I thought I'd throw in my $0.02 worth about the conference as well. I agree with much of what Jason and others have said. Here are my thoughts in my own words. (I'm representing my own opinions here, not necessarily those of SPSS.)
The acquisition of Arbortext by PTC:
The conference gave a good opportunity to find out more about what PTC is, why they bought Arbortext, and what their plans are for the entire product line, including the Arbortext products. The upshot for us (in my office, at least) is that they seem fully invested in keeping the Arbortext line of products going, and see them as a key component of their overall strategy. They assured us that Arbortext Editor (nee Epic Editor) will continue to be developed. They also assured us that Print Composer will also continue to be available and maintained for the foreseeable future, even though it is no longer emphasized as a product in their marketing materials, an important point from my perspective.
In addition to user groups, Arbortext's support operation has been combined with PTC's existing infrastructure. This means they'll now be doing things the PTC way. It remains to be seen whether that will be a good thing or a bad thing from a customer perspective. One thing that is clear about PTC is that they are much more regimented than Arbortext was--which is pretty much what you'd expect from an engineering company. From what I've heard, the support system will be a bit more formalized as well, which will certainly have its own advantages and disadvantages compared to the less structured system we were used to with Arbortext.
Because of the combined conference, the Arbortext sessions were one of three tracks. There were not as many sessions dedicated to the Arbortext line available as there were last year, but what was available was generally of good quality. I came away with a respectable number of new ideas for improving our authoring process and documentation quality.
Again, because of the combined conference, there were fewer Arbortext-oriented third-party vendors in the exhibit hall than there were in previous years. The exhibit hall was dominated by engineering-oriented companies. Happily, PTC organized the exhibit hall so that all the Arbortext-oriented vendors were in the same general area, which made it easier to find them.
One of the few things that was actually better this year than in previous years was the vendor swag. Overall, engineering companies seem to give away cooler gizmos and tchochkes than XML software companies. 🙂 Unlike Ed, I didn't have too much trouble getting the engineering companies to cough up the goods. Maybe I was just less shy about it.
The biggest downside of the meeting for me relative to past meetings was that it was much harder to network with other Arbortext users than in the past. The conference had nearly 2,000 attendees, of which about 250 were Arbortext users. So, in past years there was about a 95% chance that any particular person you ran into at the meeting was doing the same kind of things you were doing; this year, there was about a 90% chance that that person had never heard of Arbortext or was only vaguely aware of what it was used for. That made it frustrating to try to network, and I and many of my colleagues basically focused our energies on seeking out familiar faces from previous AUGIs and strengthening those relationships more than forging new ones.
I did manage to make a few new contacts, but in previous years I definitely came home with a lot more business cards than I did this time around.
One additional annoyance that made networking more difficult was the lack of an attendee list. Since coming home, I've learned that there was at least one person at the conference that I would have sought out specifically if I'd known he was there--and in past years, I *would* have known because I would have seen his name on the attendee list. But because I didn't know, I didn't seek him out and the opportunity was lost.
The conference was not as good as previous years, particularly on the networking front. But it was still a valuable source of idea seeds, and still worth the investment I think. PTC and PTC/USER (which, as Jason pointed out, is a more or less independent organization that puts together the user group conference) seemed to be making a genuine effort to listen to the needs of Arbortext users (and they got a *lot* of feedback from the Arbortext crowd). I expect next year will be better for us, though probably still not quite to the level of pampering to which we were accustomed from previous AUGI conferences.
I agree with Ed that it was a significant step down in some ways from previous AUGI's. However, I attribute that less to this year being "bad" (which I don't think it was), than to previous years having been so outstanding that they built up very high expectations for many of us. Let's face it: previous AUGI's are a pretty tough act to follow, and I think PTC/USER did about as well as anyone could reasonably expect given the turmoil of the merger.