PDC 2009 Preview: The move to Office 2010 and Visual Studio 2010

All next week, Betanews will be reporting from Los Angeles, at the scene of this year's Microsoft Professional Developers' Conference. Based on our experience with prior years' shows, here's the pattern we expect: Day 1 (officially next Tuesday) will center on self-congratulation for Windows 7, much of it deserved. Day 2 will likely bring out the bugle corps for the public introduction of Office 2010 Beta 1 -- not the Technical Preview that's currently being circulated, but a more feature-complete rendition that should have more Web- and cloud-related connectivity.

But our coverage will begin on Monday with an unusual twist to "Day 0," which is usually reserved for in-depth workshops that command extra attendance fees. This year, Microsoft is trying an unusual step by opening up its day-long "Windows 7 Developer Boot Camp," headlined by Technical Fellow and SysInternals engineer Mark Russinovich, not only to all PDC attendees but to the general public. Here, we'll see how much attention Windows 7 can get not just from developers, but from passers-by on the street corner.

The coverage schedule for Betanews this year is the most feature-packed it has ever been, including 15 straight hours of sessions, speeches, and interviews scheduled for Betanews for Tuesday alone. We'll be checking in with you throughout the day for updates, analysis, and live reports from the keynotes, then follow up with full analysis each evening. Then we'll be bringing you complete interviews with conference newsmakers beginning the following week.

The view from inside the Los Angeles Convention Center during the pre-convention proceedings at PDC 2008 Sunday afternoon, October 27.

But every year, we like to put our reputation on the line and take some bets on expectations. Naturally, we don't have to risk too much on a bet that Office 2010 will be given a lot of spotlight; but based on what we've seen thus far (especially the fact that this year's show itinerary came together so late), here is our annual list of flashpoints (cue the network news music) that we expect will be the talk of attendees throughout the week:

  • Making up for UAC. Among developers -- especially in the security arena -- the fact that Microsoft let up a little bit on its default security settings for Windows 7 User Account Control, relative to where they were in Vista, has been an issue of some contention. Many are concerned that the company's engineers will have had to engineer new and tighter security techniques into the operating system to make up for that lax setting; while others argue that UAC isn't much of a barrier anyway, even at full throttle, compared with a decent anti-virus. Even though Windows 7 has already launched, there will be plenty of developers expecting to learn for the first time what new behaviors the operating system will exhibit, to raise the bar back to Vista's level.
  • Why Windows Azure? It was October 2008 when Microsoft first demonstrated its cloud-based deployment platform for .NET applications, but many feel that since that time, the company has yet to actually demonstrate one single, real-world application for it. We're seeing a lot more granularity in the topic breakdowns for sessions devoted to Azure this year, so we expect company engineers to make the case for Azure, as if for the first time. But that case will have to be for an entirely new class of apps, including some that are to some degree hybridized to work on local PCs and cloud processors simultaneously.
  • What will Office Web Apps do? It looked at first as though Microsoft had solved a very important dilemma, with its plans to release Office Web Apps to the general public -- reversing an earlier decision to market Office WA only to Office 2010 licensees. But then came indications that Office WA would not have full functionality, or perhaps not offer full functionality to general users anyway, making users wonder not only what Microsoft's plan was, but whether it really had one. The fact that Office WA does not play a prominent role in this year's PDC schedule, indicates that questions about the latter possibility are still justified.
  • Making the case for Office 2010. We expect to see a much tighter relationship between the next version of the traditional Office software suite, and online collaboration functionality such as SharePoint. The use of SharePoint in collaboration will very likely be built directly into the new O'10, in an in-your-face way designed to help advertise SharePoint. But we also expect a more consumer-oriented level of collaboration to be built into the suite, perhaps in conjunction with Office Live or Windows Live, not just for collaboration and portable storage but things like synchronization and live annotation. These will likely be presented not just as add-ins or attachments, but full-scale features of the product.
  • The new flavor of Visual Studio. Although what's currently being distributed as Visual Studio 2010 is officially a beta, with respect to developers' tools, it's usually the beta that is the most often deployed -- VS 2008 is already being back-burnered. It's the obvious goal of VS 2010 to move developers toward a programming model that's more conducive to Silverlight, XAML, and dynamic scripting. The real question is whether developers actually want or need to move that direction. With Silverlight being the carrot, we expect the "stick" next week to come in the form of changes to the principal low-level languages -- C# and Visual Basic -- to incorporate more componentized features that could drag developers kicking and screaming into Microsoft's idea of the future.
  • Will virtualization envelop Windows? Hyper-V is almost a standard component now in installations of Windows Server, especially the new 2008 R2 variety. But technologically, Microsoft is a generation (at least) behind VMware in making virtualization versatile and ubiquitous -- note, for example, the lack of 64-bit virtualization capability in Windows 7, a feature that even Sun's VirtualBox has in spades. Microsoft has an opportunity here to remake the server operating system into a virtual envelope that runs not just applications and services, but operating environments, in terms of roles -- the broader functions that servers perform. We'll see next week how far Microsoft is planning to move toward that model.
  • The push toward online identity. Here is the wildcard of the week. We've already seen this week the discovery that Microsoft has been applying for patents for methods to secure localized privileges for software components using authentication tools and passwords -- something Windows has desperately needed for over a decade. And we've also seen questions as to Microsoft's "sinister motives," especially questioning whether it's some exclusionary tactic with regard to Linux. That's all probably smoke. The real innovation here, I feel, is a genuine effort to deploy a kind of single-sign-on with scalability in two directions it's never had before: from the wide scale of multiple online Web sites and services, to the narrow scale of COM components in one processor's memory. There's the potential for a huge achievement here, but we've seen this kind of thing fizzle before. So we have hopes for an opportunity to get our hopes up.

All of Microsoft's star players are on tap for next week -- we mentioned crowd favorite Russinovich. There's also Luca Bolognese, Ray Ozzie, Bob Muglia, Henrik Nielsen, Don Box, Jeffrey Snover, Dean Hachamovitch, Mike Neil, Brian Goldfarb, and programming giant Butler Lampson.

This year, add one name to the list of giants: Burton Smith, the co-founder of Cray, and since 2005 a Technical Fellow at Microsoft. Smith will be on hand this year to profess on his favorite topic, one he helped create: parallelism, and how new processing techniques can be leveraged by better development methods.

It will be a colossal week, and we invite you to stay with Betanews all next week and into the coming days as we sort it all out, live and direct from Los Angeles.

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