Under the TechEd skin

I’m currently in Orlando at the Microsoft TechEd 2007 conference. The contrast with the European TechEd is astonishing: this is a huge event, with probably well over 10,000 attendees. The size of the operation is on a completely different scale to the European one, and the conference facilities swallow up this number of visitors without even a blink of the eye. The keynote presentation, for example – held in a hall on one side of the road – is actually a mile way from the next sessions. There’s simply no comparison to the European event, because just about everyone from Redmond comes to this one, and I’ve bumped into more execs and programme leaders here than at any event for some while.

Under the TechEd skin

And there’s clearly a new vibe in the air here. I shudder to call it a new humility – that word isn’t one you can easily attach to Microsoft – but it was manifest right from the start of Bob Muglia’s keynote, when he pointed out that the time for grand visions was over, that customers just wanted solutions that worked, delivered to timescales they can rely on. I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment: it’s almost as if Microsoft has finished its laborious ascent to 35,000ft and now the 747 can be set to cruise. Maybe it’s realised it now has viable, if not always dominant, technologies for every niche, every sector, and that there’s no real competitor for the totality of its product range. I expect we’ll start to see longer-term plans being unveiled and a real determination to deliver on them.

For one example, I had a long one-on-one meeting with Jim Ni, head of the virtualisation group, and his head product manager, and we spent an hour going through the features and capabilities of Viridian. It was interesting to see that the functionality they’ve had to pull to meet the release date is still there in the code, but they don’t have the time to do all the testing required to enable them to open up that functionality with confidence in the first release product. Viridian looks very good – a completely different animal from the current software-based virtualisation engine from Microsoft. The UI for Virtual Server is an unpleasant mash-up of web pages, RDC ActiveX controls and a general look-and-feel that just screams “kludge” – the Viridian management console is a complete rewrite and displays a level of professionalism that will surprise you.

Now for some bad news. Microsoft has cancelled the forthcoming Professional Developers Conference, which was due to be held during the first week of October in Los Angeles, California. When I heard this news I was somewhat stunned, as I’m sure were many other people looking forward to that event. At present, the official line is that it’s been postponed to a later date, but that new date hasn’t yet been confirmed. But the conference rumours suggest it might now be March 2008, or there might even be a complete cancellation. Obviously, this is a considerable annoyance to anyone who has to justify the money in a calendar year 2007 budget, to say nothing of those of us who’d already booked plane tickets for the trip.

So what went wrong? Any suggestion that Longhorn Server is running so far behind schedule it now won’t be delivered in Q4 this year was met by hard stares and a firm response that indicated most clearly it will ship on time. The reality is that almost all the technology Microsoft wants to talk about at PDC is currently in community preview: Longhorn (Server 2008), Orcas (Visual Studio) and Katmai (SQL Server). So why not wait until next spring when everything is either released or just about to be finished? The downside for Microsoft is that it will lose a lot of valuable “eye-minutes” from its big corporate customers by cancelling PDC, but it’s confident the large number of alternative events it’s planned in both the US and Europe will do more than enough to counteract this loss. Only time will tell if that’s right.

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