Redmond Review

Parsing PDC

A look back at the 2008 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference.

This is the first installment in a new column aimed at helping you put Microsoft's announcements, products, concepts and strategy in context. The just-concluded 2008 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) certainly provides ample fodder for this column's debut. The number and variety of announcements at PDC keynote sessions were, quite simply, unprecedented.

Microsoft introduced us to its Azure Services Platform (including Windows Azure, SQL Data Services, .NET Services and Live Services), Windows 7 and Office Web apps. We also caught glimpses of Visual Studio 2010 and .NET Framework 4.0, along with the new Oslo and Dublin SOA technologies. In-depth examination of these technologies will surely occupy the attention of RDN's editors for some time.

At a higher level, it's important to gauge the entirety of these announcements and what they really mean for Microsoft, its partners and its competitors. Yes, these initiatives underscore Microsoft's move to the cloud. But from where I sit, they represent something else: the arrival of Microsoft's post-Gates leadership.

PDC 2008 revealed a Microsoft executive team asserting very different strategies, policies and approaches to the market than its predecessors, even as it showed skill in melding those efforts with Microsoft's existing sweet spots. This is a watershed, and it requires some pondering.

Day by Day
Both the first- and second-day keynotes were kicked off by Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie who, for the first time in my experience, came into his own as a public speaker. In previous keynotes, Ozzie had discussed the importance of services and introduced us to Live Mesh. At the time, those discussions seemed abstract, mechanical, even dogmatic. But at PDC, in introducing the developer world to the Azure Services Platform, Ozzie showed the confidence of a proud father. He vindicated his previous performances by demonstrating how Microsoft had established the necessary context for this one.

On Day 1, Microsoft VP Amitabh Srivastava showed us Windows Azure; VP of the Server and Tools Division Bob Muglia showed the cloud services layer on top of it (including .NET Services, Live Services and SQL Services); and Corporate VP of Microsoft Online David Thompson showed the Microsoft Online Services at the top of the stack (essentially the Software as a Service [SaaS] components, including Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Dynamics CRM Online). All three executives did well; Muglia even did his own demo in Visual Studio, which, if somewhat scripted, impressed even the most jaded in the audience.

On Day 2, Senior VP of the Windows Engineering Team Steven Sinofsky showed us Windows 7 and did some context-setting of his own. He owned up to the mistakes made in Windows Vista's creation, launch and marketing -- and even tipped his hat to Apple's ad campaign lampooning these errors. With confidence and sure-footedness, Sinofsky showed us that Windows 7 would acknowledge these errors, address them and introduce important new features, including multitouch input and native support for virtualization.

Corporate VP Scott Guthrie stepped out of his usual Web-focused role and showed the audience the power and potential of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) by demonstrating an app, running on Windows 7, that gradually became more sophisticated. Corporate VP of the Live Services team David Treadwell showed a variety of things, including an in-depth look at Live Services, with a demo of Guthrie's WPF app now Live Mesh-enabled. As a finale, Office GM Takeshi Numoto led the public debut of Office Web apps: fully online, browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that work collaboratively with their desktop counterparts.

'A Cohesive Story'
Sinofsky, Guthrie, Treadwell and Numoto brought Ozzie's vision of services back into a sensible yet reinvented Microsoft orbit. They showed that Windows is a first-class client, arguably the best one, from which to use services, and that it provides a rich environment that makes those services far more valuable than they would be from the browser.

Gates is gone, but he has left in place a leadership that is articulating an adaptive new strategy on the one hand, and proudly reasserting (rather than disowning) Microsoft's legacy strengths on the other. The cloud is the next frontier, certainly, but the rich client is the best way to get there. This hybrid approach -- Software plus Services, now fully explicated -- is no longer some abstract vision but rather a product strategy that's ready for Microsoft to take to market.

Ozzie has matured, assembled a cohesive story and a cohesive team to tell it, and has clearly raised morale in Redmond. The last time Microsoft did something like this, it introduced the handy little development platform called .NET. Now it's significantly revitalizing the platform again. The new management team at Microsoft is making its mark, and sparing no time in doing so. Developers, partners and investors should be very encouraged indeed.

About the Author

Andrew Brust is Research Director for Big Data and Analytics at Gigaom Research. Andrew is co-author of "Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2012" (Microsoft Press); an advisor to NYTECH, the New York Technology Council; co-moderator of Big On Data - New York's Data Intelligence Meetup; serves as Microsoft Regional Director and MVP; and is conference co-chair of Visual Studio Live!

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