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Reporter's notebook: Deconstructing TechEd

As workers at the San Diego Convention Center begin dismantling the displays for TechEd today, what will be the key takeaway from this year's signature Microsoft event? Two words: life cycle.

Probably the biggest news from the TechEd 2004 conference was that Microsoft will now offer 10 years of support for its software products, instead of its previous life-cycle policy of seven years. Some TechEd attendees wondered why anyone would stay on one version of software for a decade, but others saw the policy shift as a positive change.

For Ivan Brightly, a systems administrator with New York-based Forex Capital Markets, Microsoft was sending a message: "It shows a commitment that the products will be around for a while," he said. "What it really changes is that the customer can decide when they want to upgrade."

In his keynote address on Monday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talked about how one of his company's key goals is to

Read the week's top headlines:

Microsoft extends its product life cycle

Euthanized Kodiak signals shift for Exchange

Ballmer pushes greater platform integration

Firewall is XP SP2's shining star

Microsoft releases new Web services enablers

integrate all of its products so that information workers can access data from the back end or the front end, and in such a way that it doesn't give ulcers to the developers and administrators who have to serve those workers.

While platform integration is a topic that can quickly morph into marketing pablum, Ballmer apparently struck a cord with his IT audience. Several people I spoke to at the conference talked about their interest in integration between the operating system and products such as SQL Server and Visual Studio. In fact, it was often mentioned ahead of their eagerness to learn more about Windows XP Service Pack 2 and the update for Window Server 2003 that's planned for next year.

Heard around TechEd:

Officials at TechEd said 11,000 people registered for the event, which ran from Sunday to today. … While demonstrating the new Office Information Bridge Framework (IBF), Rebecca Dias, Microsoft's advanced Web services product manager, inadvertently used a politically incorrect term. CEO Steve Ballmer, who has been known to use a few of those himself, said, "That wasn't very PC." The exchange between the two was edited out of the official transcript of Ballmer's keynote address. … Ballmer got a little tripped up bantering with Dias about Web Services Enhancements (WSE) 2.0. WSE is pronounced whiz-zee, but Ballmer called it "woos-see," an apparent Freudian slip because many people pronounce WUS, or Windows Update Services, as "woose." Those who remember playground taunts may recall that "wussy" is synonymous with "sissy."

One of the biggest applause lines of TechEd came when Andrew Lees, Microsoft's corporate vice president for server and tools marketing, talked about the how Caller ID for E-mail will be included in Exchange Edge Services when it is released next year. The spam-weary crowd erupted in approval. … Another big applause-getter was for Microsoft's big TechEd software giveaway. During his keynote, Lees told attendees they would each get a free copy of Systems Management Server 2003, plus release candidate code for Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 Express and a voucher for the final product when it is released. Lees, who said the giveaway was worth $10 million, jokingly asked that attendees not stampede the registration counter for their freebies.

On Wednesday morning, an executive from a well-known patch management company was seen charging up his troops over coffee and eggs about their company's plans for a new configuration management product. The twenty-somethings at the downtown restaurant appeared earnest but lost as the executive explained plans for a product that could remotely transform a "bare metal box" into a "fully functioning server." … Ballmer joked onstage that Microsoft's DSI initiative really stands for Dreary Skies Initiative. The joke bombed, but Ballmer was right. Whose idea was it to have TechEd in Southern California at this time of year, which San Diegans call the "May Gray"? Nonetheless, San Diego proved a gracious host city for the event. … Peter Pawlak, an analyst with the Kirkland, Wash.-based consultancy Directions on Microsoft, knows there's life outside of IT. Pawlak, who learned the trumpet just three years ago, played at one of the TechEd Jam Sessions.

A show of hands during a keynote address at TechEd appeared to indicate that there were more developers at this year's event than IT administrators. … Christopher Harrison, an IT instructor at Vortex Data Systems in San Diego, said he was at TechEd this week to keep his students up to date on the latest Microsoft developments. The teacher said he sees two major themes in IT right now: it's really hard for graduates to find entry-level jobs in IT, and IT is significantly more complex than in the past. "The biggest thing I tell my students is that you can't ever stop learning," Harrison said. "There's constantly more information that you have to take in and implement tomorrow." … In a bow to the growing importance of China in IT, Microsoft gave the red carpet treatment to about 10 members of the Chinese media. On the other hand, a few members of the American IT media failed to register in advance for the event and were turned away because of fire code restrictions, according to Microsoft's PR agency.

Ballmer likes to say that security is "Job 1" at Microsoft, but perhaps its conference sessions about security need a little promotional work. A breakout session with Microsoft's top security executive, Mike Nash, was sparsely attended, according to sources who were there. The session probably would have done better if it had been more prominently featured in the conference agenda booklet. … After Lees' keynote on Tuesday, information security author and Microsoft MVP Roberta Bragg had this to say about the planned data encryption tool for SQL Server 2005: "That's a really big deal because [with] a database you're able to manage your permissions at the column level, but we haven't had -- native to SQL Server -- the ability to encrypt data at that level." For example, she said, an enterprise with the new tool would be able to encrypt salary data from a column so that only those with the right permissions could access that portion of the database. …, a bronze media sponsor at TechEd, used its booth in the exhibit hall to trumpet its recent 2004 Microsoft Report Card.

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