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XP, Exchange take center stage at TechEd

Microsoft is expected to lay off Longhorn evangelism in favor of current products at its IT conference next week.

Pay no attention to that operating system behind the curtain.

After raising expectations for Longhorn, the increasingly distant future version of Windows, at recent events, Microsoft is expected to stick to the here and now at next week's TechEd conference.

Running Monday through Friday in San Diego, TechEd is expected to draw a broad mix of developers, information technology administrators and in-the-trenches tech workers--about 11,000 in all--keen to hear about what the software giant can do for them right now.

"The people going to TechEd want to know how to manage what they have now and what's coming," said Rob Helm, an analyst for research firm Directions on Microsoft. "Fundamentally, TechEd is about getting people excited about what they're going to get in the next year."

All that means an emphasis on the current Windows XP operating system and particularly its upcoming Service Pack 2 (SP2) update. The security enhancements and other updates in SP2 constitute a major upgrade, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research, and should give Microsoft its best tool for combating corporate ennui towards XP.

"One of the short-term priorities for Microsoft is to do things to spur more adoption of XP, and SP2 can do a lot in that regard," he said. "It could justifiably be called much more than a service pack and closer to an interim release."

Also likely to generate news from TechEd is Exchange, Microsoft's e-mail server software. Helm said he at least expects details on Exchange Edge Services, a planned add-on that would connect Exchange with more services, such as spam filters and virus catchers.

"That's the biggest question I have from TechEd: Where is Exchange going?" he said. "They've got this technology that's kicking Lotus' (IBM's e-mail server) butt in the core markets. But they still have competitors like Linux addressing bits and pieces of the e-mail picture, like spam filtering."

TechEd also is likely to include plenty of partner activity, building on recent pacts with computing giants Oracle and SAP. Growing adoption of Microsoft's .Net development environment is spurring otherwise competitive software makers to make some peace with Microsoft, Helm said.

"I can see these software vendor deals picking up steam," he said. "My sense is that finally major vendors like SAP and Oracle have realized that even if they don't adopt .Net for their own code, they need to support .Net developers who want to extend their code. Those .Net developers need to get at data in those applications."

Developers at TechEd may also get a taste of Whitehorse, an upcoming modeling and programming tool that Microsoft CEO Bill Gates appeared to preview this week in an address to corporate executives.