My Thoughts on MAX 2008

Dec 01, 2008

by Sean Corfield, Curmudgeon

Quite a few people were posting their MAX observations either in near real time or shortly after the fact. As Ray noted, after MAX was over, the ArgumentCollection team had a two day mini-conference at Broadchoice HQ to go over future plans – both short-term and long-term – taking advantage of everyone being in town. Consequently, I've only just now been able to catch my breath and really compose my thoughts about the Adobe conference.

I was out of town the weekend that MAX started (I was down in Arcadia at a cat show near all of those wildfires around Los Angeles), so I missed all the Sunday events including CF_Underground and the various speaker / user group / community expert networking events. Adrian Moreno has a good write-up of what I missed. Sounds like CF_Underground was great (and Liz and Nafisa were easily found in the Community Lounge area of MAX quite often as well as attending a number of sessions – good to see them there, doing research on conferences to help ensure CFUNITED 2009 will be better than ever).

My first impression of MAX therefore was arriving at Moscone West on Monday morning and being greeted by friendly, helpful staff directing me to registration and then the General Session. Unlike Chicago's convention center, the Moscone center was welcoming, well sign-posted and easy to navigate (and the staff were like night and day – Chicago's couldn't care, San Francisco's couldn't do enough for you).

So what of the opening keynote? Perhaps my expectations are getting higher each year but I was underwhelmed by the keynote. It was slick (as always) but it didn't really "grab" me and blow me away. Mind you, some insiders had said that the day two keynote would be where most of the big announcements would be made, which also affected my expectations. I will say that Adobe knows how to put on an impressive show but Maria Shriver, whilst a distinguished guest for California Trails, a very important (and visually engaging) project, seemed a little out of place at a designer/developer conference.

On to the sessions then. I make careful plans for MAX each year and I often publish my intended session schedule. Then things fall apart as I get side-tracked by hallway conversations or networking in the community lounge or, in this year's case, by the vibrant ColdFusion Unconference. I did, however, make my first planned session: "Adobe Roadmap: Enterprise" by Joel Heinke and Adobe evangelists Peter Ryce, Ali Hanyaloglu and Marcel Boucher. It turned out to be an overview of LiveCycle (a very impressive product suite but dull as dishwater to listen to), Acrobat Connect and, um, something else. It was not what I would have called a roadmap and only in the last few minutes did they talk about release plans and offer a roadmap for the product lines. I learned that Cocomo is currently planned for a 2010 Q1 release, which was probably the most useful piece of information in the session for me.

My next planned session was the Flex Architecture Face-Off but I got side-tracked and then bumped into some friends who had left that session very disappointed, saying it was very unstructured and not really much about architecture at all. A good miss then. I settled into the ColdFusion Unconference and time passed and I found myself missing the Cocomo session I had planned to attend at 3:30pm. Since I couldn't find a session I wanted to attend at 5pm, I stayed at the Unconference until the welcome reception at 6:30pm, grabbed a few beers and grazed the food stalls while chatting to a number of attendees. Then I headed up to the Birds of a Feather sessions.

I went to Adrian Moreno's session on "Bridging the ColdFusion Skills Gap", which was quite interesting. People seem to be having trouble finding and recruiting good developers whilst many sole developers are having trouble finding ways to grow their skills to become the good developers for which jobs seem plentiful. It emphasized the huge gap between the "9 to 5" CFers and the small number that we see in the community. There wasn't really any conclusion drawn but I think the session matched Adrian's stated intentions (and there's some interesting discussion there).

Next up was the last session of my day: "CFML: Evolution of the Language". No one had contacted me about this, which I thought was a bit off considering I'm chair of the CFML Advisory Committee, but Mark Phillips had managed to get Adam Haskell and Matt Woodward (OpenBD project) and Gert Franz (Railo) involved via Connect, as well as a smattering of Adobe folks, including Jason Delmore. Since I wasn't officially involved in the BOF, I stayed in the audience until it was impossible for me to stay quiet any longer and I got up on stage to join Jason and the host. In my opinion, the discussion focused too much on point features rather than any real evolution of the language itself but you can read Mark's summary of the event, which provides a lot of detail, as well a link to a Connect recording (of about half the session).

