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SQL Server, VS at top of TechEd dance card

In addition to providing more information about its new database software and developer suite, Microsoft is expected to release its WSUS patch management tool and offer greater detail on plans for the Exchange messaging platform.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- IT administrators and developers will flock to Microsoft's largest technology conference this week looking for the latest news about a host of major technologies in Microsoft's pipeline that are promised for the second half of the year.

I expect to see a lot of emphasis on what these products will deliver when they are launched.

Neil Macehiter, consultant


Among the highlights of TechEd 2005: Developers are expecting a new community technical preview of SQL Server 2005 and some richer explanation about Visual Studio 2005, which recently went into a second beta test.

Microsoft will introduce some new credentials for professionals seeking certifications, particularly ones aimed at support for security and messaging extended into the database. The certifications are not only for database administrators, but for anyone involved in designing system architectures, said one analyst familiar with Microsoft's plans. "It's far more focused on a job role than what Microsoft has done in the past," the analyst said.

Microsoft has already begun to offer simulation-based content in some of its exams. It will extend this feature to its portfolio of exams throughout the rest of the year.

Plans for an Exchange service pack

At TechEd, Microsoft will also release new details about an upcoming Exchange Server 2003 service pack -- also expected later this year -- and Exchange 12, slated for 2006. Service Pack 2 will include some improvements to public folder management, Sender ID technology and updates to the spam-fighting Intelligent Message Filter.

Microsoft is currently in the process of acquiring Sybari Software Inc., a maker of antispam and antivirus security software for messaging and collaboration servers. It is also beta testing an antispyware product acquired from Giant Company Software Inc. in December.

One technology expected to be ready this week is the free patch management tool in Windows Server 2003 called Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).

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Experts anticipate that Microsoft will use TechEd to explain how to best use some of the new and complex technologies now that they are within six months of availability. "I expect to see a lot of emphasis on what these products will deliver when they are launched," said Neil Macehiter, a partner at Macehiter Ward-Dutton, a Cambridge, U.K.-based consulting firm.

Big changes for Visual Studio

John Robbins, an application development expert at Wintellect Inc., a Knoxville, Tenn.-based software training and consulting company, agreed. "Microsoft's mission is to start explaining these tools," he said, referring to Visual Studio 2005 in particular. "By now, a lot of people have tried these tools and have done some real thinking about them."

Visual Studio, particularly the Team Foundation Server, represents a big change for developers who are accustomed to Visual Studio 2003. The earlier version was a more limited tool used mainly for editing, compiling and debugging. Visual Studio 2005 now includes lifecycle tools for broader developer usage.

These products have been in discussion for so long and Microsoft has thus far only offered vague timeframes for their availability. Experts suggest that now is the time for the company to solidify its many road maps so these products can gel in the minds of the community, and to offer up some arrival dates for SQL Server 2005 or Visual Studio 2005.

"Dates would be good," agreed Alan Thomas, a senior technical consultant at National Gypsum Co., a Charlotte, N.C., construction products manufacturer, who said his main interest in going to TechEd is to learn how to make better use of what's built into Windows, Active Directory and Group Policy.

'R2' up next for Windows Server

Thomas is also interested in the next release of Windows Server, dubbed R2, which is also due out later this year, and Longhorn, the next major release of Windows Server, which is not expected until 2007.

For Thomas, like many customers looking to make better use of their existing infrastructure, virtualization is one technology growing in importance. National Gypsum uses VMware Inc.'s ESX Server, though the company is watching Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005 closely, in addition to any virtualization technology Microsoft may build into Longhorn.

At the conference, Microsoft is also expected to discuss some of its connected systems, a class of technologies that demonstrate how business activities operate and run across different systems to a core infrastructure product. One example of this is Microsoft's internal Project Elixir, which uses Outlook as a way to access a data warehouse and sales force automation tools.

Last week, Microsoft said it was adopting Extensible Markup Language (XML) technology for the default file formats in the next version of Microsoft Office, code-named Office 12. Office 12 is scheduled to ship in the second half of 2006.

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