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Live from Atlanta: TechEd 2011

I'm in Atlanta this week for Microsoft TechEd 2011, the software giant's annual trade show for IT pros, admins, and developers. Here's a central location for all of my coverage throughout the show.

Commentary: What I've Learned (So Far) at TechEd 2011

I'm not sure if this year's TechEd has set any records, but it certainly feels bigger than previous shows, and in more ways than one. First of all, Atlanta's conference center--the Georgia World Congress Center--is absolutely humongous, with 3.9 million square feet of space spread out over three gigantic and labyrinthian, multi-level structures, is one of the biggest convention halls I've ever seen. And yes, I've spent considerable time in both Las Vegas and New Orleans. But it's not just the sheer physical scale of this place that impresses. There's something going on with the audience too, which Microsoft tells me is 10,000 strong. It feels like double that. This is a big show.

Trade shows are like a Forrest Gumpism--they are what you make of them. From my arguably unique perspective this year, it's been an interesting mix of pre-briefings, a reviewer workshop, a pre-conference speaking engagement/panel discussion, keynotes, several one on one meetings, some nice reunions with friends from around the world, and then even a few sessions too. Between this, I try to sneak out to a few parties and dinners with co-workers and then, let's not forget, keep up with my normal weekly workload too. It seems like an eternity and then goes by in a flash. That's my week.

As I write this, TechEd has only just begun: I've got the pre-show and first day behind me, but there are still a few more days to go. So there's likely going to be more information as the week progresses, so be sure to keep up with my ongoing coverage on the SuperSite for Windows for the latest news. What's interesting to me is that a Microsoft contact told me on the side that there wasn't really much in the way of "hard news" at the show. Which is hilarious, because I've learned a lot.

MultiPoint Server 2011

Windows IT Pro puts on an annual "Best of TechEd" awards extravaganza, and while I don't formally play a role in that, I would like to offer up my own early front-runner for best product. And that's Microsoft's MultiPoint Server 2011, a replacement of sorts for the much-missed Windows SteadyState solution. MultiPoint isn't free, but it does solve a very real need, especially for the educational markets that it primarily targets.

So what is MPS 2011? Hold on tight: It's a customized version of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 that utilizes the "Colorado" management and add-in infrastructure (shared with Windows SBS 2011 Essentials and Windows Home Server 2011), provides a pseudo-Windows 7 user interface for the interactive user, and uses Remote Desktop Services (formerly Terminal Services) to enable multiple, simultaneous users to connect to one box, either physically or over a network. And it does this while providing a simple, centralized management interface so that a teacher or lab leader can project their desktop to clients, lock clients, and perform other useful actions.

Confused? Let me put it this way. Imagine a single tower PC with multiple sets of displays, keyboards, and mice, all of which appear to their users as independent PCs. That's what MPP 2011 does. And those "clients" (for lack of a better term) can take multiple guises. They can be repurposed XP-era PC boxes. They can be traditional thin clients. They can be based off of simple, $50 USB multifunction hubs. Or they can literally just be sets of USB-based keyboards and mice and displays connected directly to the central PC.

MPP 2011 is awesome, and it just works. I'll have a longer write-up available after the show is over and the dust has settled.

Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango"

As an unabashed Windows Phone 7 advocate, I've stewed while Microsoft squandered their first year in the market by improving the base OS at a snail's pace. But the first major update to Windows Phone, codenamed "Mango" and set to be called Windows Phone 7.5, is going to right most of the wrongs. It's due in late 2011, will include important advances for developers, consumers, and business users, and will be free to all existing Windows Phone 7 users. And this week, we found out which enhancements, exactly, Microsoft is planning for business users. And it goes something like this:

Lync client. While not technically included "in" Mango, Mango users will be able to download a free mobile Lync client that provides text messaging but not video chat or, apparently, automatic presence. (You can manually set your presence through the client however.)

Office 365 integration. While the initial version of Windows Phone supported SharePoint generally, Mango will add explicit Office 365 support, with an Office 365 account type and simple connectivity for SharePoint-based documents in the beautifully redesigned Office hub.

Improvements to the Office Mobile apps. This one was quickly glossed over, but apparently each of the Office Mobile apps in the Office hub (OneNote, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and SharePoint Workspace) are getting upgrades in Mango. I did see a demo of Excel Mobile in which an entire column of figures was selected with a swipe and then dynamic values (like a Sum) were computed on the fly in a slide-up panel.

