Greetings from TechEd

We’re coming to you this week from sunny, steamy Orlando, site of the Microsoft TechEd 2005 conference. More than 11,000 people are on hand, hoping the air conditioning holds out. Whenever Microsoft can get that many customers together, you can bet it’ll take advantage by announcing some news—even if it’s not of the earth-shattering variety.

The New World of Work—Take 2
Steve Ballmer got things rolling in his keynote address on Monday, which was replete with shtick in the form of interjections from Samantha Bee, correspondent from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Ballmer reiterated the theme of Bill Gates’ speech last month to 125 CEOs about how we’re entering a “New World of Work.” Expect to be hearing that phrase repeatedly from Microsoft in coming months, as the company is now making a concerted effort to position products in greater context than in the past to fit into this New World of Work theme. So, what is the New World of Work? Here’s how Ballmer explains it:

”It's a world in which the information worker, the employee in each of the companies that you serve is at the center. They're trying to improve customer interaction, they're trying to help optimize supply chain, they're trying to find the right information to make the right decisions on behalf of their businesses. They're trying to get the right insights so that they see patterns that are going to help them systematically improve business performance. They're going to engage in various business processes from human resources and budgeting and planning to supply chain and distribution, manufacturing, trading, you name it. They're going to need tools to help them communicate and collaborate with others and they're going to need tools that help them personally improve their productivity.”

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I said it two weeks ago after the Gates speech and I’ll say it again: This sounds a lot like the existing world of work to me, if not the old world. But it’s a concept that took Microsoft a year to come up with, or at least agree on, according to Jeana Jorgenson, senior product manager for Exchange marketing. She says the idea is for Microsoft to stop talking about products on a one-by-one basis and to instead talk about them in the greater context of how they solve business problems. That’s a fine idea, but it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been going on for a long time. Yet, Jorgenson insists Microsoft surveys show that customers aren’t hearing such talk from their vendors. “It was a hard decision to say Steve is not going to talk about products in the first half of his keynote,” she says. Check out the speech transcript for yourself.

Windows Mobile 5.0
Ballmer did get around to talking product in the second half of his speech, however. He announced Windows Mobile 5.0, which takes advantage of features coming in Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 to improve security and uses push technology to better synchronize Outlook Mobile devices with Exchange.

Welcome Patching Updates
Microsoft’s CEO also announced the company is now shipping Windows Server Update Services, its free patching tool, and is launching the Microsoft Update site, which includes patches for Office and small-business products. As Scott Bekker writes, the launches are part of a larger Microsoft effort to get its patching house in order. (Stay tuned for the July issue of Redmond magazine, when we’ll have a “Your Turn” review on WSUS, in which readers laud its improved reporting, performance, testing and other features.)

Ship Date Set for Yukon
In the Tuesday keynote, Microsoft Senior Vice President Paul Flessner announced that SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 will all ship the week of Nov. 7. All that’s left is “fit and finish,” said Thomas Rizzo, director, SQL Server product management, in a follow-up interview. He noted that once Microsoft publishes benchmarks, as it did on Tuesday, “we’re close to the end”—welcome news considering the product has been five years in the making. Microsoft said that, according to three TPC-H benchmarks, SQL Server 2005 (formerly known as Yukon) showed performance up to 162 percent higher than SQL Server 2000 and 38 percent higher than Oracle’s best shot on comparable hardware. Numbers like that, along with improvements in manageability and integration with products including Visual Studio and Office, will make for a compelling business case, Rizzo says.

Roundtable with Microsoft IT
Microsoft likes to keep us press types busy at TechEd (probably to keep us from talking to attendees, come to think of it). One way it does that is by putting together roundtable discussions, such as the one Keith Ward attended where Microsoft’s own IT folks talked about their special lot in life. Can you imagine a more demanding user base? How would you like to be forced to use beta software on a routine basis? On the other hand, Microsoft’s CIO has to sign off on any new Microsoft product before it ships to customers, giving his IT group some fairly awesome power.

About the Author

Paul Desmond, the founding editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine, is president of the IT publishing firm PDEdit in Southborough, Mass. Reach him at paul@pdedit.com.

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