TechEd 2005: Tablet PCs, Virtualization, and Windows Mobile 5.0

I'm writing this from my home in Massachusetts, but I've been inundated for the past several days by news that will come out of TechEd 2005 in Orlando, Florida, this week. TechEd is an annual Microsoft trade show aimed at IT professionals and developers. I want to share with you some TechEd news that I've been briefed about. If the conference turns up enough new information, I'll give another update next week about other TechEd news.

IBM ... er, ah ... Lenovo Enters the Tablet PC Fray
In January 2004, an IBM representative showed me a prototype Tablet PC that the company was considering making and asked my opinion of such a device. On Monday, Lenovo Group, which purchased IBM's PC products, announced that it was shipping that product as its first ThinkPad Tablet PC. Dubbed the ThinkPad X41 Tablet (X41T), the new device is virtually identical to the current ThinkPad X41 laptop but features the swiveling screen that's come to identify so-called convertible laptop-style Tablet PC devices.

The X41T is notable for several reasons. First, it provides ThinkPad customers with a Tablet PC that has the ThinkPad's stunning quality. IBM told me last year that a lot of its customers had been asking about a Tablet PC and that they weren't particularly interested in going with another vendor.

Second, Lenovo is taking the right approach to pricing. The X41T will cost just $100 more than a comparably equipped X41 laptop (although you could argue that those devices are already pretty expensive; the X41T starts at about $1800).

Third, the ThinkPad entry further legitimizes the Tablet PC form factor, which is a huge win for Microsoft. Dell is now the only major PC that doesn't provide a Tablet PC.

I've not yet seen the final hardware, but if the X41T is as high quality as the X41 and the other ThinkPad products, I suspect Lenovo has a winner on its hands.

VMware Takes Virtualization to New Heights
Whereas Microsoft has taken a very narrow-minded view of virtualization--using the technology solely for backward compatibility and consolidation purposes--market leader VMware has consistently impressed me with the innovative ways in which it has made this technology mainstream. Case in point: This week, VMware announced a new service called VMware Technology Network (VMTN). It's worth looking at.

VMTN is a subscription service and online resource site. Both aspects of VMTN are innovative. The subscription service--$299 a year per user--gives users VMware Workstation, VMware GSX Server, and a developer version of VMware ESX Server that includes Virtual SMP (team collaboration) and VMware P2V Assistant (migrates physical PCs to virtual machine--VM--environments). The online resource site provides--get this--free VMs that have prebuilt application environments, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux environments. BEA Systems, MySQL AB, Novell, and Oracle have already signed on for the program, and VMware tells me it's in talks with other companies.

The VMTN online resource site is particularly interesting because it potentially changes the way in which companies can ship software applications. Think about it: Today, vendors rely on administrators and end users to install and configure applications. In the future, we might be able to distribute applications via single-file VMs.

Microsoft Adds Secure Messaging to Windows Mobile 5.0
Microsoft made a fairly major announcement Monday: The company will provide free software upgrades to users of Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft Office Outlook, and Windows Mobile 5.0 that will let Windows Powered Smartphone users wirelessly download Exchange-based email, schedules, and other data, in a similar fashion to how RIM Blackberry users do.

The Exchange Server upgrade will come as part of Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2), which is due in late 2005, Microsoft says. The client upgrade is called the Messaging and Security Feature Pack for Windows Mobile 5.0. It essentially enables the devices to directly connect to an Exchange server wirelessly (or "over the air"), without the need for a third-party server solution.

According to Microsoft, this functionality, called Windows Mobile Direct Push Technology, also lets Windows Mobile 5.0-based Smartphones "send \[Microsoft Office\] Word, Excel, PowerPoint, music and video attachments in messages with rich email formatting and no size restrictions." I hope to have more detailed information about this functionality by next week.

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