Today Microsoft opened its doors to MIX11, a web/mobile industry conference with heavy emphasis on Microsoft development tools and related standards. This was my first visit to the conference and I came to the opening keynote expecting to hear the gospels of Silverlight, Windows Phone and Windows Azure being preached to me, but that (almost) didn’t happen at all.

The Keynote

Digging in to IE9

Internet Explorer 9 was released just a month ago, and the show opened with Corporate Vice President Dean Hachamovitch getting on stage wearing a shirt saying “ten” -- font and “e” in tune with the Internet Explorer logo -- signaling that Microsoft is busy working on the next version of their browser. Aside from giving praise to the (quite good) HTML5 and CSS3 features in IE9, Dean Hachamovitch announced that the first platform preview of IE10 was now available for download and that it was all about better speed and more web standards.

Compared to earlier versions, Internet Explorer 9 is a monumental leap forward in respect to speed and standard compliance, but even with all the goodness of IE9 Microsoft is still playing catch-up with the competition in just about all areas (heavy graphic renderings excepted) and given the prolonged agony the web developer community has suffered due to Microsoft’s post-IE6 inactivity, a fair portion of the keynote focused on the future of Internet Explorer, HTML5, CSS3 and standard compliance.

It really seems like Microsoft is trying to make amends and that that IE9 will not be a new IE6. Half of the keynote (about 45 minutes) was spent on Internet Explorer and web standards like SVG, canvas, HTML5, CSS3; no mention of Silverlight or any IE-only features.

ASP.NET MVC3 Demonstration

Microsoft web developer technology released back in January was also demonstrated. Version 3 of Microsoft’s ASP.NET MVC framework was demonstrated in a classic ‘I will now build a website in 8 minutes’ demo. ASP.NET MVC is an alternative to the classic ASP.NET Web Forms, a technology that have never resonated with web developers who care about markup.

A Look at WebMatrix

WebMatrix -- a tool that combines a “no fuss web server” with developer tooling and wizards for setting up open source projects like Wordpress, Drupal and Composite C1 CMS was demonstrated as well. WebMatrix is quite interesting in the sense that it will enable “light developers” to actually set up, customize and publish websites, something which was virtually impossible before if you were not a server ninja. All the demos used the Razor syntax, a new way to have html tags and code live next to each other, which is certainly something Microsoft got right. I would expect this to lure over developers that have previously preferred languages like PHP and JavaScript.

WCM with Orchard CMS

Orchard CMS -- a web content management being developed by Microsoft -- also got some airtime during the keynote. Orchard is a fairly new project which is advertised as open source, but development is funded and backed by Microsoft which is reflected in the fact that this very young open source project already has companies providing commercial products around it, a luxury community driven open source projects normally don’t experience very early on.

Orchard CMS could gain a lot of traction among web developers interested in the ASP.NET MVC technology and given that Microsoft is backing it could cause some serious disruption among other open source CMS’s betting on Microsoft’s web platform. The system is still in its infancy so time will tell if it resonates with both web developers and users alike, but Microsoft's previous track record of delivering awful web content management technology seems to have improved.

Azure Ended the Keynote

Finally Windows Azure got some airtime, which in itself was no surprise, but it was surprisingly minute. Windows Azure is -- simply put -- Microsoft entering the hosting business, offering cloud application hosting in huge data centers they have built around the world. The way applications are built for Windows Azure differs from classical Windows web applications and Microsoft have a huge task educating and convincing developers to use Windows Azure and the new developer tools that accompany it. Until they manage to do so their massive investment is sitting idly by.

Even though the stakes are high and Microsoft normally pushes Windows Azure when possible, no serious attempt to convince web developers to start creating applications for Windows Azure were made. Niels Hartvig from the open source project Umbraco CMS project got on stage and talked about how the next version of the CMS would have Windows Azure support, but nothing was demonstrated and the entire Windows Azure portion of the keynote ended without ever showing Windows Azure in action and the keynote ended here -- 30 minutes early according to the schedule.