No Longhorn at Microsoft's Tech Ed

While Microsoft has been beating the Longhorn drum at recent events, at Tech Ed next week the vendor will concentrate on current and soon-to-be-launched products, and will have little to say about the next major Windows release expected in 2006.

Microsoft is shifting the focus back to the here and now at its Tech Ed event in San Diego, in contrast to its Longhorn-themed Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles last year and the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle earlier this month, which also had plenty of sessions on Longhorn.

PDC was over-hyped, said Dave Burke, a senior software developer at LLI Technologies, an engineering and construction company. "We have real-world applications that must be written using today's technology. ... Longhorn is essentially a lot of background noise," he said.

And while Microsoft isn't that outspoken, Senior Product Manager Harley Sipner said Tech Ed is much more about what is available now or in the very next version of a software product. "PDC is often about tomorrow and Tech Ed is really about today," he said.

The absence of Longhorn at Tech Ed is a sign that Microsoft is getting back to what matters for its customers and itself, said Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research.

"Microsoft's hype about Longhorn has served as a major distraction from what's really important: increasing adoption of existing products, particularly Windows XP, and preparing customers for products in late stages of development, such as the 2005 versions of Visual Studio and SQL Server," he said.

Tech Ed is Microsoft's annual U.S. technical education user conference. The event offers more than 700 sessions covering almost the entire spectrum of Microsoft products. The attendees can learn how to use and secure Microsoft products and how to upgrade to the latest versions or migrate from a competing product.

"Tech Ed is the show where we deliver the technology and the tools to customers that they can use to be successful in their jobs," Microsoft's Sipner said. The event is sold out, with more than 11,000 attendees registered, he said. The Tech Ed audience is about half developer and half IT professional, according to Sipner.

Microsoft is also expected to make several product announcements at Tech Ed. Fitting in with the software maker's security focus of the past couple of years is the official launch of Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004, an application firewall and Web caching product. General availability of ISA Server 2004 is expected in July.

Celestix Networks, a Microsoft partner, is planning to unveil a firewall, VPN (virtual private network) and Web caching appliance based on ISA Server 2004. Research firm Gartner Inc. recently critiqued Microsoft in a research note, saying that a firewall should be an appliance, not a server. The Celestix product appears to address those concerns.

Microsoft is also expected to provide more details about its Intelligent Message Filter (IMF), a spam filter for Exchange 2003. IMF was announced last year and Microsoft said at the time the filter would only be available to customers who bought Software Assurance with their Exchange licenses. However, some insiders expect the Redmond, Washington, vendor to offer the add-on to all Exchange 2003 users.

Tech Ed goers can also hear from Microsoft where it stands on Linux. One session promises a side-by-side comparison of the Windows and Linux kernel over the past few years. In the session calendar, Microsoft says Linux has become more like Windows as Linux developers have "borrowed" some Windows high performance optimizations.

Windows will become a bit like Linux in at least one sense next week. PolyServe Inc. is planning to announce availability of its clustering software for Windows. Previously the Beaverton, Oregon, company offered its flagship Matrix Server product only for Red Hat and SuSE Linux.

Many of the sessions during the week-long Tech Ed event deal with upcoming products, including the Visual Studio 2005 developer tool and SQL Server 2005 database, both slated for release in the first half of next year. Also on the agenda are Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Office System 2003 Service Pack 1, both due in the coming months.

Staying away from far-out product releases is spot on, said Julia Lerman, an independent software developer in Burlington, Vermont. Lerman plans to attend sessions about the next versions of Microsoft developer tools, database and Tablet PC software, she said.

"I don't think I would give up these to attend sessions related to Longhorn during Tech Ed," said Lerman, who also attended PDC last year. "I'm looking forward to a wide range of content that will let me increase my skills with the current technologies that I use as well as enable me to continue to get a head start on the upcoming technologies."

Tech Ed will preview several products from Microsoft's management software stable, including System Center 2005 and Windows Update Services (WUS). System Center is a combination of Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005 and Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 and WUS is the successor to Software Update Services (SUS), Microsoft's patch management product. System Center 2005 and WUS are due out by the end of the year.

Already released products that attendees can learn more about include BizTalk Server 2004, Speech Server 2004 and Office 2003.

In many of the sessions, Microsoft is hoping to bring home a message that developers and the IT department in an enterprise need to work better together. Application developers and IT operations staff have different priorities and often even appear to speak different languages, according to Microsoft.

"We're passionate about making these people work together," Sipner said. He hopes developers and IT professionals will come away from Tech Ed fill their Web logs with that notion. "I hope they would blog about Microsoft's ability to think about the developer and IT professional together," he said.

Even though the focus of this year's Tech Ed plays to the here-and-now interests of Dave Burke at LLI, he is still not going next week. He went in 2001, when timing of Tech Ed and the release of .Net made the event valuable to him and his employer, but this year that is not the case, he said.

"Since 2001, there has been no convincing business justification for my employer to send me to Tech Ed," Burke said. "If next year's Tech Ed is scheduled to coincide with releases of Visual Studio 2005 or SQL Server 2005, then I won't hesitate to go, since Tech Ed would provide me with a substantial jump-start for moving to those technologies."

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