Microsoft's Three-Way: Part I

I've occasionally described Silicon Valley as a place where ''geeks are treated like rock stars.'' Geek has shed its once pejorative connotations, and I offered that description with affection and that ever-so-tiny bit of jealousy harbored by us quasi-technical geek wannabes.

So I was surprised and delighted by the ''Ready to Rock'' theme of today's humungo, three-way launch of Microsoft's Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005, and BizTalk 2006. The west wing of the Moscone Center in San Francisco was plastered with rock concert-style posters featuring the grinning mugs of Microsofties and Microsoft customers as--you guessed it--rock stars.

Microsoft put so much advance work into this launch that there were few surprises at the event. The biggest was the appearance of Cheap Trick, the late-70's arena-rock legends (or dinosaurs, depending on your taste and historical perspective) who opened the show with ''Hello There,'' the refrain of which goes, ''Hello there, ladies and gents, are you ready to rock?'' When lead guitarist Rick Nielsen lunged to the front of the stage, slamming power chords on a checkerboard Explorer-type guitar (which I think was really a Hamer), I flashed back to college and started patting my pockets for a Bic. (Yeah, I'm old.)

Microsoft never skimps on the entertainment; Carlos Santana closed the show at the Windows 2000 launch a few years back. But Nielsen and company were just the opening act today. When Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage, the house really started rockin'. Ballmer seemed severely over-caffeinated--which is to say, normal--and the crowd was with him all the way. He apologized for absent mindedly packing a suit to wear to a developer show, and sorta-kinda apologized for the delayed launch of the three products. They were, he allowed, ''a little bit long in the making.''

''Maybe a little bit less bake time, or at least a little bit more rapid cycle time, would be appropriate in the future,'' he said. ''But we had a little bit of work to do. We learned a lot over the last few years about security, and I'll be darned if we weren't going to apply that learning wholeheartedly in these major releases.''

Ballmer threw lots of market-share numbers at the crowd, touting Microsoft gains against UNIX machines and mainframes. He also pitched a program that gives some Oracle customers a 50 percent discount to switch to SQL Server--to which Oracle was quick to respond a few hours later with a counter announcement . Oracle says it will support Visual Studio 2005 with a free plug-in, available sometime next May, and will offer a new Oracle Data Provider for .NET to support ADO.NET 2.0.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini joined Ballmer onstage during the presentation, completing in human metaphor the Wintel duopoly. He let the crowd know that, for the first time, Intel's compilers and tools would be accessible from within the Visual Studio toolset. To which Ballmer quickly added: ''I want our press friends to note that--strong support for Pentium and strong support for Itanium both.'' (Emphasis all Ballmer's.) Of course he meant Xeon, and Otellini quickly corrected the slip.

Ballmer also declared that now, no job was too big for Windows--essentially that no job was too big for SQL Server, which has gotten plenty of knocks over the years for not scaling. Every customer the folks from Redmond threw at me today--from the shy and articulate NASDAQ guy to the funny and very Italian shipping guy--assured me that the 2005 version scales like a mutha. More on this later.

In fact, more on everything later. Microsoft is betting big on these three products, which together constitute the core of its ''application platform.'' That's too much to cover in a single blog posting. I talked to a lot of people today--customers, analysts, Microsofties. They all had a lot to say about these products, the evolution of the marketplace they were just lobbed into, and what the process by which they were developed and refined says about the changing culture at Microsoft. Let's call today's post Part I.

In the meantime, check out Kathy McKinney's product spotlight ''A SQL Better than the Original,'' in ADT's sister pub, Redmond Channel Partner. And the entire launch opener, including Ballmer's speech and Cheap Trick's performance, was recorded and is now available for streaming here.

Cheap Trick is coming back in a while to perform right here in Moscone West. The stage is just down the hall from the press room. I should stay. I should rock out. I should hang around in case Ballmer decides to do a stage dive. Or I could just go home, take a hot bath, get into my jammies, and put on the headphones. (Man, I am old.)

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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