Microsoft PDC: Bridging the gap with XML

A power outage plunged the convention centre and much of Los Angeles into darkness Monday as Microsoft gathered the technology media together for a pre-Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005 briefing on Microsoft’s platform strategy.

No doubt the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant didn’t much care for the metaphor.

Microsoft is excited about the conference, its first major developers confab in two years, and it seems the developer community is as well (the conference quickly sold-out).

With Windows vista and a new revamped suite of Visual Studio products on the way, developers will be keeping busy with a full schedule of training sessions.

Both products have long been in the works and Microsoft didn’t have any new announcements or features to share with the media Monday.

From Windows and the Office suite to its Visual Studio Developer tools Microsoft says it is aiming to close the gap between the developer, the IT support technician and the user, and XML will underlie it all.

The new family of Visual Studio 2005 products will be launched this November with a new strategy, from an express version introduce the novice user to programming through to the full team version with new collaboration tools for project managers.

“Everything we’ve built into Visual Studio 2005 is about productivity, from the developer level to the user level,” said BJ Holtgrewe, a Microsoft senior product manager.

Holtgrewe was particularly excited about Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office –an edition he said was designed specifically in response to strong demand from developers looking for an Office-specific development engine.

In the months to come, Microsoft is looking to take advantage of its heavy Office install base by helping enterprise developers write CRM and business applications to run inside programs like Outlook, using Web services and service oriented architectures to connect to disparate databases and back ends.

That’s where connected computing and federated management come in – handling the authentication required to access a range of different systems with different security policies, all through one seamless interface, to give users what Microsoft likes to call, “the 360 degree view.”

Expect to hear a lot from Microsoft and its partners about “federated management” and “connected systems” in the months to come.

“Federated data is often the overlooked lynchpin to success in a connected system,” said Ari Bixhorn, Microsoft’s director of Web services strategy. As Bixhorn pointed out, the more places login and personal data is stored the more vulnerable it is, making the consolidation of that information important.

Connected systems will by definition require interoperability and a commitment to standards, and Microsoft said it is making progress on that front as well, talking with competitors like Sun Microsystems about standards, and committing strongly to XML across the platform.

“We’ve…come to the realization mixed environments are a fact of life now, and we’re not doing our customers any favours by not finding ways to make our products work together,” said Tim O’Brien, Microsoft’s senior product manager for platform strategy.

Microsoft says Windows Vista is still on track for release in the second half of 2006. Greg Sullivan, the group product manager for Windows, said security is the main focus, but he’s also promising a more stable platform.

Through an analysis of common Windows errors, O’Brien said they identified display device driver issues as the major cause, and taken measures to address it. New features around encryption and hibernation modes for laptop users were also highlighted.

PDC 2005 begins in earnest Tuesday with opening keynotes from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and Jim Allchin, group vice-president for platforms.

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