For Microsoft these days, great things are happening at the macro level, and yet there’s fits-and-starts progress down below. This year’s Tech Ed North America conference represented, in event-form, that very duality.
On the one hand, this was the largest Tech Ed in my memory, with 10,000 attendees. But the customary Microsoft 2-day, all-morning keynote format was shortened to a Day 1, 90-minute talk on Cloud and Visual Studio. Microsoft’s cloud push reached an almost fever pitch; but various new Azure features, like the VM Role and Azure Connect, are still in Beta, with no production release date announced. The keynote featured a cameo by Amir Netz, showing off the hyper-cool data visualization and ad hoc analysis tool, code-named “Crescent;” but we still don’t have a public Community Technology Preview (CTP) of SQL Server “Denali” that includes it. And the hands-on lab (HoL) for Crescent showed up on the HoL workstations as “cancelled.”
The bring-me-up-bring-me-down phenomenon of Tech Ed 2011 doesn’t end there. For example, the keynote was full of references to the “public and private cloud,” but all the private cloud talk was about Hyper-V virtualization and we still have no new info on the Azure Appliance. We got a glimpse of the Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) advances coming in Visual Studio “vNext” (yes, they are actually, officially, calling it that), but not much detail on when that will ship. Meanwhile, Microsoft featured ample breakout content on the “Juneau” SQL Server relational database tooling that will ship with Denali. But that won’t be out for a while yet and, when it is, it will seemingly reside inside of Visual Studio 2010.
The one breaking news item that coincided with Tech Ed was Verizon Wireless’s announcement that it will be offering the HTC Trophy, running Windows Phone 7, to online customers next week. Finally! Too bad that phone has a smallish, non-AMOLED screen, no 4G LTE support, and is generally viewed as the “budget” WP7 handset. (I guess the trophy is for “most frugal.”) I’ll buy this phone, since it’s the only VZW WP7 option, but I’d really like to hear that Microsoft will embed Skype into Windows Phone and let me buy a Nokia-made, carrier-free handset, before the 2-year commitment I make to the Trophy runs out. Too bad Microsoft had nothing to say at Tech Ed about the Skype deal.
So Tech Ed showed us that Microsoft has some good overall momentum, but it still leaves us wanting more. That’s reflective of Microsoft’s situation today. Windows 7 is good, but we want to know about the Windows 8 tablet story. We like what Silverlight has become, but we expect an undisclosed HTML 5 plan may change our strategy there. The Nokia partnership is great, but we don’t know when we’ll see a handset. The Azure story is rounding out, but we still pine for more pieces of the on-premise stack to go to the Azure Platform as a Service. (And we’d like a more robust Azure Infrastructure as a Service story to tide us over.) Office 365 looks neat, but we’re still using BPOS, and suffering its occasional hiccups. Kinect is cool, but what are the plans around a next-gen Xbox console?
And so it goes. Tech Ed was in Atlanta this year, but it’s headed back to its default location of Orlando in 2012. That’s a pity. We’d like Microsoft to leave its comfort zone, rapidly explore new territory and be successful as it does so. Now’s no time to be timid. We want a one-two punch, not three steps forward, and two steps back.