Did Microsoft Decode the Future in 2016? Not really
Billed as an event where the future direction of Microsoft (and its partner network) would head in the next 3-5 years I thought it worth heading to London for the ‘Technical’ Day. It was a 2 day event but day 1 on Tue 1st November 2016 was billed as ‘Business Day’, so of course I booked in for the geek chic on the 2nd Nov.
It was a well organised event at the Excel centre, smooth check-in & badge print out and well staffed. A little crowded outside the single escalator everyone was trying to use straight after lunch to get up to Levels 1 through to 3, which is where the breakout session were held in various meeting/seminar rooms. You are suposed to use the ‘Future Encoded’ app to set a schedule and browse the timetable/sessions – the app was pretty rubbish, it kept showing me day 1 (no way to change it) and didn’t work properly until day 2 actually arrived. Without the app you are stuck – no printed copies just dashboard screens outside each meeting/seminar room with the schedule for the remainder of that day for that room only.
You had the chance to explore the Expo area on Level 0 prior to the main AM keynote session. As well as the Bloodhound SSC they had a DeLorean, a RR engine and a HoloLens ‘VR’ area. It was lablled VR, silly really when MS themselves do not consider it Virtual but Mixed Reality – MR.
The main stage was occupied by Andrew Spooner from MS as the host, the hall was 2 thirds full (in contrast at closing keynote it was less than half). We had Joseph Sirosh (MS VP, via Amazon in 2013) talk about data, AI/Machine Learning – not all that great. Next Katja Hoffman talked about Project Malmo, an AI project and the progress her team has made. For me Chris Messina was the standout, his stuff on bots was interesting and has inspired me to look further especially into the social aspects of combining a chat interface (Messenger, WhatsApp) with service/retail opportunities.
Abe Davis (PhD researcher) claimed the work his group were doing – extracting sound/music via just silent video (using the movement of plants/objects in reaction to sound) – was for nice, rosy beneficial purposes. For me it was purely surveillance, surveillance, surveillance. To be able to (eventually) video someone from 100m away, then use the slow-motion capture video of vibrations to their coffee cup to extract local speech was very impressive, but i see no real commercial application except spying!
I will say if the onscreen subtitles are in fact real time and using MS tech then that was impressive, some forgivable errors but generally very responsive and in tandem with speakers!
Lunch – I had prepared and had some with me. The queues were too long, we only had 45 minutes. Plenty of eating places however and much quieter later on.
I decided to hedge my bets as I could only choose 1 of 20-25 sessions in each time slot. First I went to the ‘IDENTITY DRIVEN SECURITY & CYBER CRIME PROTECTION” (Dan Noakes, Zane Freame) expectig something useful. Instead I was hit by a (rather poor) sales pitch for MS’s Enterprise Mobility & Security (EMS) offering now based in the Cloud (the Azure one!). The big demo was where an end user with a ubqiquitious device (e.g. iPad) was accessing Office365 email to read a sensitive corporate message, the take away was supposed to be ‘protection’ of said email by Ctrl+V, then Ctrl+P into say Twitter, or Facebook. So they tried to paste a sentence from the email into twitter and it would not allow a paste. Awesome! NOT. I immediately thought of 3 ways my own non-IT literate wife would use to bypass that, which in order of difficulty are
- Re-type the entire sentence
- Screenshot the email and send as JPG
- Use your smartphone to snap your ‘iPad’ screen & simply share wherever you wish
Of course there are many more ways (print to PDF anyone?). I had now hopes pinned on my next session “FULL CLOUD MIGRATION & ACTIVE/ACTIVE HYBRID CLOUD” (Carl Holt). It was hosted by Kemp Technology who then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes telling my why I should buy their ‘load balancing’ solution over anyone elses (e.g. Brocade, F5). These are called Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs). I didn’t learn anything about Cloud Migration that was technical or really meaningful, it was a pure sales pitch and how we are faster, better and more efficient.
Then came the session hosted by one of the 3 highest tier sponsor partners ‘Risual’, titled ‘DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION, THE RISUAL WAY‘ (Brian Cain, John Pittaway). Now hoping to get some insight to see how they actually did transform someone from slow/robust IT to fast Digital IT I should have known I would be disappointed. No technical information provided, this session was perfect for Day 1 ‘ the Business day’ and talked more about business processes leading to digital rather than any deep technical information.
The closing keynote was 2 things – Hololens and 3D printing.
Roger Walkden talked about Hololens from the MS world view, real life applications on how processes, services, efficiencies could be realised. All commercial dev, asking the crowd to go and create content for Hololens.
Avi Reichental (external speaker) then had the bulk of the keynote and talked a lot about 3D printing, especially on improvement both in terms of complexity and scale. Also cost reduction too. There were some nice videos of very promising use cases (cheap fabricated housing, medical enhancements) but as usual the reality is that commercial drivers would be more important for driving innovation in 3D printing than social ones. I see this picked up more by the Defence/Aerospace industry than anyone else.
Overall closing keynotes were OK but longer than needed with a cry out for both for those still in attendance to ‘go out, innovate, do stuff and help us sells lots of this Hololens stuff’.
I didn’t stay for drinks/networking, there was really no point. I walked through the Expo and only spoke to people for those orgs that interested me in terms of my current role & future direction. The Lenovo iBook was a neat concept, but don’t see mass market appeal, MS only had 2 Hololens headsets so the queue times were silly, and there wasn’t much else. Overall, I won’t be attending a free event like this one again, I suppose my expectation was more TechEd than Sales 101, so for me best avoided in future and maybe consider a paid event in the future in the vein of VMworld.
It does however make me think what Fujitsu Forum (held in Munich and Tokyo) is like in comparison.