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Monday, October 08, 2007
News from the ALT.NET Conference

Ellenor Roosevelt said that, "Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people." In the developer world, it might be said that Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss development environments. Small minds discuss whether VB.NET is better than C#.

This past weekend I was privileged to attend the ALT.NET conference in Austin. It was not a large conference (only 120 attendees), it was not a Microsoft conference (though Microsoft attended) and perhaps most surprisingly from a conference named “alt” dot net where there were quite a few Mac notebooks and open-source software floating around, it was not an anti-Microsoft conference. Those who did attend were an amazing bunch, mainly people in the bow wave of development who are already so used to practices and tools and ideas that the mainstream development world hasn’t even started using yet that it was old-hat to them. Attendees proposed and moderated their own sessions. Discussions were passionate, intelligent and thoughtful.

At the opening meeting anyone with an idea they wanted to discuss was invited to write it on a sticky and put it on the board, then we all initialed the topics we were interested in. This is how the agenda was created. One of the stickys came from Scott Guthrie who wanted to talk about the yet to be unveiled MVC Framework. That particular sticky turned out to the most heavily initialed of the weekend and the session was one of the highlights of the conference. As the people I work with know, I avoid ASP.NET projects whenever I can. I think the model is crap. The MVC Framework (named for the model-view-controller pattern) changes all that for me. URLs no longer have to map to pages- instead “routes“ are used to match requests to objects that handle requests. Postbacks and all of the spaghetti code that goes with them are gone. ViewState has given way to what appears to be programming practices from this century. It allows, for the first time truly testable .Net web apps. It works with ATLAS. The whole thing is pluggable, so you can substitute your own mode, view and controllers if you want or just inherit from the defaults – or just use the defaults, they’re actually very reasonable.  The base classes aren’t all sealed and locked away. Anyone who’d used Rails recognized what they were looking at and they were impressed. If you do web apps, you have to see this stuff! They absolutely heard the community and got it right. There isn't even a link at Microsoft yet, but Jeffrey Palermo hits the highlights.

Let me describe just one session. Imagine walking into a session about Ruby on Rails. Because it has become so popular in the web app world that it’s not just a novelty and because so much of the group is using it and because you want to see what all the fuss is about, you walk in. Ruby does today what the MVC Framework will do later. The discussion starts with a couple of questions from the guy a few seats down. It’s a subject he clearly knows pretty well and he asks about things that were wondering about too. Pretty soon, someone asks for a walk-through of a rails app and the moderator sits down at his Mac and jumps right in. This is one of the few presentations all weekend. The moderator builds the equivalent of a VS Solution in a couple of minutes and then says, “OK, what are our tests”? The people in the room are so used to test first development that it’s natural – (of course this is the first step) even in a 10 minute demo! Did I mention that the guy a couple of seats down who got the ball rolling was Scott Hanselman who now works at Microsoft? This doesn’t feel AT ALL like a run-of-the-mill conference.

On Sunday when we were wrapping up, I recalled how more people carried paper notebooks than notebook computers. Granted, it was on a weekend, but between sessions, there was no overwhelming rush to check e-mail and make phone calls. I hadn’t seen a single PowerPoint slide. I shot the breeze with Martin Fowler and discussed why Exchange and Notes both handle time zones for calendar appointments poorly and wished someone would fix THAT. I took an aspirin to hold back the headache from only getting 4 hours sleep. Austin was a lot of fun. Sign me up for next year.


Posted @ 1:32 PM by Yeager, Mike E. (myeager@eps-software.com)


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