Microsoft's Ballmer foresees next .NET stage during TechEd keynote

Jack Vaughan

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Microsoft is increasing its efforts to provide tools and infrastructure for "a new way of work," company CEO Steve Ballmer told an audience estimated at 11,000 here at TechEd 2005. Ballmer highlighted Microsoft's upcoming Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2, the Messaging and Security Feature Pack for Windows Mobile 5.0 and Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) as key enablers for a work style that is oriented toward mobile workers.

The mobile effort will put Microsoft into deeper contention with wireless development platform and tools upstart Research In Motion (RIM).

We've been working hard now on our .NET infrastructure for five years. The next piece is to make sure those applications can be deployed and operated. 
Steve Ballmer

Ballmer suggested that the key issues for the company's .NET software framework were now deployment issues. "We've been working hard now on our .NET infrastructure for five years," he said. "The next piece is to make sure those applications can be deployed and operated."

While noting the wide support .NET was receiving, Ballmer mentioned the existence of pockets of resistance, especially among Visual Basic 6 developers, who, he noted, e-mail him regularly with their concerns. His messages to frustrated VB6 users: New elements in Visual Basic 2005 are on the way, and "We are working hard to make your life better."

Down the road, hinted Ballmer and several other Microsoft executives on hand to demo software, Microsoft Outlook could become a central platform for linking Office applications to various forms of enterprise applications. According to Ballmer, new tools, especially those like VSTO that are hooked into .NET, will help make Outlook a more effective platform.

VSTO-enabled applications were displayed during the presentation by B.J. Holtgrewe, lead product manager, Visual Studio. "What's cool is this is not VBA, it's all the power of Visual Studio," he said.

Ballmer noted that 2005 will be a major year for .NET, due to releases of new versions of SQL Server and Visual Studio tools. Included in the Visual Studio 2005 set is Team System, a package that includes testing and other collaborative development tools. With this release, he said, Microsoft had added the lifecycle development tools, adding "This is the year where I say, 'Watch out Rational,'" a reference to the app development lifecycle tool offerings of IBM.

The better mobile application enablement due later this year will help Microsoft square off against smaller – but growing – development tool competitor RIM. The Messaging and Security Feature Pack for Windows Mobile 5.0, Ballmer said, "will allow for direct mobile messaging – to push e-mail – that we have not delivered, and historically RIM has delivered."

All in all, the keynote was long on demos and entertainment – The News Show cast member Samantha Bee was on hand for pithy commentary – and a bit short on news and comment from Ballmer, who was, nevertheless, his typical enthusiastic and fiery self. After noting the slim ranks of women at the conference, Bee wryly found an upside: There was "absolutely no line in the lady's rooms." About Ballmer, she didn't have much to say, other than "he freaks me out a bit."

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