Delivering the opening keynote address at the software giant's annual conference for developers, network administrators and other in-the-trenches IT folks, Ballmer made only brief mention of, the next version of Windows.
Instead, he focused on new tools intended to make life easier for the IT set. Those include Visual Studio 2005 Team System, a planned addition to the company'sof developer tools.
Team System will focus on managing application development projects and making it easier to blend the results into corporate IT systems. The package, intended for delivery with the main Visual Studio 2005 release in the first half of next year, will include modeling tools for representing back-end systems and managing how a new application fits into the environment.
Ballmer said the package will help developers, managers, testers and IT administrators work together more efficiently and that it's emblematic of Microsoft's new "do more with less" theme.
"For those of you on the IT side of the house, this is where we really come to the fore with Dynamic Systems Initiative," Microsoft's , he said. "Software can be looked at from an operations perspective as well as a development perspective."
The modeling tools, formerly known as Visual Studio Enterprise Tools., will enable IT folks to mix and match graphical representations of various processes used in their corporate network. The upshot is that developers can ensure that a new application is fully compatible with their network infrastructure before releasing it into the wild, as opposed to the old trial-and-error style of testing, said Rick LaPlante, general manager of
"We do the configuration matching, which is the single biggest point of failure," he said in an interview after Ballmer's speech.
Visual Studio 2005 Team System will be sold in various packages tailored to specific IT roles, said Prashant Sridharan, product manager for Microsoft's developer tools division. Sridharan said the new team packages represent a significant extension of Microsoft's usual developer-centered focus.
"We're absolutely expanding our product line to include new roles beyond the developer, but we have to do it in a coherent way," he said.
LaPlante said Team System won't replace the third-party packages competing in the increasingly crowded systems management market, but it will work with them, giving software makers a common framework that can accommodate a variety of specialty tools. He said numerous systems management software makers are already working on integrating their tools with Team System. "It's built from the ground up to serve as a platform," he said.
Ballmer also announced a few new Web services initiatives, including Office Information Bridge Framework, a new set of tools for connecting Microsoft's market-leading Office productivity software with . XML capability has become the focal point for Office, with Microsoft positioning the software as a .
"So Office can be a smart-client front end to XML services that live elsewhere on your network or out there on other systems," Ballmer said.
It's also a demonstration of Microsoft's commitment to XML and other open standards that allow communication between disparate computing systems, Ballmer said.
"I want to encourage you to question the conventional wisdom," Ballmer said. "Our company has made a greater commitment to interoperability and open standards than any one gives us credit for."
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Beyond the new products, Ballmer focused on familiar themes, such as Microsoft's recent advances on the security front, increasingand improving efficiency and effectiveness for developers. Ballmer said one of Microsoft's ongoing themes is to make its products easy to extend and integrate, thus allowing developers to work faster.
"Each and every one of the products we build isn't just an application; it's also an extensible piece of software," Ballmer said. "The cheapest piece of code is one I don't have to write myself but one I already have and can reuse and repurpose."