LOS ANGELES — Microsoft’s Professional Developer Conference is serious business.
More than 7,000 programmers were here from around the world this week to learn about some of the company’s most important releases in years, including new versions of the Windows operating system and Office suite.
Establishing enthusiasm for these programs now will be a key to the software giant’s prospects. But that doesn’t mean the show was humorless.
Chairman Bill Gates, some of his vice presidents and some attendees took the opportunity to lighten the mood by poking fun at themselves and the company at this year’s PDC. Here’s a sampling:
What’s Next? Locusts?
In his opening keynote address, Bill Gates noted that the PDC shows have run smoothly in Los Angeles despite a number of potential distractions.
At a previous event, forest fires were ringing the city. And this year, a massive power outage caused utility workers’ to cut power to half the city a day before the event’s official kickoff.
Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect said he’s often used electrical networks as an example of the reliability he hoped to infuse into his company’s software. In fact some of the demonstrations of the new Vista and Office applications included examples using data from utilities companies.
“What I meant was that we should be more like them, not them like us,” Gates quipped.
Microsoft Programmers Feel Your Pain
When software crashes at the worst possible time, that little “send error report” button doesn’t adequately express users’ frustrations.
Microsoft knows this, and had some fun with it on Thursday. Before the morning keynote, the company showed a documentary-style spoof detailing a fictitious initiative “encouraging” developers to be more vigilant.
The video shows a Microsoft manager tracing buggy code back to a developer. When the manager presses a button, the code-writer gets a jolt of electricity through his chair.
Other specially designed chairs violently lurch back and forth causing programmers to be slammed into their computers and throw hot coffee into the air.
Repeat offenders are in even more danger; their chairs are fitted with retractable blades in the seat cushion or an ejection mechanism similar to those in fighter jets.
The video closes with footage of an employee being launched through the ceiling, out of the building and into a pond in the corporate office park — much to the delight of the audience packed into the hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center.
And it wasn’t just Microsoft execs who had all the good lines.
In general, developers at PDC seemed impressed by what they saw in Microsoft’s product pipeline. On more than one occasion, they interrupted demos with applause.
However, one attendee couldn’t resist taking a swipe at Microsoft’s reputation for putting its software into market quickly even if it isn’t perfect.
It happened as Chris Capossela, vice president of worker information products, was demonstrating the enhanced version of PowerPoint in Office 12.
Capossela attempted to highlight a text bullet point to create a graphic effect. When the change failed to take immediately, the audience member chimed in.
“Ship it!” he yelled.