In-Depth

PDC: What You're Missing

Some key products won't get attention at the Professional Developers Conference. Here's a guide to what will remain under wraps at Microsoft's biggest developer showcase in years.

Microsoft is parading its next-gen tools and technologies before developers of all stripes later this month during its Professional Developers Conference (PDC), which kicks off on Oct. 26 in Los Angeles.

By now, it's apparent that cloud computing and Windows 7 are positioned to take center stage at the event. Microsoft is expected to offer deep technical insight and guidance into critical initiatives like Live Mesh, "Oslo" and Software plus Services (S+S). PDC 2008 will set the agenda for Microsoft's developer-centric efforts for years to come.

But not everything developers need to know will be unveiled at PDC this year. Many enterprise developers have expressed concern that the tools and platforms most important to their productivity are not being addressed at the conference.

With PDC just around the corner and Redmond ready to unleash a torrent of valuable information about its emerging platforms, the question remains: What's next for line-of-business developers who rely on Microsoft Office, SharePoint, Windows Server and Windows Mobile?

Of Office and SharePoint
A number of developers have remarked on the dearth of information about Office 14 and SharePoint 14 at the PDC. Jackie Goldstein, president of Renaissance Computer Systems Ltd. and a Microsoft Regional Director and MVP, wonders if Microsoft will continue to promote Office as a development platform, given that there seems to be no Office 14 sessions in the PDC lineup.

Another Microsoft partner, who asked not to be named, says he's skipping PDC because its content doesn't seem relevant to those focusing on the enterprise side of the market.

"The Office team doesn't even seem to be talking about the future of Office or SharePoint," he explains. "It seems really light on Windows 7, Office, IE and Windows Mobile -- and far too heavy on Live."

Despite these complaints, developers are starting to get a feel for Microsoft's next-generation roadmap. One programmer, who requested anonymity, says he expects SharePoint 14 to be a key cornerstone of Microsoft's future strategy. He believes Microsoft is adding offline access to SharePoint 14 to enable occasionally connected access to Microsoft's collaboration suite. The wave 14 products in the Office group, he says, will include a lot more than just additional Ribbon user interfaces across the products that comprise the Office desktop suite.

Microsoft does plan to launch its private Technology Adoption Program (TAP) testing of Office 14 and SharePoint 14 next month. Redmond executives have leaked references to Office and SharePoint shipping some time in 2009. Given the testing history of Office, it wouldn't be surprising to see Office 14 beta 1 go out broadly in early 2009, followed rapidly by a beta 2 and then a released to manufacturing (RTM) announcement shortly thereafter. Microsoft declined repeated requests for information about Office 14 or SharePoint 14.

Windows Shopping
While Windows 7 is getting attention at PDC, developers are left to wonder what's coming with the second Service Packs (SPs) for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. Windows Server 2008 SP2 will deliver integrated Hyper-V hypervisor virtualization, which is an anxiously awaited feature among developers and IT customers. The Windows Server team is careful to emphasize that Windows Server 2008 effectively shipped as a fully mature SP version 1 product, but many businesses are committed to waiting for a discrete SP2 before deploying any new Windows release.

No surprise, Microsoft is hustling to advance the two products. Private testing should have already started on both the Vista and Windows Server 2008 SP2s. While there has been no statement on a broad-scale beta of either SP2, one source has said that Microsoft was working to deliver the final releases of Windows Server 2008 SP2 and Vista SP2 before the end of 2008.

Microsoft also likely won't be discussing Windows Server 2008 Release 2 (R2) -- also known as "Windows 7 Server." Windows Server 2008 R2 is expected to be a minor release, comprised primarily of fixes and updates. Customers can expect some networking enhancements, as well as the incorporation of .NET support in the Core Server role.

Based on inside information, it seems likely that Windows Server 2008 R2 will be addressed at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) and TecháEd Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) shows next month. Perhaps a test build of the Windows Server 2008 R2 bits will be distributed to show attendees around that time, as well.

On the mobile front, Windows Mobile 7 is scheduled to get little attention from Microsoft at PDC. Redmond had been expected to provide cell-phone vendors with the final Windows Mobile 7 bits at the end of this year or early in 2009. But according to published reports, Microsoft told carriers in September that it had pushed back the delivery time frame and wasn't planning on providing them with code until the latter half of 2009. Given the delay, it's looking unlikely that Windows Mobile 7 phones will be ready for market until late 2009 or early 2010.

