TechEd Day 1&2 from an Exchange perspective

It’s been a huge couple of days for the Exchange team, especially the Exchange Mobile Sync team, which is in my group. In case you missed the news, at TechEd on Monday we announced Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2 as well as the Messaging and Security Feature Pack for Windows Mobile 5. It’s so exciting to be able to show the world what we’ve been doing lately. The summary of what this does for mobile sync devices that use Exchange ActiveSync is to give the end user instant email and the mail administrator the ability to set policies to secure devices. There are some other features for both, including a GAL lookup feature on the device, so you can call, email, or look up office locations of people who aren’t in your contacts. Be sure to read the Exchange team blog this week, where developers from the Exchange Mobile Sync team are writing great, candid, deeply technical articles about our sync changes. (You gotta love Sami's post from yesterday - he was the lead dev for our new "Direct Push" technology)

Last week while the marketing team was working on press releases, press calls, and stuff like that, my PM team and our colleagues in Windows Mobile have been working on the demos that showed off the product on Monday. We had four separate demos on Monday in which we showcased our new mobile features. We had the Steve Ballmer keynote, the Dave Thompson/Kurt DelBene Collaboration Strategic Briefing, the Dave Thompson MSG200 “Exchange Today & Tomorrow” session, and Max Ciccotosto’s SP2 Mobile features session. What a production – we had to make multiple copies of our demo setup and make sure it worked in every room, around the convention center. This is my first time being involved in executive sessions, much less actually doing the demos in one (I did the SP2 demos in MSG200). It involves many slide reviews, runthroughs, and rehearsals. When you see demos go off without a hitch in a big session, you can rest assured that it is because the staff spent tens or hundreds of hours preparing – pre-release software doesn’t just work perfectly by accident!

We also had to cope with handing off a limited number of the cool new devices that we are showing off, like the HTC Universal. It was neat to get to use the Universal – it is a really hot device. The 640x480 screen really makes it look great, and the keyboard is really nice. I can’t wait until I get more time to use one. If you are at the show, make sure to stop by the Windows Mobile booth in the exhibit hall – we have all of the latest Windows Mobile 5 devices on display, including the Universal and the new ruggedized Symbol device shown in the Steve Ballmer keynote.

I also spent some time yesterday in the Exchange "cabana" - a new idea they started at last year's TechEd, where we basically have 10-20 Exchange experts standing/sitting around in one spot all day, waiting to answer customers' questions. I think it's a great thing, and it seems to be well received by attendees. Sometimes I can't believe that we used to just have one evening event of "Ask the Experts" - it's obvious that we're learning and tuning the conference to respond to attendees' wishes.

It's always fascinating to me to see what the "buzz" is in the questions that people have. Of course many of the questions are sort of "the system is doing something it shouldn't, why is that?" which is usually met with a "I have never heard of such behavior, the best way to diagnose that is to call support". We always feel bad when we can't figure something out (as we are driven engineers who take pride in our product!) but sometimes it's hard to diagnose it without seeing the system. People open up their laptops with a terminal services session in to their server, and yesterday I suggested to a guy who works at a bank that he have someone back at the office take a screenshot of his settings and email it to him so he could print it out and bring it over :-). But the most interesting questions are sort of more architectural, "I have this system and I want to change it in this way". It is these questions that allow me to take a "pulse" of the customer base... in 2002, most of those questions were still 5.5 problems from customers who weren't really motivated to move off of 5.5. But in 2003, that started to change, and by TechEd 2004, most of the architectural questions were "I am planning my migration from 5.5 to 2003. Help me make sure I'm doing it right". And that continued in this show - lots of people asking that question (although less than last year, indicating that many of them succeeded). 

Finally, the last change that I've seen in this year's TechEd that I applaud is the Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions being more prominently advertised - actually advertised in the mini-booklet that everyone carries. These have always been the most useful for part of many non-MS conferences, e.g. USENIX events, for me, over the years. Just as you often learn more from your peers that you work with than your managers, I think that you may learn more from your peers at a conference than the sometimes-narrowly-focused experts who give the sessions. How do you think we did with BoFs for the Exchange community?