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Steve Ballmer at TechEd: Microsoft Is Putting Security First

"Security is job one," he declares.

What a difference a year makes.

Last June, at TechEd 2003 in Dallas, TX, Microsoft announced more new products, versions and updates in any one year in its 29-year history.

However at TechEd 2004, the 11,000 people who converged on the huge San Diego Convention Center saw the Redmond giant unveil only a few new software packs and upgrades.

That is not to say TechEd is losing popularity with Microsoft developers, IT professionals and information workers. There was a 22% attendee increase from 2003 and Microsoft's flagship event was sold out months ago.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off the week-long geekfest in a keynote speech with the now familiar "Do more with less" theme. The days of corporate IT departments having an open chequebook are long gone and now. High-tech spending is highly scrutinized by senior management everywhere.

"In some senses I think this is a result of the events, if you will, over the last five or six years," said Ballmer. "With the Y2K phenomenon, there was a ramp up in IT spending, everybody ramped up their IT spend. And the business people, when it was all said and done, what did they feel like they got for that ramp up? Nothing."

Ballmer expects IT spending to change, though.

"So we've been going through almost a drying-out process the last three or four years. And I think we're actually back now to a position that I would call stable. That is, we'll get back to -- instead of a mode of incredible increase followed by a timeframe of decrease in IT budgets -- we'll get back into the pattern that we were in most of the '90s: good, solid, steady increases in IT spending."

While a few new tools were introduced, the most significant news for most end users revolves around the June release of Windows XP Service Pack 2. This major "patch" to the popular desktop operating system will be available through Microsoft Windows Updates and will have features designed to deal with and improve security. For example, a dashboard-like interface will tell you if your antivirus software is turned on and up-to-date and a firewall tool lets you know before you unknowingly download any type of program, such as spyware, from the Internet. Network administrators will also have better enterprise-wide security tools when Microsoft's Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISAServer) 2004) is released in Q3 this year.

On a related note, Microsoft plans on training 500,000 people in security related matters over the next twelve months.

"Security is job one," echoed Ballmer.

For the record, three new or improved initiatives were introduced. This includes Visual Studio 2005 Team System, an addition to the existing Visual Studio product line to include a suite of software tools to allow members of the IT organization to collaborate on delivering service-oriented applications that are designed for operations. The new tools are designed to increase predictability of the SDLC, or Software Development Life Cycle; a process that all software developers are very familiar with.

Web Services Enhancements 2.0, a supported add-on to Microsoft Visual Studio .NET and the Microsoft .NET Framework was also announced. This lets developers more easily build security-enhanced Web services using the latest Web services protocol specifications and for users of Microsoft Office, a technical beta release of the Microsoft Office Information Bridge Framework, was also unveiled.

IBF is an integrated set of tools and components designed to enable developers to build more complicated client solutions for users of the Microsoft Office System. This move continues to build on Microsoft's .NET platform. Over 50% of the developers in the US are working on .NET solutions.

Despite a relatively calm keynote by Ballmer standards, he was nevertheless upbeat about the future.

"I think the next ten years will bring more positive change and innovation out of our industry than the last ten years," said Ballmer. "Now, think about that for a second. Ten years ago, most people didn't have PC's. Ten years ago, most people had never tried the Internet, let along knew what broadband was. Ten years ago, most people didn't have cell phones."

Ballmer expects these big changes to happen in the areas of natural language, artificial intelligence, speech recognition, improved search, increased programmer productivity, interoperability and mobility.

TechEd 2004 continues for the rest of the week in San Diego.

More Stories By Gregory B. Michetti

Gregory Michetti is founder and President of Michetti Information Solutions, Inc. and Vice Chairman of the Computer Network Advisory Board at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. He's a member of the Board of Directors of the Edmonton YMCA, where he also serves on the Audit Committee. In addition, he is on the Board of Directors of the Edmonton Riverview Progressive Conservative Association. He has held a professional membership with CIPS since 1990.
Greg can be reached through www.michetti.com.

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