Polyglot Unconference Explores Potential of HTML5 with Microsoft and Windows 8

On Sunday, May 26, the Imperial Lounge of the Downtown Eastside was host to the final event of the Polyglot Unconference.

The Polyglot Unconference, in its second year running, turned the SFU Harbour Centre into a haven for communal discussion of development’s present and future for the two days prior. Friday was devoted to tutorials, to both share the pleasures of coding and level the playing field; Saturday was host to rapt discussion on building software with a variety of programming languages and frameworks, such as JavaScript, .NET, Ruby, Python,and Haskell, and the debates even included meta-discussions on the practices of building software.

Sunday, with Microsoft’s support, was devoted to exploring the potential of HTML5 when coding for Windows 8. The hackathon, kicking off at 10 AM, was hosted and guided by two speakers out of Microsoft. The first, Tommy Lee Lewis, was exactly what the morning called for: he spoke inclusively for all browsers, and his use of humour to keep it light in the face of technical difficulties was skillful. More importantly, his advocacy for the duo of Windows 8 and HTML5 was sincere and on point.

“Microsoft has invested a lot into creating studios here—but also, across Canada, we’re seeing a lot of people who are doing amazing stuff [in HTML5], and I’m hoping we’ll be able to show you some of that amazing stuff,” said Lewis. “Now the technology has changed. Browsers have changed. And that’s lead us to jump-start the stuff that we’re doing. We’re seeing browsers coming together using graphic acceleration, and we’re getting these really compelling experiences.”

“The next phase I see on the horizon? People want to create apps that will go across all of the different types of platforms,” he continued. “We’ve reimagined Windows; we went back and thought about where we see technology in the next five years. Touch is an inevitable aspect of that.”

After a lunch catered by Nuba, anticipation was high for Robert Evans’ leadership of the coding segment of the day. Attendees were given YetiBowl to play with, a charming title that involves controlling a yeti atop a mountain and throwing bowling balls at hikers who want to reach the summit.  After the walkthrough, Robert Evans lingered as long as he could to answer questions—mine included. In his eyes, now is the time to champion HTML5, particularly for Vancouverites.

“I think Vancouver’s got huge potential for Microsoft to win over developers. I think there’s a really strong Java and iOS developer base here, and—maybe win over’s not the right term because we have so much cross-platform development—but people who are not developing for Microsoft platforms, we can say that they don’t have to learn all those new skills, it’s easy to port things over,” he said. “We can get them to write great apps for Microsoft using their existing skills.”

Windows 8.1 is just weeks away from release. Yet Robert kept frustratingly, if understandingly mum as to how much of what attendees had learned would be overturned.

The success of the workshop could be determined by one of two different factors: the number of attendees, and how long they remained to code once the seminar had concluded around 2pm. Most of the programmers had left the venue by 3:30, but the room had been completely filled.In the eyes of the organizers, however, the day was a strong success—a strong conclusion to a compelling weekend.

Chris Nicola, one of the founders of Polyglot, expanded: “This year was even stronger and with even more positive feedback than last year. Each year, we’re getting more solid on our feet about organizing it. Next year, the event will be similar, but perhaps we’ll do a bit more outreach for bringing in people from outside Vancouver, not bringing them in as speakers, but as attendees for everyone else to engage with. That’s what we’re about.”

The slides of the presentations will be made publicly available within the week for anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to attend Sunday’s seminar.