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Peter Pontificates: We Need a Driver Developer Conference!

Back in 2015, I blogged and pontificated at great length about how I welcomed the improved openness and communication that seemed to be happening between Microsoft and the Windows driver development community.  Of course, things could hardly have gotten worse than they were during the era that took us from Windows 7 to Windows 8.  Oh, the stories I could tell.  For example, I remember a major IHV (total sales in the realm of US$15 billion) that happened to be a client of ours being told that Microsoft wasn’t interested in engaging with them, and if they wanted to know what was going on in Windows they could ask the OEMs to whom they sold their hardware.

Ouch! Things could only improve from there, right?

Well, they DID improve from there.  Radically.  And, thankfully, those days are long over. Still, even at the dawn of the new glasnost in 2015, I was calling for even more and better two-way communications between Microsoft and us third party driver devs.  And almost all the points I made in my December 2015 Pontification calling for Even Better Communication still stand today.

Starting with Windows 8 and on through Windows 10, there have been tons of changes in the Windows ecosystem.  There have been some key architectural changes to both the I/O and Power Management subsystems.  We’ve witnessed the introduction of Windows RT, the introduction of Windows Mobile, the death of Windows Phone, the introduction of Windows IoT Core (on x86 and ARM), support for the Raspberry PI, support for the Snapdragon 835, introduction of OneCore, support for x86 emulation on ARM, and the introduction of Windows 10 S.  And that’s just to name a few of the most interesting things that have happened in the last couple of years.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention:  In this same time period, the C/C++ compiler that’s part of Visual Studio was largely re-written.  And something called Universal Drivers was introduced (if you haven’t grasped this, it’s a biggie).  And changes to INF files have been recommended.  And who can miss the changes that have taken place to driver signing?

What’s notable to me is that all the changes I mentioned, plus many others, significantly impact driver developers.

What’s even more notable to me is that there have been few opportunities for driver developers to come up to speed on these changes.  It’s definitely not like is was back in the bad old days. Most of the information on these topics is “out there” somewhere.  Much has been documented on MSDN or on a blog. There are Channel 9 videos on several of these topics.  Heck, we’ve written articles here in The NT Insider on a number of these topics as well.

But, by and large, driver devs have had to find their own way when it came to figuring out what’s new for Windows driver developers. They’ve had to discover, search out, identify, and attempt to consume information about each topic.  They read an article here, they watch a video there.  And they’ve had little help piecing together the bigger picture.

How has Microsoft gotten information to driver devs at other times in Windows history?  In years past, Microsoft has held periodic conferences to educate driver and hardware developers.  At various points in history these conferences have been WinHEC, a Driver Developer Conference, Microsoft Build, or some other event.

For the past few years, Microsoft has held WinHEC in Greater China.  In March of 2015 there was a WinHEC conference in Shenzhen, in 2016 there were WinHEC Summer Workshops in both Shenzhen and Taipei in June/July and a full WinHEC conference in December.  The most recent WinHEC event was in Taipei in June of this year.

Look: I get the Microsoft has ignored developers all throughout Asia forever.  I agree that a lot of ODMs are located in Greater China.  I understand, and agree, that by the time 2015 rolled around it was long past time for Microsoft to hold an event like WinHEC in Greater China.

But for three years in a row?  Seriously?  Shenzhen is on the other side of the planet to everyone BUT the Greater China development community.  I’ve been to Shenzhen.  It’s a pretty cool place.  The food is amazing.  And it’s just a short ride from Hong Kong.  But it’s no place for Microsoft to exclusively present content that’s important to driver developers.  If WinHEC is “where technical experts from around the world, and Microsoft, come together to make Windows great” then WinHEC needs to travel.  If the idea is to “help educate [and] facilitate the exchange of ideas and give people a venue to share best practices” then WinHEC can’t JUST be held in Greater China.

I think it’s time — well, long past time, actually – for Microsoft to have a conference for driver developers.  I don’t care if it’s WinHEC (where there’s traditionally been a ton of info shared that’s been directed to OEM platform planning type people) or it’s like the previous Driver Developer Conference.  But it needs to focus specifically on getting information to driver devs.  I don’t want a few presentations thrown into some other event.  We don’t need that.

In discussing this idea recently with folks out in Redmond, they were certainly open to the idea.  They seemed to “get” that we’re feeling underinformed.

What do you think?  Should Microsoft hold a conference for driver developers?  Should it be part of WinHEC or separate?  And, if such a conference is organized, where would you like to see it be held?

Check out the results of our 6-questions online poll:

We’ll summarize all the results in the next issue of The NT Insider.

Peter Pontificates is a regular column by OSR Consulting Partner, Peter Viscarola. Peter doesn’t care if you agree or disagree with him, but there’s always the chance that your comments or rebuttal could find its way into a future issue. Send your own comments, rants or distortions of fact to:

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Peter Pontificates: We Need a Driver Developer Conference!