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By Gerard Mason
I missed this morning’s Microsoft Mobile session on account of a late night and my extremely comfortable hotel bed. Listening to my alarm go off at 6:30am, I made the snap and instantly gratifying decision to stay asleep and wandered into Star City just as today’s  Keynote was about to begin around 9:00am.

Again, like yesterday, the keynote was not given by only one person but was a two hours session spread over 3 speakers, and no-one from Adobe! Not that I don’t like Adobe, but they have a big presence at this conference and I wanted to hear a little more from the others, and that’s what we got. Entitled ‘Meet the Makers’, the session was given representatives of Yahoo, Google and Microsoft and was really high energy and interesting. The three guys they had presenting (more detail in a sec) were all very slick and were obviously used to touting the wares of their respective firms at events just like this. Nevertheless, I was happy that they mostly managed to avoid this turning into a sales pitch and got down to laying some info on us.

Alan Noble, Engineering Director for Google Australia and New Zealand gave a run through of Google’s offerings in the online space. He mentioned the company’s focus, and success, with open source and mentioned that it is the openness of the underlying technology (the internets) that has been the cornerstone of their success. Google certainly have opened up a lot of API’s over the last few years (Maps for Javascript, Maps for Flash, Earth, Search, Docs, Adsense to name the ones I can name off the top of my head) and I for one have sort of taken them a bit for granted - I suppose we should feel lucky that we have a Google to keep giving us nice things. Is there a price? I’m not sure. Being a developer I really like all the stuff they do and I’m not too worried about privacy. One delegate asked the prickly ‘what are you doing with all of my data once it is in the cloud’ question but the response was typically diplomatic - you can opt in or out, and anyway, they would be stupid to misuse user data. What would it do to Google’s reputation if they began using your personal data in an evil way? They would lose the trust that they desperately need to make their services successful and that would be a disaster for them. Alan noted that all Google are trying to do is advance the internet to a better place - to make information more readily and easily accessible, and to make it easier for us to make websites and applications and make some money from ads if we like.

Next up was Neil Wilkinson from Yahoo. Sorry, Wilk. Or something. He didn’t seem that into using his real name. Nice guy. Wilks came to talk about Yahoo’s offerings in terms of online services and APIs. I like the look of the YUI Grid Builder, a CSS layout generator (and I have been really impressed with some of the other YUI stuff, particularly the rich-text editor that I have integrated into Drupal in the past), but he spent most of his talk telling us about and showing us examples of YQL, Yahoo’s new query language for extracting data from APIs. It’s cool in that it allows you to chain together queries that select rows of data out of their search, geolocation service, and flickr. This is is way easier for mashing together data from multiple sources because you can write some very SQL like code and avoid doing a whole bunch of custom Javascript.

The third speaker was Michael Kordahi from Microsoft. What a bundle of energy. This guy puts the ‘enthusiastic’ into ‘he was a really enthusiastic presenter’ (he also provided the he, was, a, really, and presenter). His chat was about user experience from Microsoft’s perspective and he was able to illustrate that with a whole range of their products, notably  Silverlight, Surface and X-Box (and X-Box Live).

I culled a bunch of quotable quotes from Michael’s talk, but I’m not sure of his original sources. Here’s a few anyway:

‘User experience = market differentiation’
‘The speed of your UI != The speed of your connection’
‘it’s not what the software does, it’s what the user does’

Clearly, Microsoft are starting to think a lot more about how their user’s feel about their products not only from the perspective of what they do, but also how they do them and how that feels. I’m certain that they always did care but even moreso now, when they see the effect that Apple’s aesthetic appeal has created in the market, and the way their rich user experience in products like the iPhone and iPod have spun off into lots of sales and successful tie-ins (app store). The new Silverlight is one area where I think this attitude toward user experience will pay off, as it has some great looking features for working with images, video and 3D that will rightly give Flash something to compete against.

It was excellent to hear all this stuff first hand from these three major players.

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