Microsoft’s Next Generation

SAN FRANCISCO — The world’s biggest software company celebrated the release of SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 on Monday with a splashy event and a full day of tutorials.

Microsoft launched its next wave of products with earsplitting heavy metal music, greeters dressed in leathers and shag wigs, and the theme of “Ready to Rock the Launch.”

The theme echoes the famous “Start Me Up” launch of Windows 95, and that’s appropriate. Ten years later, Microsoft needs to generate the same kind of excitement for a new generation of products.

The world has changed, and so has the audience. The majority of the crowd of approximately 3,000 sitting in San Francisco’s Moscone Center for today’s launch event was predominantly in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They may have felt nostalgia for the arena rock concerts of the 1970s — as well as for the rock star status that Bill Gates and Microsoft had in those early days when the PC changed the world.

The new versions of server software and development tools are the most significant since Windows 95, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said.

“This cycle of products gives us the next generation, one that’s bold and innovative but also is a refinement and builds on the concepts we’ve been pioneering.”

Ballmer acknowledged the 10-year product gap.

“It was a little bit long in the making on some of these products, and maybe a little less bake time would be appropriate in the future,” Ballmer said in his keynote address. “But we learned a lot in the last few years about security, and I’ll be darned if we weren’t going to apply that learning wholeheartedly in these major releases.”

Ballmer noted that the community technology preview (CTP) process used for this wave of products was a different development methodology. CTPs let users weigh in on features — and let them do some of the heavy lifting on quality assurance. Over 18,000 bugs were submitted for the product group and over 8,500 suggestions.

Visual Studio 2005 was released to manufacturing on Oct. 27. It’s integrated with the .NET Framework 2 and tightly integrated with SQL Server 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006.

It also integrates with Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0; the English-language version is due for release in December.

The products are the cornerstones of Microsoft’s total platform approach in which all products can access the same data stores and information, using the same model for programming, business intelligence, user identity, management and security.

Microsoft wants to see its software used by big business. The carefully orchestrated launch included testimonials and case studies from a wide variety of large enterprises, including bookseller Barnes and Noble, JetBlue airlines, the London Stock Exchange and pharmaceuticals manufacturer Merck.

“The oldest issue we’ve dealt with is scalability, and today we should be able to completely convince you there’s no job too big to run completely on the Microsoft platform,” he said.

Ballmer made no bones about using SQL Server 2005 to go after Oracle’s database products. He announced several initiatives with SAP, including a multi-year licensing program under which SAP will resell SQL Server, and a 50 percent reduction in price for customers migrating to Microsoft SQL Server from a competitive database.

“We want to take market share from Oracle in the application and database market,” he said.

At the same time, Oracle announced it would support Visual Studio 2005 with a free plug-in by May 2006. It will also offer a new Oracle Data Provider for .NET in support of ADO.NET 2.0, Microsoft’s standard for data access.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini joined Ballmer onstage to announce a technology collaboration that will include tools within Visual Studio 2005 that will let developers take advantage of the unique capabilities of Intel’s Xeon and Itanium chips.

SQL Server 2005, BizTalk Server 2006 and Visual Studio 2005 also will integrate with Office 12, which is expected to ship in the latter part of 2006, and SharePoint Server.

“Those products will flank and complement this set of products,” Ballmer said. He added, perhaps in a nod to Microsoft’s ongoing antitrust troubles in the European Union, “We’re open. You can integrate other companies’ products, but we want to make sure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

To jumpstart adoption, Microsoft made free versions of Visual Studio 2005 Express and SQL Server 2005 Express available for download today.

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