As promised, everyone moved their knowledge forward, and I personally felt like I turned a corner in my understanding; something clicked and came together.
Despite the last-minute restructuring of the event, we all had a good time.
Some people had significant experience and came to work on their own projects. James Ward sprinted with a team for a couple of days, working on an open source project. Some were there to explore the technology and get perspective.
Some started from scratch, and used my sequence of introductory exercises (these exercises evolved throughout the event). I selected a number of exercises and created solutions. Although I still got stuck at a number of points and got help from James, much of the time it felt like I was in the flow; FlexBuilder helped a lot with this via context help.
Everyone agreed that the next version of FlexBuilder should include some kind of Virtual James Ward feature where you can just turn and point at your code and he'll say "oh, you need to override this or respond to that event." Having the real thing at the workshop rocketed us all forward.
Hikes in the morning rather than the afternoon continues to be an obvious choice, better on multiple levels. Not sure why it took me so long to figure it out; probably the same reason that it took so long to start having events during ski season. (Contact me if you're interested in having me run a technical event or meeting for you here in Crested Butte).
Josh Holmes came from Microsoft and gave us an overview of Silverlight (See Josh's adventures in getting to Crested Butte via the Wrong Way as directed by Microsoft MapPoint). I found this quite surprising because I assumed it was a me-too technology, but what we saw was highly impressive (They are even building support for both Python and Ruby right into Silverlight, something I also hope will happen with Flex). Although it's fascinating and compelling, the fact that Microsoft is not saying whether they'll support Linux is still a deal-breaker; "cross-platform including Windows and OSX but not Linux" is not an option for me.
With both Flex and Silverlight it feels like we're on the verge of a massive jump forward in the kind of applications we can create. Unfortunately there was no one there from Sun who could show Java FX, but we are hoping to hold another event (an "RIA Jam") where all three technologies can be shown and experimented with.
James and Josh were intent on learning about and exploring the other technology, and they even decided to build separate identical applications, one in Flex and one with Silverlight, playing with some of the publicly-exposed interfaces to Twitter. Far from being a "smack-down" type of event, there was no sense of competition; it was fascinating and educational. I guess this is what happens when you take the idea of a "smack-down" and filter it through open spaces: something where there are no winners or losers and everyone benefits.
JavaFX -- are developers even going to bother with this? Given how easy it is to connect to any backend from Flex, combined with how easy FLEX is to pick up for the Java developer (the syntax took me about 5 minutes), and that Adobe has a massive market share already out there for the Flash player....I don't see how JavaFX is going to amount to anything, so it's no surprise that they don't really have much evangelism going on, attending your conference to show us what their "me, me, me too" technology has to offer. And then you got MSFT, who'll get Silverlight on all those windows boxes running MSFT Windows Update. And this will give Flex a run for the money. Plus, MSFT makes great dev tools. While, MSFT is a "me too" technology, I'm excited to see how IronPython and IronRuby play out in the DLR (Dynamic Language Runtime) for developing this generation of application. It's a common beef of mine that both MSFT and Adobe (with Actionscript) feel the need to keep creating languages, and then slowly expand them over the next 10 years to become exactly what existed before. Just look at some of the nice syntactical sugar in C# 3.0, like Collection Initializers! Also, what will be cool about Silverlight (compared to Adobe) is all the 3rd party controls that will be written. I'm having a hard time finding many high-quality components for Flash/Flex. It's definitely not like the glory days of Visual Basic or even the .NET components of today. Anyway, it's all cool. I've been working on a Flex/AIR project for the past 4 months and I still can't get over how expressive the UI is I'm creating, nor how simple my development environment is. I wish I could have attended this, as I could really use some fresh mountain air about now. I'm going to try and come next time, or maybe even to the RIA Summit.