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Tech·Ed 2005: Connectivity Enhancements Fuel Excitement

New tools, official release dates for Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 (finally), and a new openness from Microsoft infuse this year's Tech·Ed with new developer capabilities, new power for IT administration and management, and a clear roadmap for development—making this a very good time to be a developer.


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ech·Ed 2005 in Orlando is bigger than ever, sold out well in advance, and is the harbinger of big changes and new power in the Microsoft development space.

Announcements: New…Everything
Paul Flessner, Microsoft's Senior Vice President of Server Applications, had welcome news in his keynote Tuesday: Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005, and a pre-release version of BizTalk 2006 will be released the week of November 7. All three are available now in some form: VS 2005 is in Beta 2 release, available to MSDN subscribers. Anyone can download the June Community Technology Preview (CTP) of SQL Server 2005, and Microsoft has promised to give Tech·Ed attendees the CTP of BizTalk 2006 before the end of the conference.

In addition, Flessner announced new .NET-based Microsoft RFID infrastructure, and followed it up with a live demo that gathered and analyzed attendees' (conference badges came with attached RFID tags) movements around Tech·Ed. The infrastructure has a device management layer that insulates applications from the rapidly changing and currently proprietary hardware used to read and program the tags. RFID is powerful—and as the demo showed—potentially scary technology. Although this demonstration tracked tags that (supposedly) weren't linked to individual registrations, they easily could have been.



The tags used in this demo were RFID labels generated by Symbol Technologies, printed on a ticket-sized bit of paper, and quite visible; but they're small enough to be easily hidden inside the badge itself. The tags used here were passive (unpowered) tags—they acquire what little power they need from the radio signal of the reader. Passive tags have a fairly limited range; attendees were asked to leave them stapled to their badges (uncovered) to improve readability. Active tags powered by a tiny battery are available, and they can be read from greater distances, but they're more expensive. One of the next big evolutions in computing will happen when computers can use technologies such as RFID or the cellular system to know where devices and individuals receiving information are, and developers can begin writing location-sensitive applications.

XML, XSD schema, and increasing bandwidth are driving this new connectivity, taking computer-to-computer communication beyond its initial application-to-application context and making it possible to connect any device or application, running on any platform, to any other device or application.
On Monday, CEO Steve Ballmer announced Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2 and the Messaging and Security Feature Pack for Windows Mobile 5, which together implement "push e-mail," letting mobile devices receive e-mail whenever a new message is available—like RIM's Blackberry—rather than having to query the server to get it. The Security Feature Pack also provides Active Sync, which synchronizes contacts, calendar, e-mail, tasks, and data—as well as security policy—bidirectionally between the server and mobile devices.

That's a great feature that, fortunately or unfortunately, also extends rather draconian management capabilities to mobile devices. In one demo, Ballmer called on Mike Hall, a technical product manager in the Microsoft Mobile & Embedded Devices group, to show how an administrator can wipe a Security Feature Pack-enabled device remotely should it be lost—or for any other administrative purpose. For example, administrators can cause the device to lock after one minute of inactivity, or to wipe itself after three unsuccessful logon attempts. Such capabilities played well with the IT administrators in the audience, but less so with other attendees. At a Microsoft-sponsored lunch, one person asked whether Microsoft was aware that children sometimes play with mobile devices. The thought of a having your mobile device wiped clean just because your kid got a little curious with your mobile phone isn't comforting. A Microsoft spokesperson replied that Active Sync stores data on the server, so the information isn't "lost," it's just no longer available on the mobile device. But I doubt that will soothe the many ruffled feathers that are bound to occur when this feature gets rolled out.

Speaking of missing, Longhorn was largely missing from this year's show; kudos to Microsoft for focusing on the reams of technology they're about to deliver rather than the technology they plan to deliver in the future.



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