Many blog posts have expressed their sadness at the passing of what has become one of our community's great traditions: CFUnited. I've been fortunate enough to attend the last seven years - as a speaker - and it's always been a unique event, with the largest gathering of CF developers under one roof and the broadest selection of topics catering to everyone from beginners to experts (although not always so much on that end). CFUnited has provided the best networking opportunities available to our community, where you can meet your peers, discuss your problems - and your successes - and come home jazzed about all the new things you learned from everyone.
This year's CFUnited was no different in many, important ways but it was also very different in some ways. The location was great, the staff - both at the hotel and from Stellr / TeraTech - were awesome, the food was delicious (and the sodas, snacks and coffee never seemed to run out!), the conference rooms afforded good views from comfortable seats - and power leads in several rooms! The topics were, in my opinion, better than ever and my schedule was not just full but overflowing with several difficult choices to make.
As always, my schedule goes completely off the rails once I get there. I got to the keynote, Christian Ready's HTML5 talk, Brian Kotek's Clean Code talk (on the Saturday repeat) and I gave my two talks (with the open source talk repeated to an audience of six on Saturday). The rest of the time I was either engaged in hallway conversations - the part of CFUnited I've always enjoyed most - or I was at the Railo Consulting sponsor booth with various colleagues, talking to developers about their problems and how we might be able to assist them with some consulting.
This year saw four of the Railo team at the conference: Peter Bell, Mark Drew, Gert Franz and myself. We have weekly conference calls and discuss business constantly via email but there's no substitute for getting together face to face so it was good to see most of "The Management" again. Our booth featured two large consulting banners in the "corporate purple" (orange represents our open source side) and lots of Swiss chocolate (which proved very popular), purple and orange pens (which were also quite popular), keyring LED flashlights that don't require batteries and of course the ever-popular "Got Railo?" T shirts. We ran a competition to win a day's free consulting as well as gathering leads for our global consulting business (our geographic diversity works in our favor in that area). The booth was extremely busy for most of the conference so we were very pleased with that!
Adobe's keynote was great. Adam started with a walk down memory lane with photos from all but one of the CFUN / CFUnited conferences over the years (I even saw myself in one photo) and then he talked about ColdFusion past, present and a little tiny hint of the future. He went into quite a bit of depth on the recently released ColdFusion 9.0.1 updater which brings nearly 500 bug fixes and enhancements. Probably the two biggest items were the addition of Amazon S3 support to the VFS (Virtual File System) support added in CF9 and the enhanced caching features. In CF9, Adobe added support for ram:// as a new file 'type' to allow all the file tags and functions to work on an in-memory 'RAM disk' and in CF9.0.1 they've added an s3:// type as well. Best of all, they've donated the Amazon S3 adapter back to the Apache VFS project! On the caching side, they've upgraded from ehCache 1.6 to ehCache 2.0 which means they now support distributed caching with Terracotta and they also support user-defined caches. Mixed in amongst that, Terry showcased the awesome ColdFusion Builder IDE and had a couple of people up on stage to demo their extensions (Luis Majano with the ColdBox toolkit and Dan Vega with a cool little PasteBin extension) and then Terry showed off Apptacular, his slick application generator. I got to demo an early version of this when I presented ColdFusion Builder to EBCFUG as part of the launch tour and I got to test more recent versions when Terry solicited feedback a while back. Whilst we didn't get much information about ColdFusion X, we got some cool teasers about what "might or might not" be in ColdFusion Builder 2.0 (a.k.a. Storm). I'm already looking forward to buying that upgrade!
Christian Ready's HTML5 talk was excellent! I've been following this topic for a while (there's an HTML5 user group in San Francisco and I've attended various presentations on different aspects of HTML5 and CSS3) and I still learned new things from Christian. He covered a lot of material (90 slides I think) but it had a great flow and didn't feel overwhelming. He demoed a number of features in various browsers, showing the differing degrees of support as well as some tips and tricks for writing HTML5 pages that degrade gracefully on older browsers. Good job Christian!
Brian Kotek's talks are always really good and thought-provoking - this was no exception. A lot of his material was drawn from / inspired by a book about "Clean Code" and focused on readability, comprehension and maintenance. One thing that seemed to spark some controversy was his claim that "all comments are failures" which I loved because that's an argument I've had with a lot of people over the years. Aside from perhaps a required copyright notice, almost all comments fall into three categories:
- Redundantly explaining what the code does - duplication and has the potential to get outdated: don't do it!
- Having to explain a particularly complicated piece of code - make your code easier to understand: use better names and break the code down into comprehensible pieces!
- Commenting out old / unused code - that's what version control is for: don't do it!
Both the networking event and Adobe's pool party felt a bit subdued compared to last year (it felt like there were far fewer attendees this year) but both were enjoyable and provided more opportunities to mingle with your peers and exchange information and learn - or just drink and shoot the breeze! The CFCurry event organized by Fuzie / Vicky Ryder turned into a massive event with over 30 people and, apart from slow service at the restaurant, all I heard were good reviews. I had to skip that because I ran a FW/1 Birds of a Feather on Friday evening and it was much better attended than I anticipated (about 40 people rather than the 10-20 I'd expected) and with all the great questions it ran about two hours! Thank you to everyone who attended both that and my packed FW/1 session earlier in the day!
So, CFUnited is over for this year and for all time and some people feel the community has lost something very core to our being. I don't think that's really true. There's been a sea change over the last few years. We've seen attendance at CFUnited drop steadily year-on-year from its peak of over 900 people crammed into the Montgomery Conference Center to about half that this year - whilst at the same time we've seen a dramatic rise in the number of smaller, regional events that are often able to cater to narrower audiences and are able to draw more new developers. I think the writing was already on the wall and it's just a natural evolution as we see more "grass roots" events promoting CFML. Over the years the CFUN / CFUnited team has done us proud - huge shout outs to Liz, Nafisa, Elliott, Cara and Tara and everyone else behind the scenes that has made the conference so valuable and such a success for the community! As Adam said in his keynote, we're moving into a new age of ColdFusion and CFML in general with more open source, more events and a bigger focus on the expanding community.