Revelation Conference 2011


Bryan Shumsky presenting the O4W API talk.
Bryan Shumsky – Chief O4W Architect.

Wow – I landed back in London on Saturday morning and my head is still spinning from my whirlwind trip to Las Vegas last week for the latest Revelation Users Conference. Those of you that followed my week on Twitter (#mdprevcon) will have had just the tiniest taster of what was going on, what people were learning about and the absolutely amazing things that Revelation and OpenInsight developers are doing with the OpenInsight tools at the moment.

Before I get into some of the highlights, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone that made the conference such a success. Mike, Nancy and the team at RevUS put on a flawless event, although sunny Vegas became a cold wet soggy sort of place whilst we were there. That said, the presenters brightened up the conference centre with some very well delivered and highly informative talks and the food was just amazing. I’m not so sure about the unusual attempt to heat up one of the Rio’s towers during the conference though ;). Hopefully, those in the tower affected were only inconvenienced and nothing more.

The conference got off to a flying start for me at the welcome reception on Tuesday evening. This was only a couple of hours after I’d flown in, so after a shower and change it was off to the conference centre. My time at the welcome reception is usually taken up by working the foor like a tyupical salesperson, but on this occasion it all turned topsy turvey.  Instead, I had plenty of people (new faces and familiar ones) finding me and wanting to talk about my blog and the videos that I have been producing since the last conference and to make some requests. Retreating towards the door for a quiet few minutes to catch up with Bryan, I met a couple of gate crashers from the RV conference going on in one of the adjacent rooms. An initial Q & A about what each of us did, established that they were Unidata users/developers who provide a web based solution and who are unhappy with their front end design tool of choice. Well, red rag to a bull or what!!! On came the OpenInsight and O4W pitch and they were quickly hooked on the idea of exploring OI. Better still, whilst Bob Catalano spoke to one of them about the tools and piled on even more sales pitch, I diverted into an F1 exchange with the other. It is always nice to have multiple interest points.

Following the welcome reception, the conference got off to its real start on the Wednesday morning. Mike opened the conference promptly at 09:00 with his welcome address. This consisted of the usual product update review since the last conference – so 9.2, 9.2.1, UD & UDH 4.x and of course what would be the star of this show – O4W. Mike went on to explain that O4W has now replaced WebOI and the Sierra Bravo dashboards in OI and those technologies are no longer officially OI supported products. He also highlighted that the current development resources are working on 9.3, which is currently in beta, and ‘relaxed development’ on version 10. He then turned to the main topic of his address, being future developments for the Rev team.

These futures centre around five key areas being The Cloud, Portable Devices, Windows 8, Connectivity and 64-bit OpenInsight. So as to not bloat this posting too much and to keep the more pertinent topics more easily accessible, I’ll touch on those topics one at a time over the next few days.

Following the welcome address the conference split into the usual two track technical session format, with a difference. One of the main highlights of this conference would be O4W and attendees were to be treated to two three hour training sessions that would cover both the wizard interface and the O4W API separately. Owing to the importance of this new technology to every OI application developer, these sessions would be single tracked giving everyone the opportunity to attend. Bob Catalano took the first session in the morning on Thursday and then Friday morning was handed over to Bryan Shumsky to cover the API. More on those later. Otherwise, there was only one change to the published schedule. Owing to Carl Pates’ lost voice (well Vegas is a big place to find lost things don’t you know), Mike would be covering the Banded Report Writer as my first session, replacing Carl’s postponed talk on Cloud Computing.

I had been privileged to have a one on one sneak peek at the Banded Report Writer with Mike a few weeks ago, but I was still surprised to see how functional it is and I’m now even more convinced that it will quickly become the reporting tool of choice for developers AND end-users running version 9.3 and later. The interface is very new and fresh, but better still it is one that most users will be familiar with and happy to use. There are countless properties available and these can easily be viewed and set using the exposed properties panel – very nice for power users creating their own reports. The BRW supports multiple fonts, barcodes are built in and you can utilise all of the standard image formats and graphing within our reports. The BRW also features report groups and sub reports. Mike showed the power of embedding a sub report in a main report and grouping reports to be printed as a collection is a great feature for many managers and people running end of month reports and the like. In addition to all of the usual power afforded to developers through LIST statements, the BRW includes super easy to use wizards to make the tools even more attractive to end users. Could this replace third party reporting tools like Crystal reports with OI – I think that it just might!!!

Whilst I was listing to Mike, Jared was educating system administrators in the Practical Guide to OpenInsight Applications. Reports from attendees of that session during the break were extremely positive with many people picking up new tips and best practice advice. Let it not be said that Rev’s conferences are only for the hardened OpenInsight developer – the team really does cater for everyone.

Session two saw Alexander Holliday taking on the topic of Thorny Problems with UTF8, but I dived into Aaron’s (Sprezzatura) talk on MFSs and BFSs. A topic that I knew I would struggle with, but with these terms coming up more and more these days I wanted to at least conceptually understand the hype. I’m glad that I did attend, as the presentation was easily followed by someone of my limited ability, even if I’m never going to fully understand and apply such things.

Following lunch, we all headed off to another single track presentation during which during which Mike would look at the new features in 9.3, another must attend session, so I was glad that I did not have to choose between topics. Many of the new features have been, or will be, covered on this blog and elsewhere, so I’ll not go into details. Needless to say, the highlights were over 1000 new or enhanced entities, updated exe’s and dll’s, new .net features, the BRW, O4W mobile features and Data Encryption at Rest. Oh and Mike also touched on the new Google Visualisations in O4W – what was it he said, oh yeah – “They are wicked, wicked cool”.

