Microsoft Scraps Fall PDC Developer Show

"As the PDC is the definitive developer event focused on the future of the Microsoft platform, we try to align it to be in front of major platform milestones," Microsoft posted in a note on its MSDN Web site late Thursday. "By this fall, however, upcoming platform technologies including Windows Server 2008, SQL Server code-named 'Katmai,' Visual Studio code-named 'Orcas' and Silverlight will already be in developers' hands and approaching launch, which is where we'll focus our developer engagement in the near term."

The cryptic message drew raised eyebrows among potential attendees; one developer said his initial reaction to hearing the news was, "WTF!?"

Microsoft announced its PDC 2007 plans late last year, its first PDC show since 2005. Intended to spotlight Microsoft's forthcoming breakthroughs, the sporadic PDC show has had a mixed track record. At 2001's gathering, Microsoft focused on Hailstorm, the .Net-based centralized user-data store the company later killed. The last PDC, two years ago, showcased the now-infamous "Pillars of Longhorn" -- which have since crumbled, one by one. The near-mythical WinFS, dropped as a standalone technology, won't quite surface as planned in Orcas, but will instead ship as a later update, Microsoft recently acknowledged.

While Microsoft's PDC "rescheduling" message (it said it will update the community when it has "a new date for the PDC that is better timed with the next wave of platform technologies") indicates new developer technologies will "already be in developers' hands," that's not quite true. Silverlight, the multimedia client software that will go head-to-head with Adobe's Flash, is slated to ship by August, but Microsoft hasn't committed to launch schedules yet for Orcas (in beta 1) or Katmai (not yet in previews). Windows Server 2008, the fabled Longhorn, is slated for "release to manufacturing" by the end of the year -- a commitment that still leaves Microsoft with wiggle room. One company executive said Microsoft may hold back Windows Server 2008 to coordinate its release with Orcas and Katmai.

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PDC's planned attendees were left wondering why Microsoft scheduled the show in the first place if it wasn't going to have new technology to tout -- or what's changed recently to make it pull back.

"Why did they announce PDC so far in advance if they didn't have even the rough sketch worked out?" wondered Steve St. Jean, a senior consultant with Microsoft Gold partner Magenic Technologies in Minneapolis. "Why weren't those projects 'locked-in' for PDC? What changed during the course of the past few months to cause their allotment of 'cool new stuff' to dry up?"

A Microsoft representative declined to answer questions about PDC's cancellation.

St. Jean is now left hunting around for another opportunity to use his training budget. His colleague Michael Ruminer, a principal consultant at Magenic, noted that the cancellation is awkwardly timed: "A lot of developer-related people that would have to choose only one conference between PDC and Tech-Ed to allocate their time and money to would likely have been planning on PDC -- and now they are out of luck on both as Tech-Ed is only a few weeks off and PDC is canceled." Tech-Ed opens June 4, in Orlando.

Former Microsoft uberblogger Robert Scoble weighed in with his opinion that Microsoft killed PDC because it has nothing flashy in the works.

"Now that Google, Amazon and Apple are shipping platforms that are more and more interesting to Microsoft's developer community, Microsoft has to play a different game. One where they can't keep showing off stuff that never ships," he wrote. "This means a couple of things: no new Windows and no major new Internet strategy this year."

Some partners took the cancellation in stride. "I'm a little disappointed, but it's a matter of timing," said Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo Software. "When they committed to this date awhile back, they probably thought everything would come together: Longhorn, Orcas, etc. Perhaps not. At least we had MIX07 and TechEd next month. Frankly, this 'rain-delay' grants us more time to absorb Silverlight!"

Others, however, had their claws out. One independent Microsoft consultant suggested that Vista's chilly reception may have killed PDC.

"After seeing the horror show of Windows Vista perhaps there are no longer any professional developers, at least within Microsoft," he said. "I have not met one person running Vista who likes it. Everyone is stunned at what a total piece of shoddy programming Vista has turned out to be."

Another independent developer fired off the ultimate barb in his blog: "Maybe Microsoft should just announce Visual Studio for OSX and drop Windows Vista completely."

BARBARA DARROW contributed to this story