Better email. Windows Phone's excellent Mail app gets upgraded with Conversation View and pinnable email folders so you can quickly leap to specific email folders from home screen shortcuts. Email search has been dramatically (if obviously) updated to include older, server-based mail that's not on the phone.

New IT features. On the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) front, Windows Phone gets support for complex passwords (including alphanumeric passwords) but, sadly, not any encryption support, which could limit this system's adoption at enterprises. Mango also adds Information Rights Management (IRM) compatibility for document protection and (finally) supports hidden Wi-Fi networks.

Private app distribution. One of the weird limitations of Windows Phone is that all apps have to be distributed through the public Windows Phone Marketplace, even those that an IT department makes for internal use. Mango won't fix this entirely, but Microsoft is adding something called a "deep link" for internal apps. The idea is that these apps will be hidden so that normal users visiting the market will never see them. But you can send your employees an email with a deep link (essentially a ridiculously long URL) that they can click to trigger the download. It's a bit silly, sure, but it should do the job for some percentage of holdouts.

But wait there's more....

And just like that, I'm out of space. There's so much more--private and public clouds, Virtual Machine Manager 2011 (which really needs to be renamed to something like Cloud Manager, or Fabric Manager), some cool heterogeneous device (iOS, Android, etc.) management in System Center Configuration Manager 2012, Windows Azure, Small Business Server 2011 Essentials and Office 365 (and Windows Phone) integration, Visual Studio Lightswitch, and more. But we'll need to pick this up again next week. Until then, I'll be plugging away in Atlanta: We still have days to go.


Newest items at the top.

TechEd 2011: Microsoft Announces Office 2010 Service Pack 1

Tuesday, May 18, 2011
Microsoft revealed this week that it is on track to ship the first service pack for Office 2010 by the end of June. Office 2010 Service Pack 1 (SP1) will be made available for the Office productivity suites, the Office Web Apps, and SharePoint 2010, and will provide functional changes as well as bug fixes, Microsoft says. And with this release, Microsoft will also be officially supporting Google's Chrome browser in the Office Web Apps.

The announcement came during the TechEd 2010 trade show being held this week in Atlanta, Georgia.

"Office 2010 SP1 will include many interesting changes," a post on the Office Sustained Engineering blog reads. "Across the client suites and server products, SP1 offers a sprinkling of improvements to make a strong 2010 release wave even stronger."

Among the changes coming in Office 2010 SP1 are:

  • PowerPoint: "Use Presenter View" changed to display the slide show on the secondary monitor.
  • SharePoint Server: Improved backup / restore functionality.
  • Word Web App: Printing support extended to Edit mode.
  • Office Web Apps: Full support for Internet Explorer 9 and Google Chrome.
  • Excel Web App: Charts can be inserted in workbooks.
  • Outlook Web App: Attachment preview (Exchange Online)

(For a full list of changes, please refer to the previously mentioned blog post.)

Each of the products affected by SP1 will also include a roll-up of previously-release bug-fixes as well as new fixes that are unique to this release. Microsoft notes that Office 2010 SP1 represents a milestone in the support lifecycle of Office and SharePoint 2010 versions, meaning that at some point it will cut off support for pre-SP1 versions.

TechEd 2011: Microsoft Charts Future of Visual Studio

Tuesday, May 18, 2011
At its TechEd 2011 keynote on Monday, Microsoft revealed its plans for the next major version of its software development suite, which for now goes by the moniker Visual Studio vNext. The announcements come on the heels of a big year for Visual Studio, which saw a major release just a year ago, followed by four feature packs since then.

As has been the case with other announcements at TechEd 2011, the Visual Studio vNext are an interesting mix of new information and a reinforcement of the notion that Microsoft's solutions are all intertwined, working better together and providing users with logical migration paths not found with the competition. So Visual Studio isn't so much a standalone tool for developers, it's a stepping stone to new opportunities with other Microsoft platforms, such as SharePoint, Office, and the cloud.

"We've got some new stuff we haven't shown to anyone before, but we're also going to go through and talk about new features that we're bringing out with System Center and Visual Studio and Office, giving us capabilities to be able to manage software, build great software, pull it all together," Microsoft corporate vice president Jason Zander said during the address. "And we all know that we're getting a proliferation of devices. We want you to be able to target all these devices, as well as be able to put lots of software and technology into the cloud as well."