Prior to the lunch break, I joined Jody Summers for a review of what they have achieved with O4W for their eTraumaBase application. From some plain html beginnings, they have used O4W to create a very nice looking and functional system. Learning that they had a proof of concept in just three days and then a working prototype in less than three months, left attendees of this session with no misunderstanding that O4W can deliver and very quickly. Whilst Jody was talking Don Bakke (SRP) was presenting the first of a two part session on the Art and Science of Form Design, Kevin would then complete part two following the lunch break. I’d have liked to see these two sessions, but my afternoon was spent in the company of Bob Carten learning more (at least conceptually) about the art of integrating .net into OI applications.

The evening was then consumed by a busy Vendor Fair during which I found little time to eat and surprising little alcohol was consumed by everyone at the event. Are we all becoming more conservative in our drinking habits these days, or were we just overcome by all of the great things going on and the opportunity to share successes with friends and colleagues? Working the Sprezzatura stand, the main interest was in the new Sprezzatura Framework (to be rebranded and commercially released soon) and Carl’s wonderful Engine Server Farm. With a rapidly diminishing voice, Carl spent most of the evening spawning engines and watching them elegantly disappear off of the screen ready for them to respawn as needed again.

Day two began with the first three hour marathon session with Bob running through the power of the O4W wizards. During the session he looked at using the Engine Server in debug mode (a must when developing), creating forms, lookups, reports and dashboards. All super easy stuff that any power user can take on with a little training or self tuition using the Quick Start Guide (or my O4W video series).

After lunch, I headed off to another of Bob Carten’s talks during which he would run though the complexities of Data Encryption at Rest – a new feature in 9.3. This new technology is important for anyone working with sensitive data, but even more so if you are in the USA (or selling systems for use in the USA) as there is new legislation coming online on January 1st and which requires data to be encrypted at rest. A quick show of hands demonstrated that most application developers are not ready and are unlikely to be ready for such changes, but this DER technology in 9.3 will help those people ho need to comply. The session was a little heavy for someone of my skills, but DER should be easy for anyone with any application development knowledge. However, whilst the DER functionality built into OI 9.3 gets your started, the whole topic of DER is much larger and Bob recommended some useful resources that touch on the wider topic of user education.

Whilst Sean spoke about the Commuter Module during the first afternoon session, I headed off to Andrew’s (Sprezzatura) session during which he would undertake a live presentation (no PowerPoint needed here) looking at Special FX. The lack of PowerPoint use quickly became obvious when we saw windows sliding open or moving around the screen and other animations taking place. Then again, whilst Andrew reviewed the reams of code (I exaggerate a little) needed to make these stunningly visual effects. Whilst some work is needed, these wonderfully pleasing user interface techniques really can be used to bring your applications into the 21st century and, better still, help to set you apart from your competition.

Following the lunchtime break I headed off to listen to Stefano Cavaglieri share with us the Management of Multifunctional Information and how OpenInsight has helped him to manage multiple languages and other multifunctional requirements within his sound archives application. Meanwhile, Don from SRP shared with his audience how to “Go All In” using a Framework to develop winning OpenInsight applications.

Following the formal part of the day, proceedings took a more leisurely turn and a few hours where I personally learned a lot and had more than enough fun. The lunch room had been turned into part seating dining area with a superb buffet and part casino with craps, roulette, poker and Black Jack tables around the far and side edges of the room. I’m pleased to say that I was quickly a good few hundred dollars up playing Black Jack with Kerry and Vickie. Then, following a bite to eat, I headed off to the poker table to learn how the betting side of things worked. I had a rough idea of the hands, but the betting side had always eluded me. Time to find out. Well almost, I was fine with the blinds and betting process, but I got somewhat lost when going all in and various pots being shared out – a few more lesson needed I think before hitting the tables for real. Anyway, playing with the dummy chips provided, I quickly amassed a nice little stack before going all in at nine o’clock and what I thought would be the last had. Surprise, surprise, the stack increased significantly, but then Mike looked over the table and called one last hand. Damn – all to do again. We’d all decided to go all in with Kevin (SRP) and I having a fair old stack of chips in front of us. I started with a Jack and another card (can’t recall what), but the river (hope I have the term right) threw up another two Jacks leaving me with a healthy three jacks. So, all in again Las Vegas Casino style and it was Sprezz versus SRP. Kevin followed suit and a reveal of the cards had Sprezz beating SRP (woo hoo – all in the best spirit of course), but wait!!!! Quietly down the other end of the table a full house was produced and all my lovely chips disappeared down the other end of the table. Well Kevin, I guess that you had the last laugh and I learned a lesson that there are plenty of surprises when gambling. I’m glad I don’t try it for real and that I’m never tempted to.

Friday morning came around far too quickly. The second of the two marathon O4W training sessions and this time Bryan would leave me behind as he waded through the power of using the O4W APIs to create dynamic custom web forms. I kept up with Bryan until the break, but the one message that I took away was that the real power of O4W is hidden away in the power of those APIs and that developers can easily use their Basic+ skills to weave some wonderful online database driven solutions using OpenInsight.

The conference was closed by Mike with a hint of the next conference being held in about 18 month’s time. The venue is yet to be decided and Mike outlined the parameters that make the decision and called for suggestions. We saw some of the photographs taken during the show, the vendor fair prise was handed out and the sponsors were thanked. With a shuttle scheduled at the close there was only time to grab my t-shirt and conference CD, say a few far too hurried goodbyes and I headed out the door for the airport and left a highly successful and well run conference behind me.

Finally, I’d just like to thank everyone that took the time to find me and comment on my blog and mostly the videos that I produce from time to time. The videos do take some time to plan and put together, but it was great to learn how useful some of you find them and I will keep them coming as I come across topics that are within my capabilities to do justice.

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