Tech·Ed Preview: Huge Show Has a Full Agenda for Developers

his week, Microsoft, betting heavily on its upcoming versions of Visual Studio, SQL Server, and?further out?Longhorn, plays host to a full house of developers at its sold-out Tech?Ed conference in Orlando. Hosts and attendees have heaping helpings of technology to serve and digest in just a few days. Here’s a preview of what to expect.

First, the upcoming version of Visual Studio (formerly codenamed ‘Whidbey’), which runs on the new .NET framework version 2.0, further differentiates C# and VB.NET, while maintaining near-perfect language parity. C# is seen as the preferred language of large teams, particularly those creating complex object models and top-down design methodologies. VB.NET is targeted toward smaller teams and individuals who write corporate applications. With the coming version, both languages gain generics (typed collections), partial classes (the ability to split a class file into several separate files), and edit-and-continue, which was initially slated just for VB.NET, but was later added to C# because of a groundswell of requests from C# developers. VB.NET gains the “Me” namespace, which provides convenient access to otherwise complex properties and methods in other .NET namespaces.

Tech?Ed is always a big show, and this year’s version is bigger than ever. With 18 separate tracks, there’s so much information that any individual, no matter how dedicated, can only take in a portion of the sessions.

Of particular interest to developers this year, though, are the Developer Tools and Database Development tracks, because they’ll cover Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005, which are designed to work closely together. With SQL Server acquiring Web services capabilities (HTTP Endpoints) and the ability to run managed stored procedures written in .NET languages, SQL Server becomes an even closer companion to Visual Studio than in the past. The Portals track covers using SharePoint as the user touchpoint for line-of-business applications, Microsoft Office System products, and other server products.

Smart Client Development should be a popular track too. Microsoft’s long-term strategy is to provide developers with options to replace the awkward interactivity of browser-based applications with the more mature and more capable .NET Windows Forms (for now) and XAML-driven interfaces. Given the increasing maturity of Web services and WS* specifications, there’s less and less justification for using browsers for Windows-client, Web-savvy applications. Smart client development and the much-improved Visual Studio Tools For Office (VSTO) will move developers a long step forward on that path.

If you aren’t attending, watch our home page (or the .NET Zone, if you prefer) for our news analysis from the show, and stay abreast of your favorite technologies with Tech?Ed pre-conference Webcasts and live simulcasts from the sessions.

Interestingly, though Longhorn was a headline maker at Tech?Ed two years ago, with lots of early info about what the next Windows OS update would offer in the development domain, Microsoft seems to want to focus this Tech?Ed solidly on the impending toolkits. Few sessions (only six, according to Microsoft’s online Sessions & Lab Catalog will cover Longhorn material in depth. Perhaps that’s for the best; the feature set for Longhorn has already changed a good bit in two years and is sure to change a good bit more before it’s all said and done.

All in all, this promises to be not only the largest Tech?Ed yet, but with several key technologies moving mouth-wateringly close to completion, it should also be one in which attendees can count on going home with real training under their belts and not a bellyful of vapor.

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