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At Tech.ED: Microsoft exec says IT has room to grow; company rolls out new betas

Microsoft Senior Vice President Paul Flessner addressed the hot technology topic of the moment in his Tech.Ed keynote in Dallas on June 2, coming down hard on a recent "Harvard Business Review" (HBR) article entitled "I.T. doesn't matter." The article, published in May and widely disseminated in recent weeks, asserts that information technology is ready to become a sunset industry.

Flessner also took the opportunity of Tech.Ed to announce the availability of Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of Exchange Server 2003, a fall public beta for Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, and the beta availability of the first phase of its BizTalk Server 2004 product. Meanwhile, said Flessner, the next big formal SQL Server release, code-named Yukon, has been pushed to the second half of 2004.

"I could not disagree more," Flessner said, referring to the HBR article and a slew of follow-up articles in other media suggesting that the IT explosion is over. "The story's premise is that, if everybody has access to technology, it [provides] no competitive advantage."

But clever development teams will make the difference, Flessner said. Mere access to technology means little. "I have access to golf clubs," he joked, "but I am not Tiger Woods."

Where IT must improve is in areas of operations, Flessner said. And much of Tech.Ed's initiatives will revolve around this.

Developers and designers should work harder to create systems with ingrained self-healing and related attributes, Flessner indicated. Applications, operations and infrastructure improvements in Microsoft's Windows Server 2003, particularly in its Service Center version, try to better address issues of total cost of ownership.

This is an area that Microsoft competitor IBM is beginning to address in its autonomic computing initiatives as well as in recent IBM Lotus division product improvements. Observers suggest that IBM is taking a run at Microsoft's small- and medium-sized business strongholds, using autonomic computing and the Linux operating system as weapons.

"Cost of operations is high. This must change," said Microsoft's Flessner." But IT directors will not be able to simply squash new project plans. "You don't succeed long as an IT director just saying 'No.' Just as bad is saying 'Yes, but I will need more money,'" said former IT exec Flessner.

During his keynote, Flessner announced the Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 release candidate, which has better caching of background processes and supports RPC message transmission over HTTP. As well, SQL Server and BizTalk Server updates were announced.

Flessner said the formal SQL Server Yukon release with CLR support has been moved into the second half of 2004. Meanwhile, SQL Server 2000 adds out-of-the-box reporting services starting in the fall. Flessner said Microsoft will invest more than $1.7 billion in R&D in Microsoft Windows Server System during the next fiscal year.

The 11th annual Microsoft technical gathering runs through June 5. The conference included Tech.Ed's first-ever track targeted specifically at the academic community. Ahead of the keynote, industry luminaries Don Box, David Chappell, Billy Hollis, Juval Lowy and others discussed language and other development issues in an event billed, ironically for a Microsoft event, as a "no PowerPoint, no marketing" forum.

As usual, Tech.Ed, with its ready bowls of granola bars, ice cream bars and other developer fodder, found Microsoft developers in good spirits. In the days leading up to the event, Microsoft management found more reason to be cheery as well: The company settled an ongoing multibillion dollar suit launched by AOL largely in the name of its Netscape browser operation. The settlement includes a $750 million payment to AOL, and an agreement for the two companies to share technology.

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About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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