I just wrapped up 4/5ths of a week immersed in Microsoft technology at the SharePoint conference in Seattle. For me it was an excellent opportunity to meet developers, partners, and customers who are working with SharePoint. Although the 90 minute breakout sessions were sometimes tough to sit still through, there was a lot of insightful and deep information in the sessions I attended. Just about every speaker overran their allotted time and most attendees hung in there for the very last tidbit. It was a much needed conference for Microsoft customers who seemed to be soaking in as much information as they could. One example of this happened late Wednesday afternoon when I walked into a session that was being held in the same auditorium that the keynote was held in - capacity ~1500, my guess. I don't know what the session was about but the topic being discussed was Master Pages and the room was at least 2/3rds full. That's a lot of people learning about Master Pages!
The attendees were serious, I tell ya. I heard a variety of comments about the sessions being too "markety." Personally I didn't experience that. I was focusing on security and deployment types of talks which were pretty advanced conversations. Perfect for a techie like me. One excellent session was presented by Kimmo Forss and Dino Dato-on, Microsoft Consulting Rangers, who talked about globally distributed SharePoint environments. They have written several TechNet articles on the topic which I recommend every customer read before deploying SharePoint. Also check out this blog post for more links on global deployment strategies.
On the vendor side the 3rd party market is gearing up with many products that have been developing since the SharePoint 2003 days. I expect this market to continue to expand as customer requirements grow. I noticed a lot of trends within the 3rd party market including, push for management tools (especially permissions and site management), more tools for pulling information into SharePoint (either scanning in physical records or integrating with enterprise data and applications), tools around replicating information, educational resources, securing SharePoint environments, and managing content. One thing that stuck me was the term replication is used very broadly in the SharePoint world. Sometimes replication means offline content usage (e.g., Colligo), other times it means server to server data replication (e.g., Syntergy), still other times it means moving sites, designs, and information across server farms (e.g., Echo Technology). All qualify as replication except they focus on solving only one part of the replication puzzle.
All in all it was a worthwhile event in my book. I had a good balance of Microsoft to vendor to customer interaction.