Reporter's Notebook: TechEd In Review

Key takeaways from last week's Microsoft confab included future directions for Groove's Virtual Office, upcoming BlackBerry-like functionality, and the scrubbing of "N-scub."

Steve Ballmer's keynote speech at Microsoft's TechEd 2005 conference in Orlando, Fla. last week and Apple Computer's announcement in San Francisco the same day that it would switch from IBM PowerPC to Intel chips hogged the headlines in Microsoft land last week. Close company watchers also noticed the disclosure of November shipment dates for two important new software products, the SQL Server 2005 database and Visual Studio 2005 development tools. But here are some gleanings from TechEd--and the rest of the past week in Redmond--that you may have missed.

  • Groove Networks' Virtual Office software for peer-to-peer collaboration may go away as a standalone product--at least for a while--after Microsoft completes its acquisition of Groove later this year. Microsoft CEO Ballmer says in an interview that "the Groove infrastructure eventually could be made available independently of an Office release," but the company's near-term plans are to get Groove and Office 12, due later next year, "well integrated." Says Ballmer, "That's what the teams are working on now." An Office 12 beta is due this fall.

  • Microsoft is promising BlackBerry-like functionality for Windows PDAs and smart phones later this year, but companies will need a passel of new software to make it work. One problem with Windows handhelds is they don't receive new E-mail when it arrives, instead periodically synchronizing with a server. Research In Motion's BlackBerry pager delivers the electronic goods faster, and Microsoft wants to catch up. But here's the laundry list of software--most of which isn't out yet--that IT shops will need to install for real-time portable E-mail on Windows, according to Exchange marketing general manager Kim Akers: Windows Mobile 5, a new device operating system released this spring... A feature pack for the operating system, slated for the fall delivery... And Exchange Server service pack 2, also due this fall. Hopefully, it will be worth the effort.

  • "N-scub" got scrubbed. Or at least scaled back. The Microsoft anti-hacking technology once called "Palladium," then known by the awkward moniker Next Generation Secure Computing Base (pronounced "N-scub" for short), still hasn't made it to market after two years of demos and tech talk by Microsoft. "It's changed a lot since we unveiled Palladium," says Microsoft security product manager Mario Juarez. The technology relies on a small crypto chip and changes in Windows that make it hard for unauthenticated users to alter data or install programs on a PC. Originally, Microsoft wanted lots of apps to be Palladium compliant. But developers balked at having to rewrite their software to comply with the new technology, says Juarez. So Longhorn will include a scaled back version of the technology called "secure startup" that makes sure Windows trusts device drivers upon boot-up. "Developers said build it and we'll evaluate it," Juarez says of NGSCB. "So for now, we're just delivering the secure startup."

  • Everything Adobe Systems touches these days seems ripe for a Microsoft response. Late last week, Microsoft released a beta version of an app code-named Acrylic, for PC painting and graphics design. It's the fruit of Microsoft's 2003 acquisition of Hong Kong ISV Creature House Ltd., and reportedly no match for Adobe's powerful Photoshop software. But Acrylic can open and export Photoshop files. Watch this space. Ever since Adobe said it would but Macromedia in April, Microsoft has only announced a portable document format called Metro that encroaches on the territory of PDF, and delivered a beta of Avalon, an upcoming Longhorn and Windows XP technology for building rich-client apps--just like Macromedia's Flash.

  • Editor's Choice
    Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
    Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
    Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
    John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
    Astrid Gobardhan, Data Privacy Officer, VFS Global
    Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing