Microsoft will concentrate on existing and soon-to-be-launched products at its Tech Ed show next week, and will have little to say about Longhorn, the next major Windows release expected in 2006.
This is in sharp 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.
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, Microsoft's annual US technical education user conference, 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," said Microsoft senior product manager Harley Sipner. "PDC is often about tomorrow and Tech Ed is really about today."
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.
Microsoft is 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, will unveil a firewall, virtual private network and web caching appliance based on ISA Server 2004.
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 licences. However, some insiders expect the company to offer the add-on to all Exchange 2003 users.
Tech Ed visitors 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 optimisations.
Windows will become a bit like Linux in at least one sense next week. PolyServe will announce availability of its clustering software for Windows. Previously the company offered its flagship Matrix Server product only for Red Hat and SuSE Linux.
Many of the sessions during Tech Ed 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.
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.
Attendees can also 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.
"We're passionate about making these people work together," Sipner said. He hoped 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.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service