My plan for Tuesday started with "Mixing Open Source and Commercial Software" but again I was distracted by the ColdFusion Unconference until the general session began. Tim Buntel was Agent B (or 00B... or n00b as he was soon called) and Ben Forta was Agent F in a wonderful mock James Bond piece where Adobe played "The Agency" which was developing technology to overturn the forces of the "Status Quo". Various "agents" walked us through a seamless end-to-end workflow from creative design to application realization (through Flash Catalyst aka Thermo) and refinement (through Flex Builder 4 aka Gumbo) and server-side development (though Bolt, the upcoming ColdFusion IDE based on Eclipse). In addition we were shown Alchemy, which turns C and C++ code into bytecode that runs on the ActionScript Virtual Machine. I thought this this was very impressive and will be useful but some people seemed bewildered by it. Time will tell.

Bolt looked solid already but we were told it would be several months before early builds would be available even to prerelease participants. I think this workflow-based keynote was much more relevant to most attendees and it certainly 'spoke' to me.

After lunch I went to one of the "Adobe @ Adobe" sessions, this one on "IT Innovation". It felt like the presenter was reading from a script and it didn't go into any depth at all, providing just a high-level glossy overview of several projects at Adobe where they decided to "drink their own champagne" (I just can't hear that phrase without thinking of the BDSM association – hey, I live near San Francisco! – but oh-so-corporate Adobe prefers it over the Macromedia staple of "eating our own dog food"). Like the Enterprise Roadmap, a very disappointing session and that pegged me at zero for two of the regular sessions. At this point, I was thinking that MAX just has to get better or it's going to be a depressing three days...

And the next session was better. Much better. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to have the original speaker, John Resig, but stand-in Ed Finkler did an awesome job talking about using jQuery to help build AIR applications (with HTML, CSS and JavaScript). Ed used one of his open source projects as the roadmap for the talk and walked us through a number of interesting pieces of code, highlighting gotchas and offering a lot of practical advice. An excellent session!

Back to the ColdFusion Unconference. By this point, I'd decided to rewrite my "Event-Driven Programming in ColdFusion" talk, based on Ben Forta's feedback, after not being inspired to incorporate his feedback before MAX! I'd spent some of Tuesday working on it between sessions and so I continued working on it instead of going to the MAX Awards (which are always a yawn for me) and the Sneaks (which can be exciting but I opted to "watch" that via Twitter this time around and that worked pretty well). I headed home to work on my preso whilst watching "Dancing With The Stars" (we all have our vices, OK?).

My Wednesday was supposed to start with "Advanced Patterns for ColdFusion Test Automation" but it was trumped by a last minute addition: "ORM for ColdFusion 9" by Jason Delmore. I'd seen him working on code samples – using Bolt – during the day on Tuesday and really wanted to see not only how far the ColdFusion team have been able to push this but also hear the reaction from CFers at large. It was a very good session. Adobe engineers were in attendance to fill in quite a few technical details behind Jason's examples and the CFers sat around me were all absolutely blown away with what Centaur will offer in terms of "automagic" persistence of CFCs into the database.

Being on the Unconference "Uber Panel" meant I wouldn't see "Building Real-Time and Collaborative Applications with Flex and BlazeDS". The panel session was fairly relaxed (compared to some I've witnessed) and host Brian Meloche kept things moving. He asked people – both the audience and the panel – about MAX in general, their thoughts on the ColdFusion content, especially the new material about Centaur and Bolt. I believe the panel was recorded for publication as part of the CFConversations podcast series.

After the panel, I hung out at the Unconference working on my preso and ended up working through lunch (thank you, Ezra Parker, for fetching me lunch from the hall downstairs!) and finishing at 1:35pm, just in time to walk over to my room and get miked up. 240 people had registered for "Event-Driven Programming in ColdFusion" and the room seated 371 (according to the very efficient Adobe Speaker Resource Center). Ben's feedback had been good; the talk went much more smoothly than at Scotch on the Rocks and CFUNITED. The audience seemed better able to follow along, although there was still a fair amount of bewilderment as to why any CFer would write event-driven code instead of what they're used to. Which I expected. My preliminary evaluation report already came back and I hit the buttons I intended to: 76% advanced skills (vs. 58% avg), 84% new approaches (vs 74% avg) and 80% new concepts (vs 71% avg). Overall my speaker evaluation hit average and the session scored a 4.10 against a 4.49 average.

And back to the Unconference again for a couple of hours to take in Joe Rinehart's "Groovin' to the Fusion" talk (from CF_Underground – and it would be reprised at BACFUG later in the day). Joe gave away lots of Broadchoice company secrets by showing some of our Groovy and CFML code... As you may gather, Broadchoice is not shy about sharing its code; we believe in learning by sharing (I showed some of our ActionScript code in my preso too). True intellectual property is rarely just "code" but many companies are very strict about what their employees can share. I really enjoyed Joe's talk but I don't know how many of the audience felt like they should rush to include non-CFML code and projects into their applications, despite the impressively small amount of code it took to achieve Joe's goals!