To that end, Visual Studio vNext will be used to create applications and services that run in Microsoft's public and private cloud environments, as well as on mobile devices that can be managed by the software giant's coming generation of System Center servers. It will include application lifecycle management (ALM) and collaboration improvements, Zander noted, and an improved user experience.

Less conceptually, Microsoft's core strength with developers has always been the quality of its tools and the ubiquity of its solutions. A developer who learns ASP .NET coding for the web can easily move to SharePoint development, for example. Experience with the C# programming language transfers neatly to any Microsoft development environment, including Silverlight and Windows Phone. And as Microsoft moves more quickly into the cloud, these skills become all the more valuable, since the coding environments there are likewise similar or even identical.

No word yet on the timing for Visual Studio vNext, but given the release cadence of previous versions, an early 2012 release is likely.

Microsoft Announces new Business Features in Windows Phone 7.5

Monday, May 17, 2011
Microsoft announced a handful of new business-oriented features for the next major version of Windows Phone during Monday's TechEd 2011 keynote address. These features will be included in a release of the mobile OS, codenamed Mango and to be branded as Windows Phone 7.5, that Microsoft hopes to ship by the end of 2011.

"At TechEd we're highlighting a number of new capabilities designed to help you stay productive on the go," Microsoft's Paul Bryan wrote in a blog post announcing the features. "Mango is designed to make you even more productive right out-of-the-box—helping you quickly and easily stay connected with the people and information that are most important to you."

The "Mango" update to Windows Phone 7 will include the following business-related enhancements, Microsoft says:

Lync client. Lync Mobile will provide the Lync communications experience on Windows Phone, with instant messaging and presence capabilities, and integration with hosted (Office 365) and on premise version of the Lync server solution. The Lync app will be a free download from the Windows Phone Marketplace, according to Microsoft. (So it's not really part of Mango per se.)

Office 365 integration. Mango will include deep integration with Office 365, which provides low-cost, hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync to individuals and customers of all sizes. This will include an Office 365 account type and Office 365 quick setup link in the Office hub.

Better business email. Windows Phone's already excellent email client will be bolstered with some useful new business functionality, including pinnable email folders, so you can jump quickly from the Windows Phone home screen into the email folders you access most frequently, and a new Outlook-style Conversation view feature that lets you organize email threads by conversation. Additionally, a new server search feature will cause older, server-based emails to show up in phone-based searches.

New IT controls. Expanding on the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policy support provided by the initial version of Windows Phone, Mango will add support for complex passwords (including alphanumeric passwords). It will also support Microsoft's Information Rights Management (IRM) document protection scheme, and allow Windows Phone devices (finally) to interact with hidden Wi-Fi networks.

TechEd 2011: Microsoft Touts Cloud Offerings

Monday, May 17, 2011
At Monday's TechEd 2011 keynote event, Microsoft corporate vice president Robert Wahbe made his case for the software giant's embrace of cloud computing, noting that the company offered a unique blend of hosted, hybrid, and on premise solutions that the competition can't match. And he carted out a bewildering series of products to prove his point, with functionality that spans across operating systems, databases, management, security and identity, and virtualization.

"We're still early in the virtualization cycle, but the move to virtualization is setting us all up for a much bigger inflection point, the move to the cloud," Wahbe said. He then launched into a discussion of Microsoft's so-called public cloud products--Windows Azure, SQL Azure, Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Windows Intune--and private cloud solutions--Windows Server with Hyper-V, System Center, as well as all the servers and apps that run on top of those more traditional platforms.

The message was simple: While its competitors see cloud computing through a less inclusive lens, Microsoft has solutions that meet the needs of all businesses "If you can't use those capabilities in the cloud because of security concerns or regulatory reasons," Wahbe noted, "you can use them in your own data center." This, combined with a third, hybrid model that combines on premise servers with hosted services, provides an unprecedented--and unmatched--number of choices.

Microsoft's cloud offerings are quickly maturing, too, and are starting to offer a measure of parity with its more mature on premise offerings. The goal, I've been told, is for these products to work as identically as possible, regardless of where they're hosted, though this process could take a few years depending on the product in question. Office 365, for example, will launch this year and offer very close parity with the on premise products, but Windows Intune, as a new offering, may require a few years to catch up with System Center's more mature capabilities.


Windows Phone 7 "Mango" business features

Conversation View comes to the Mail app.

You can now pin individual email folders to the home screen.

The lock icon indicates a document protected with IRM.

Lync client provides instant messaging and presence.

Office 365 integration.
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