Big Tech Ed Question: Where's Whidbey?

As of late Thursday, the status of the first beta of the new Visual Studio toolkit, code-named Whidbey, remained day to day. Best-guess estimates from company insiders that it would surface at Tech Ed, as planned, ranged from "likely" to "iffy." A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment on the timing of the beta (see story).

Company executives have said to expect first beta of Whidbey and the second (or first public) beta of the tightly-linked Yukon or SQL Server 2005 database in the first half of 2004. The next beta round of both offerings is slated for the second half of hte year and product shipment in the first half of 2005.

Whether or not the Whidbey bits are available for download next week, many industry observers expect Microsoft to delve more deeply into Whitehorse, the modeling capabilities slated to be part of the new toolkit. The technology is designed to allow corporate developers to work with less-technical business analysts on redefining business processes, which would help speed application development (for more on Whitehorse, see MSDN blogs).

Early Whidbey code, in the form of a "community code drop," made it into developers' hands at VSLive in March. But now, it appears less likely that beta one of the database will be available next week. A Microsoft spokeswoman said only that beta is still on tap for the first half of the year. Select partners and customers have had "private beta" bits for some time.

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With ISA Server 2004 and its firewall and caching functions, Microsoft has its work cut out for it, according to one industry analyst, who requested anonymity. The Redmond, Wash., software vendor must convince corporations wary of putting Microsoft technology at a strategic spot on their networks that ISA Server 2004 is not a toy, the analyst said. Though many technologists acknowledge the work Microsoft has done to shore up security, there's still a public perception that the company's products are vulnerable.

The availability of Exchange SP1 messaging is important, given "many shops' unwillingness to implement 1.0 versions of any product," the analyst added. Exchange Server 2003 has been available since last October.

At Tech Ed, which Microsoft said is sold out with 11,000 registrants, the software giant also is slated to outline new engineering criteria for its Windows Server Systems (WSS) lineup to guarantee higher levels of reliability and security plus lower total cost of ownership. The show is expected to be focused more on the here-and-now rather than the futures touted at last fall's Professional Developers Conference (PDC).

"We're thinking about not just one phase of designing and building with tools, but also managing and deploying and maintaining [systems]," Harley Sitner, senior product manager for Windows Server Systems at Microsoft, told CRN. "Tech Ed 2004 is about making the vision real, with hands-on training. PDC was all about tomorrow. Tech Ed is about tomorrow starting today."

ELIZABETH MONTALBANO and PAULA ROONEY contributed to this story.