Joe was my next speaker too, this time for "Developing Enterprise ColdFusion Applications", which focused on best practices, architectural patterns (such as SOA and MVC), tools and frameworks that can help raise your game as you try to build more scalable, more robust applications.

Joe, myself, Bill Shelton, Marc Esher and Ezra Parker then high-tailed it over to the Adobe building on Townsend St for BACFUG where Bill and Marc showed how unit testing can improve your love life – you'll have to watch the Connect recording when I get around to posting it on UGTV – and Joe reprised his "Groovin' to the Fusion" talk. AcademyX sponsored the meeting with lots of pizza and beer.

And that was the end of MAX for me, late on Wednesday night, foot-sore from walking to and from BART (2 miles each way at my end). It's all over until October 2009 in Los Angeles.

Ray's Unconference was awesome! On top of the sessions, many of which were excellent, it was a good place to hang out – more so than the official Community Lounge – and it also served to show everyone at the conference that ColdFusion is popular (it was the most well-attended Unconference and it was open to the "world" in the physical sense). I caught parts of the following sessions:

  • Troubleshooting Workshop – Mark Kruger and Charlie Arehart
  • Build / Deploy / Upgrade – Joshua Cyr
  • Applying the YSlow Guidelines – Brian Meloche
  • Hooking up Flex and ColdFusion – Douglas Knudsen
  • Project and Time Management – Mark Phillips
  • Uber Panel – Joe, Ray, me, Jason Delmore and Charlie Arehart
  • Leveraging Open Source Java within ColdFusion – Joe Rinehart (this was the Groovin' to the Fusion talk)
  • Clustering ColdFusion – Mike Brunt

I hope MAX 2009 has Unconferences. They add a lot of value and help fill your schedule when the official sessions don't appeal.

Overall, MAX 2008 was a good experience. It was extremely well-run and well-organized. The location was excellent. There was a huge amount of content, even if not much of it appealed to me directly. There did seem to be an effort to raise the bar and offer more advanced material rather than the thinly-veiled marketing pitch we've seen in the past. All the session recordings will be made available for free, to everyone, everywhere, on Adobe TV, starting in December – an excellent move by Adobe!

Any criticisms? A few. I would have liked to have seen more Adobe product team members around during the day for networking and technical questions. That's a very small complaint. A slightly bigger complaint is that it seemed several sessions were really focused on upcoming technology rather than current technology but were not clearly labeled as such. I saw a few blog posts complaining that folks went to sessions thinking they'd be applicable today but discovered they were about technology that was only just coming into beta. For me, it was the opposite problem. I avoided some sessions that I would have attended if I'd known it was about "tomorrow" instead of "today". Even that is really only a fairly small complaint. Oh, and Adobe didn't really publicize the Unconferences or Birds-of-a-Feather sessions well enough in my opinion. Not much of a complaint either, I suppose.

So, keep your eyes open for MAX 2009 and make sure you're there!

Sean is currently the Chief Systems Architect and VP of Engineering for Broadchoice, Inc. He has worked in the IT industry for about twenty-five years, initially in database systems and compilers and then mobile telecoms. Since 1997, Sean has architected large scale, high availabiliy web systems for Macromedia (now Adobe), Oracle, Thomas Cook, Toshiba, Toyota and Vodafone, amongst others. He is a staunch advocate of software standards and best practices adn is a well-known and respected speaker on these subjects. Sean has championed and contributed to a number of ColdFusion frameworks, and is a frequent publisher on his blog,

Kai Tischler's Gravatar Just one question Sean: What does 'Curmudgeon' really mean here ? The LEO online dictionary spits out four German words with considerable different meanings: der Brummbär (growler), der Geizhals (scrooge), der Griesgram (sourpuss), der Knicker (skinflint); of course I would bet curmudgeon is meant in the sense of growler ! Or isn't it :-) ?
# Posted By Kai Tischler | 01-Dec-08 06:51 PM
Sean Corfield's Gravatar @Kai, I like "growler"...
# Posted By Sean Corfield | 01-Dec-08 10:19 PM
Jim Priest's Gravatar Thanks for the link to the "CFML: Evolution of the Language" I was wondering what was up with the CFML Advisory Committee...
# Posted By Jim Priest | 02-Dec-08 08:18 AM
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# Posted By Courtney | 24-Jun-13 02:25 AM
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