Who comes to the PAC, and why?
The PAC is open by invitation only. Invitees tend to be the best, brightest, and most visible people in the technology area being introduced. These include Microsoft Regional Directors, MVPs, ISV partners, and corporate developers as well as industry gurus and technology bloggers.
For example, a new version of ASP.NET might spur the product team to invite a group of ASP.NET MVPs who have been actively supporting other users in the ASP.NET forums. The following week, the team might invite a group of prominent PHP activists, to expose the ASP.NET technology to and obtain the views of Web developers working with a competing technology.
Enterprise customers come to events at the PAC for training in new technologies and to provide feedback to the development teams. ISV partners often come to be made aware of unreleased technologies.
ISVs are often invited to bring their own code to Microsoft for assisted development. They get a leg up on the new APIs and features, they get help writing code that uses the new APIs from the engineers responsible for the APIs, and they in turn help the development teams to find bugs in the new APIs. Often, the development teams are able to fix the bugs and close the loop with the customer on the spot.
Hands-on porting labs are another reason for ISVs to come to the PAC. For example, ISVs have brought their 32-bit code for porting to 64-bit hardware and systems, and vendors with significant code developed for Version 1.1 of the .NET Framework have brought their code for porting to Visual Studio 2005 and Version 2.0 of the .NET Framework.
Why have the PAC?
Microsoft needs an "embassy" where its customers and partners can do business with the company at a technical level. The PAC is that embassy.
Looking at it another way, the PAC is a facility that bridges two worlds that don't often have a chance to meet: the world of internal product engineering at Microsoft, and the world of independent software vendors and enterprise businesses.
For customers, the PAC provides the valuable free service of allowing them to play with the latest and greatest technology under development at Microsoft in a safe "sandbox." For Microsoft, the PAC provides the valuable service of allowing them to see how real customers use their technology, and how the technology can be made better.
What happens at the PAC?
Attendees at the PAC can sit in on group presentations of new Microsoft technologies, and work on their own code using the new technologies. Attendees often work with Microsoft architects and developers, to their mutual benefit: everyone winds up with better products. Microsoft architects often report that sessions at the PAC give them suggestions that find their way into future product versions.
Being at the PAC is usually a lot of fun. Attendees often come early and stay late, because they're excited about what they're learning and working on. There's more social fun, as well: parties, great hallway discussions, and frequent hot Xbox competitions.
The PAC is most often the place where brand-new Microsoft technologies are first introduced to customers and partners. This has included key areas like Visual Studio 2005, the .NET Common Language Runtime, Windows "Longhorn," and SQL Server 2005.
Why visit the PAC?
The PAC is a unique facility. It is stocked with enough computer hardware to model almost any environment and purpose short of a scalability test, and that hardware can be set up with any Microsoft operating systems, applications, and tools, including ones too new to demonstrate elsewhere.
Since it is right on the main campus, the PAC is convenient to the engineering groups in Redmond. If customers visiting the PAC have technical questions, encounter bugs, or need assistance, expert help can be made available on short notice.
Customers and ISVs leave the PAC knowing where Microsoft is going in technology areas that interest them. They go home trained on the latest technologies, and often take home working code ready to refine and test in their own facilities. Attendees at the PAC also have the opportunity to make their needs, wants, and opinions known to the Microsoft architects and developers working on the technologies.
How can I participate?
Enterprise and ISV customers who wish to participate in events at the PAC should contact their local Microsoft Developer Evangelist or ISV Developer Evangelist and register their areas of interest. If an event is planned at the PAC that matches your area of interest and credentials, you may be invited to attend.
There is no charge to attendees for visiting the PAC, but attendees are responsible for their own travel and expenses. Visits to the PAC can vary in length from under a day to several months, with the average program running for 3-4 days.