Went to the keynote of MEDC 2006 today. The first thing that caught my eye was the way that Platform Builder has now been tied very neatly into Visual Studio 2005. Platform Builder is the tool that you use to buld platforms (well - duh). More specifically, it lets you create a custom version of Windows CE for the particular target device. You use it to select which features (Media Player, Compact Framework etc etc) and it then builds the stuff that you put into your device to make it work. Previously this has been a slightly mysterious affair, with strange incantations and tools being required. But now it is looking a lot simpler with a new project option for studio (is there nothing this tool can't do) that does most of the grunt work and some very nice editing tools to help you with the rest of the job.
Then it was on to a demonstration of how easy it is to build embedded systems these days, with a Point of Sale cash till being created on the fly out of various components. The next thing they mentioned was pure music to my ears. The .NET Micro Framework was announced. This is not going to be micro. Quite the reverse. It is a continuation of a development which started a couple of years ago, when a small company took the technology that makes the Spot watch work and then deployed it as a general purpose controller that you could program in C#. At the time I got very excited about this technology, but they unfortunately it all went quiet. But now it is back with a whack and Microsoft properly behind it. They were even giving away robots powered by .NET micro (I managed to get one and it will be taking part in the robot sumo competition on Wed. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this technology is going to be very big indeed and will be super for teaching.
Camera's eye view of the keynote
After that, the stuff about the new Mobile Patterns and Practices was a little less exciting, but it is none the less very useful. One of the things that it provides is a set of libraries which allow you to create completely different layouts for different screen sizes and orientations. These are selected automatically as required, and should mean the end of things on the screen getting into a mess when you change the orienation of your device from landscape to portait.
My robot, ready for action.