A (mostly) Unwired Week at #MSBuild

Part of a series looking back at Build 2017, going over the 20+ pages of notes I took.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Microsoft’s Build conference, and as I wrote, I planned to use a notebook and not my PC. For the most part, that was my week from Wed-Fri, with a small exception.

I had an interview with Channel 9 (airing this week?) and had to prep a demo. After rebuilding my machine last month, a few things weren’t working, so I dragged my machine to the Thursday sessions and worked on the demo during a few breaks. However, I didn’t take any notes and closed it when sessions started.

The trip over was nice, though I was scrambling to finish some work on the plan. At least I had a nice view coming into Seattle.

Photo May 09, 9 42 41 PM

Here was my notebook, and as I walked around, I carried this with a pen to all the sessions, keynotes, etc., just jotting thoughts and notes on paper. I like to write, as it helps me remember, so many of my notes were just things I heard, with some thoughts around them.

Photo May 15, 10 02 09 AM

It’s a good way to attend the conference, as every time I opened my phone or laptop, I was tempted to check things. Email, ESPN, Slack, etc. Taking time away from work was good, though I would have liked to avoid the demo commitment.

At Build, there were a few things that caught me eye. I’ll talk about each in a post at some point, and I’m drafting some of those now. However, I’ve got to get some work done, and I travel again this week. For this post, let me start with one item from the first day.


The Hololens mixed reality platform was announced last year just before Build 2016 and was featured there. I went to the conference last year to present part of a session on behalf of Redgate Software, but I was only in San Francisco for about 24 hours. I presented my session, was at the Redgate booth for a couple hours, and flew home. I was tempted to try Hololens, but there was a long line.

This year, after the opening keynote, I walked to the expo area and there were 4 or 5 large setups for Hololens from difference companies, each with a different application. I stopped by the Taqtile booth, mostly because it was the closest one I saw near the VSTS display. There wasn’t much of a line, so I decided to stop. They gave me a headband, which I thought was a great idea with lots of people all wearing the same device.

Photo May 10, 12 28 01 PM

They measured my pupillary distance, which helps ensure the device focuses the display correctly. Then they explained how the device worked, showing brightness and volume buttons, as well as hand gestures. However, we weren’t going to use any of that as this was a guided walkthrough by one of the app.

Photo May 10, 12 36 38 PM

Wearing the device is interesting. It’s a padded loop that tightens on your head, with an outer loop holding the display that can rotate independently. It’s heavy. Not noticeably at first, but across the ten minutes I saw the app, I could tell it was something that might bother me.

There were a few of us in the demo, and we looked at a table, which looked like this to everyone in line.

Photo May 10, 12 38 39 PM

Nothing to see there. However, the app is a mapping app, in this case for golf courses, and on the display you can see what I saw. Somewhat.

I could see a three dimensional gold course, with decent, maybe standard def, resolution. I don’t know what the specs of the device were, but this was good enough to see details, but not overly sharp. The model behaved as if it were really on the table, so that as I moved, the device rendered the model in a static manner, as I would see it if I turned, moved, or stepped to the side.

Photo May 10, 12 38 46 PM

The demo guy added information, such as the score of players or the weather, that appeared to float above the golf course. It was always in front of me, even if I moved. We could even see animation that showed how the golf ball would move across the course from a player’s shot.

It’s an interesting device for sure. One of the PMs was nearby and we chatted. He wanted to know what data applications we might think of from the SQL Server perspective. I’m not entirely sure how Hololens is better than other visualizations, but I’m going to try and come up with something.

My overall thoughts. First, the bad.

This is too heavy. Not bulky, but something that I think would bother me after a period of time. It’s not as heavy as a motorcycle helmet, but a similar feeling of tiredness over time. Just as with a helmet, if you wear it often then you’d build some strength and get used to it.

The other issue is the field of vision. It’s similar to what I get with my glasses, but a little narrower, top to bottom. I just don’t get a lot of viewing. If I look down with my eyes, not my head, I see nothing. It’s like a narrow strip of virtual overlaid on reality. I think the amount of screen would have to grow for virtual reality, but maybe not for mixed.

The thing I couldn’t tell is how the mixed reality works as this demo didn’t let me see much of the real world. There were others, including people demo’ing the Hololens with a real semi-truck in front of them, presumably able to redesign or understand the engine with some overlay’ed imagery. I’d have liked to see that, but lines were too long.

The good. It’s cool, and interesting. I certainly think the gaming and training industry would like this. I don’t know if the resolution is good enough for medical work, but I’m sure things will improve.

The lag was really non-existent, and I could easily see the information displayed, whether graphical or text. I think that visual design, fonts, and colors are going to be important for the display, but I was impressed with what I saw.

It still feels a bit like a toy. It wouldn’t replace monitors as a computer interface for me, nor would I watch movies. Perhaps the resolution is better than I saw, but it felt limited to me.

It’s still an expensive device, though there were lots of them at Build to demo. I don’t know I think this is the future of computing, but I do think there will be lots of use for this in industrial settings where we are looking for a remote person to transfer knowledge across distances.

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