Mobile-focused development independent of Windows Mobile 7 is underway at Redmond, however. The company is working on a number of consumer- and business-focused mobile services -- code-named "Pink" and "Rouge," respectively -- which one knowledgeable source says could be delivered ahead of the Windows Mobile 7 release.

Nevertheless, with the latest delays, Microsoft is falling even further behind Apple Inc., Google Inc. and other phone competitors in terms of perception and functionality.

Tools and Frameworks
Jackie Goldstein, President, Renaissance Computer Systems Ltd.
"I don't see any mention of enhancements or additions to Visual Studio for building line-of-business applications. Almost all of the Visual Studio futures sessions are on parallel programming -- not of much interest to most line-of-business developers."
Jackie Goldstein, President, Renaissance Computer Systems Ltd.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that neither Visual Studio 2010 nor .NET Framework 4.0 are expected to be a major area of focus at PDC. Microsoft confirmed the official names of the products on Sept. 29 and revealed select details about Visual Studio Team System 2010, which is code-named "Rosario." Around the same time, Microsoft shared some information about .NET Framework 4.0, namely advances to Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF).

"I don't see mention of enhancements or additions to Visual Studio for building line-of-business apps," says Renaissance Computer's Goldstein. "Almost all of the Visual Studio futures sessions are on parallel programming -- not of much interest to most line-of-business developers."

The updates in .NET 4.0 are likely to impact corporate developers. In addition to integrating WCF and WF, the new version includes technologies that are closely aligned with Microsoft's new modeling platforms. Advances to the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) are also of interest to many developers, though it's not clear whether Microsoft's plans will be divulged at PDC.

"I want to see if Microsoft really has a nativized WPF up their sleeves, as rumored," says Bryant Zadegan, an IT and computer science student, and editor of the AeroXPerience Windows enthusiast site. "WPF is suffering from slow adoption rates simply because it 'feels' slow, even if it isn't. I'm sure many developers will be ready and willing to adopt a native graphics foundation, especially if they see it in action at PDC."

What Will Be in Those PDC Goodie Bags?
Microsoft will provide show attendees with a 160GB external hard drive loaded with software. What's likely to be part of the giveaway?
  • Windows 7 pre-beta M3 release
  • "Oslo" community technology previews (CTPs) of the "M" programming language, the new "Quadrant" modeling tool and the Oslo repository
  • Silverlight 2 final bits for Windows and Mac OS X
  • "Dublin" application and Web server CTP
  • CTPs of next-gen Windows Communication Foundation, Windows Workflow Foundation
  • F# CTP, for those budding parallel programmers out there
  • Live Mesh software development kit and Live Mesh applets to showcase the technology
  • Internet Explorer 8, either beta 2 or a more recent test release
  • Other recently released products: perhaps SQL Server 2008 Express Edition or Office Labs free add-ons
-- M.J.F.

Composite Apps
At the highest level, Microsoft's messaging across all of its product groups is that both software and services are here to stay. Microsoft's S+S strategy, up to this point, has revolved around bolting services onto software as complementary adjuncts. That strategy is now entering a new chapter.
Matthew Freestone, Chief Technology Officer, Prometheus Networks
"I'm excited for tighter integration between the Microsoft collaborative platforms such as SharePoint and Windows 7."
Matthew Freestone, Chief Technology Officer, Prometheus Networks

Starting with the PDC, Microsoft's mission will be to get developers to think more about building "composite platform" applications that span the client and the cloud from the get-go. The pieces of this platform are starting to appear. At the PDC, Microsoft will unveil its vision -- and the accompanying test code -- for its evolving cloud-client platform, including .NET Framework 4.0 and the Mesh platform.

Additionally, developers are looking forward to deeper cross-product integration. Matthew Freestone, chief technology officer of Prometheus Networks, says he's eager to see how Office Communications Server R2 -- the next version of Microsoft's unified-communications platform -- will work with SharePoint Server and Windows.

"Enterprise voice is an incredibly compelling story that just hasn't been told, and Microsoft has been doing itself a great disservice in this regard," Freestone says. "If the enterprise voice story was told at PDC and developers understood the power and extensibility of the system, I think we'd see a lot of development work put toward this solution."

Freestone looks forward to aggressive integration across the entire Microsoft application and operating system stack.

"I'm excited for tighter integration between the Microsoft collaborative platforms such as SharePoint and Windows 7. We're really hoping for some form of synchronization here, like you can do with folder redirection in Office 2007 and SharePoint," he says.

Previewing PDC

When Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie presented the end-to-end trust vision in his RSA Security Conference keynote, he made a point to link it directly to Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative, which was publicly launched in January 2002. It's clear that this effort will be at a much greater scale than the 2002 program, which is widely regarded as a success.

