Fixing WinHEC

As anyone who has been to WinHEC over the years knows, its content swings between being a heavy technical conference and being a marketing conference.   This year’s WinHEC is scheduled for November 4-7, 2008, again in Los Angeles, California.  I do not expect much from this venue, since neither of the two WinHEC’s previously in LA had a strong technical presence.   Going to LA requires putting engineers on airplanes and into hotel rooms and not just for a few hours in a Seattle conference center.    


So what makes a great techie WinHEC?  


1.      Lots of technical presentations – Some of the best conferences limited the keynotes to two.  Good WinHEC’s offer repeats of talks and go until late the last day to allow people to get as much as possible.  


2.      Ask the Experts – Starting in 2001, Microsoft added Ask the Experts, where presenters were available after their talks to take questions.  Sometimes this was in a separate room, sometimes this was over lunch.  Personally, I like a separate room for an hour or so at each lunch break. 


3.      Birds of a Feather – For a number of years, there were Birds of a Feather (BOF) sessions where, for example, driver developers could comment on any topic to the WDK team.  Sometimes there was a direction provided by Microsoft; much of the feedback for WDF came in BOF’s, but mostly BOF’s were wide open.  


4.      Developer Lounge – Unfortunately, this only happened one year in Seattle.  This was a quiet location near the trade show entrance where you could find many Microsoft developers hanging out.  It was a great place to drop by and ask a question, and had the advantage of allowing people to make the conversation fairly private when needed (versus the wide open Ask the Experts).  


 Last year’s WinHEC did not do a good job: it had five keynotes, and shut down early giving techies only 12 hours of presentations, versus as many as 21 some years.  There were no Ask the Experts, or BOF’s, or a developer lounge.   Unfortunately, there is no sign this will change in 2008.  Much of the problem is that it seems that Microsoft figures that WinHEC’s don’t need to be techie when they do not have a lot of new technology to present.  


It is time for the techies to take back WinHEC.  After all, it is supposed to be an engineering conference.  It should be easy to add back the Ask the Experts, BOF’s and a developer lounge.  On the technical side, there is nothing wrong with their presenting new things, but I believe most of the community would also be interested in some deep drill-downs on existing technologies.  As a bonus, being able to give input for improvement on existing technologies could improve the quality of drivers for all of us.   


For deep drill-downs, may I suggest we have multi-hour looks at subsystems like the memory manager and the I/O manager?  How about having feedback discussions for some of the technologies that do not thrill developers, for instance DTM, WPP/ETW and the lack of support for things that cause some dev’s to hook?    


Come on Microsoft, last year’s WinHEC was poorly attended and technically boring.  The above suggestions on information to present touches on just a few items, and I am sure the developer community can add many more.  There are plenty of topics that would excite developers and make the conference the event the place to be.  But, without a change in direction, I think most of us in the driver community will stay away from “Los Angeles, the land of fruits, nuts and lousy conferences”


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