on the SharePoint drug, or strengthened old contacts.

I had a great opportunity of meeting with Jim Newkirk for lunch and we spent a good hour or two talking about NUnit, Agile development, Team Rooms, Agile at Microsoft, and of course CodePlex. Jim had a session this morning on patterns which filled three rooms (and was packed). It was a great overview of patterns but just scratches the surface, but I prefer to see this kind of content come out of Microsoft . Don’t get me wrong, the other stuff that’s product based is great too (and much needed) but seeing Agile and Pattern sessions (even if they are high level) is a good thing. If you get a chance to drop by the Patterns and Practices guys, please do. They do good work.

Jim is full time on CodePlex and it’s growing like gangbusters, even if it hasn’t been fully released for primetime yet by Microsoft (but they’re getting there). There are some great things happening with CodePlex so time will tell as the story unfolds and we see more good stuff from the team. It was however, a discussion with Jim that led to meeting Korby Parnell, one of the key guys behind CodePlex. In discussions with Korby, Lawrence Liu, Chad Hower, and others there are some adjustments I’m making in the SharePoint Forums project.

Korby and CodePlex

First off, I’m moving to a scheduled monthly iteration. I’m still a one-man team (but don’t intend to keep it that way) but want to follow a regular schedule. Monthly iterations sounds good from a management perspective and they’ll be enough time to work on each release and get features baked in that are value-added.

The first of the new features that arose out of discussions Tuesday is anonymous support. Currently all users have to be a member of a SharePoint site which is great for intranets, but if you want to host SharePoint Forums on an internet facing site, it just doesn’t works (to be honest, I don’t know what it will do yet so I have to see but I’m pretty sure it won’t work). In any case, I’m going to do some specific things around anonymous support. If a user hits the site and is anonymous, then they can get read access (configurable as to what access they have). Once they want to post they’ll need to be signed in so if they’re not, they’ll be whisked away to a new login/register page. Again, it’s up to you how much access they get on sign up so they can post or you can set it so they have to be approved first before their word can be heard. This will all be configurable per forum so you can have some forums open, some slightly locked down, and others completely verbotten to internet users. Also extranet users will look just like internet ones as far as the forums go, just behind the scenes we’ll store more info because right now users information (display name, email, etc.) is all coming from SharePoint. The forums only store the SharePoint ID for a lookup so this will change. Again, the forums are polymorphic in design so once a new version goes out, the lists will automatically be upgraded and transformed. There’s no data migration you’ll have to do. I think this is the best of both worlds.

The next thing is the introduction of an question/answer system. Currently with a message you can reply (or quote) and the message just shows up in the thread. For each forum, you’ll be able to flip a flag that turns it into a question/answer forum. This means that an additional link will appear next to the reply button called “Answer”. An answer is a reply, but just has different characteristics. As the thread owner, you’ll be able to look through the answers and click on a new button called “Accept” (which will be next to “Edit”). This will allow you to accept an answer as correct and give us a bit of ranking/rating system (for example you can get a list of threads with questions that are “unanswered”). Think of a system like Experts Exchange and you’ll get the idea.

I’ll be putting these in as work items on the CodePlex site and adding a few new releases to the release schedule for the next few months. There are additional features planned and actively being worked on so check out the release roadmap for more information. Speaking of the forums, I spent an exhausting 15 minutes yesterday porting the Web Part over to 2007 and have it running in my VM. If you’re in the TLC, drop by and take a look. There are some bugs due to deprecated features I’m using so I have to switch some controls over to their ASP.NET 2.0 counterparts, but it looks pretty good. Expect a 2007 version in the August drop.

Last night I was the recipient of the “Win a Date with Fitz” contest. Okay, there wasn’t a contest but it sounded good. Fitz and I headed out to see Dweezil Zappa and his band doing his Frank’s music in a show called “Zappa does Zappa”. Let me say that while I’m not a huge Zappa fan, I’m all for good music and yeah, this was good. Wait. Correct that. It was fantastic. Even better. It kicked any tech gadget I’ve seen so far (even the Sony Vaio and that’s saying a lot coming from me).

There are two truths to the world that I’ve come to learn. In every city, anywhere I go, there are two things that stand out. In Boston last night I discovered both of them. First, cabbies generally do not know where anything is. We hopped into the cab and told him we were going to the Orpheum. Blank stare. Okay, maybe he’s heard of it but not sure what we’re referring to (or something like it). A few more minutes of prodding and coaxing and he still didn’t get it. We told him the area it was in because hey, we’re strangers in a strange land and if we knew where it was we would be driving. Still nothing. Finally Fitz slogged out the Crackberry and looked it up (I’m sure he was using Google but I didn’t want to intrude). He called out the address. Still nothing.

Some neuron must have fired in the cabbies head as he just started driving and well, we eventually got there. I don’t know how but the cab came to a stop and apparently it was nearby (although we still couldn’t see it). No biggie. We hopped out and figured if we can’t find it, we’ll ask (men are not afraid to ask for directions to a concert, we just won’t do it in a car at a gas station). Luckily it was down at the end of alley so we’re good to go.

Oh yeah, the other truth. Bostonians wait until the last possible moment and *then* walk out in front of you. I watched two different occasions last night on the way to the Orpheum where someone would walk to the curb, wait, then when the light was red and cars were coming they decided to walk out. I’ve seen this happen other days as well so it must be true, as I now have 2 or 3 data points. Maybe it’s a Boston thing?

Anyways, we needed to grab some food before the concert and that’s when the fun began (actually it began when Fitz was googling the location but the real fun was just around the corner).

On the way to the substinance we happened along the alley where some bicycle cops have subdued someone and had them face planted on the sidewalk. Boston’s finest had just pulled up and was going to escort our friend to a nightly stay with them. There was opportunity for us to add insult to injury and perhaps accidently swipe the poor fellows head with Fitz’s boot, but we’re geeks and the passive type. Too bad I didn’t have the camera with me.

So yes, the music. Oh the music. It was loud, and great, and never ended. Steve Vai showed up and joined in the fun with a guitar solo the likes I’ve never seen before. 2 hours into the set it wound down as things finished up, but then it was the encore. Which lasted an entire hour. The encore was a series of solos, the sax player belting out someting that Lisa Simpson would be proud of, and duets between Dweezil and Steve finished up by a killer drum solo.


So that was yesterday, this is today and I’m back in the TLC with some sessions today, lots of talking, and more parties. The fun never stops in Boston.

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