"Today, I think we're in a transitional situation -- at least at Microsoft -- where we're focused on moving beyond what we did in our first generation of trust," Mundie said. "You can't just look at any one piece. You can't say, 'OK, the operating system is pretty hardened; the applications may or may not be.' We really need to stitch these things together in some complete way."

Microsoft's white paper, "Creating a More Trusted Internet," written by Scott Charney, vice president of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group, lists three key elements to the end-to-end trust model:

  • A "trusted stack" in which each stratum can be authenticated and declared trustworthy -- from the hardware all the way up to the application layer.
  • The technology components required for managing identity claims, authentication, authorization policy, access controls and auditing. Microsoft calls this combo "I+4A."
  • An alignment of technological, social, economic and political forces that enable what Mundie calls "real progress."
"Part of the problem," Charney writes, "is that the security solutions employed to date are primarily defensive technical measures that, while effective in mitigating particular avenues of attack, do not address an adversary who is adaptive and creative and will rapidly shift tactics. Thus, for example, hardening of the operating system caused attackers to move 'up the stack' and attack applications, as well as refine social engineering techniques that technology today is ill-equipped to help prevent."

Trustworthy Beginnings
Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative is credited with producing quantifiable improvements in software quality. The Security Development Lifecycle and other best practices have served to drive down the frequency and scope of exploits against Microsoft software.

Now Microsoft must find a way to extend that rigor beyond the Redmond stack. During the keynote, Mundie said that the trusted stack must be able to know which apps and services are "certified or attested relative to the practices that have been brought to bear on their construction, just like we do today for the operating system."

But Mundie insisted that though Microsoft may be the initial driver behind the end-to-end trust model, this is anything but a solo act.

"We can't do this by ourselves," he saidBased on the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) agenda and dev community scuttlebutt, the upcoming Los Angeles developer confab will have something for every kind of programmer.

Microsoft is expected to divulge details on its Live Mesh software developer kit and platform architecture, its "Oslo" modeling strategy and tools, and the Windows 7 operating system. Microsoft has promised to send attendees packing with pre-beta, beta and final releases of software, all preloaded on a 160GB external hard drive.

While there are more than 20 Windows 7 sessions on the PDC agenda, a number of developers and partners doubt Microsoft will share information on changes at the kernel and driver level-preferring to focus instead on more superficial changes to the Windows 7 user interface.

Microsoft officials have repeatedly stated that Windows 7 will not deviate from the Windows Vista core. However, a blurb on the Microsoft PDC Web site seems to contradict that proclamation: "With Windows 7 at PDC 2008, you will see advances across the full range of Windows -- including the kernel, networking, hardware and devices, and user interface."

Windows 7 will be front-and-center at the week-long confab, but Microsoft officials are building the most buzz around the company's nascent cloud-computing platform. Redmond's cloud platform incorporates a number of long-rumored, but still publicly unannounced technologies -- everything from the "Red Dog" cloud information-services infrastructure to the "Zurich" programming model that Microsoft is positioning as ".NET for the cloud." The company may even demonstrate Office running in the cloud, perhaps atop the Red Dog cloud OS.

At the PDC, Microsoft is finally expected to detail its competitor to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud and Google's App Engine. Like these vendors, Microsoft is expected to offer developers and customers access to its storage, identity and security infrastructure and provide them with a way to build and host their applications in Microsoft's cloud.

Internal Politics on Parade
More than products are on display at this year's PDC. The show could highlight the growing schism inside Microsoft between those enamored of Microsoft's traditional Windows platform-centric approach and those backing a more Web-centric strategy.

The Oslo team, part of Microsoft's Connected Systems Division, epitomizes the "old" Microsoft. The Live Mesh team, backed by Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, is the face of the "new" Microsoft. There is definite friction between the two groups.

A number of developers inside and outside the company worry that consumer-focused projects like Live Mesh -- and efforts to counter Google Inc.'s cloud computing initiatives -- could be distracting Microsoft. These people think that Microsoft and its partners would be best served by keeping the focus on the company's Windows- and .NET-based platforms.

"While I don't feel enterprises are going to leave Microsoft solutions for a competitor at this time, they aren't necessarily excited to deploy any future products," says Matthew Freestone, chief technology officer of Prometheus Networks. "Microsoft really needs to get the enterprise excited for their future offerings and stop apologizing for a past that doesn't need apologies."

-- M.J.F.
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