Microsoft kicked off its Tech Ed Europe conference in Amsterdam Tuesday to the thundering cacophony of thousands of developers and other IT professionals beating on small African drums. The fact that the drums were provided by Microsoft could be seen as a move by the company to get customers dancing to its beat, but for many attendees it represented a change in Microsoft's tune -- the software giant was finally listening to them.
"Arrogance is a label we have earned through our actions in the past," conceded Jonathan Murray, Microsoft's chief technology officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, whose keynote address kicked off the show. Murray, responding to attendee criticism about the way the company has incorporated feedback from the development community, added that Microsoft has been working over the past few years to change that label.
Indeed, Tech Ed Europe 2004 appears to be a clear effort by the company to further broaden its development community by increasing the amount of give and take. It also has taken the opportunity to launch a new line of "Express" product lines for Visual Studio and SQL Server aimed at attracting a new breed of developers -- hobbyists, students and so-called "enthusiasts." The products have been tailored for popular appeal, with Amazon.com, eBay and PayPal providing kits and sample code to get new developers started with creating applications that work with their services, and prices, although not yet announced, are expected to be kept low.
"Think tens of U.S. dollars -- you probably have enough money in your wallet right now," said Prashant Sridharan, lead product manager for Microsoft development tools.
Like the Visual Studio 2005 team tools previewed at Tech Ed in San Diego last month and aimed at enterprise clients, the new Express lines are an attempt to strengthen Microsoft's position by getting more people developing on its platform. But for many of the 6,500 attendees of Tech Ed in Amsterdam, Microsoft's market intentions didn't matter as they seemed impressed by the tools on offer.
"The Express products look great for students and I really liked the code snippets," said Neil Tranter, a recent university graduate who was attending the show to hunt for job prospects. The code snippets he referred to are pieces of prewritten code that can be dropped into users' applications to perform certain functions, like creating a dialog box.
Many of the more professional attendees of the show paid closer attention to the release this week of Visual Studio 2005 Beta 1, however, which contains a Visual Studio Team Architect Edition that allows development teams to more efficiently track and monitor the progress of projects.
"I was very impressed with Visual Studio 2005 ... the team work features are what really struck me," said Deutsche Post AG software architect Juergan Kranz after watching a demo of the new beta during Tuesday's keynote address. The beta also includes product feedback tools, which some attendees hailed as a changing of the times.
In fact, Visual Studio 2005 is the first shipping product that's part of Microsoft's "dynamic systems initiative," Murray said, which aims to more closely combine the writing, testing and deployment phases of a product's lifecycle. Gaining customer feedback before the product is released is now a key component in shaping what Microsoft delivers, he added.
"We are really changing the way we think about products. Application lifecycle is going to become a very central theme to Microsoft's strategy," Murray said.
The company also sent out signals this week that mobile applications are becoming a key focus, as it announced that its Windows CE 5.0 software for embedded devices will offer expanded source licensing, allowing licensees to ship products with derivatives of its source code. Additionally, it touted the growing ranks of professional developers working on the Windows Mobile software platform, which number 380,000 so far.
"We've seen significant growth on the Microsoft Mobile platform. The growth is quite surprising, actually," Murray said.
The company's MapPoint division is also making progress, and announced deals this week with European mobile operators O2 (U.K.) and TeliaSonera to help them provide real-time location services to mobile customers using Microsoft's MapPoint Location Server.
Indeed, directions are something that Microsoft seems to have a lot of these days, as it sets out its ambitions in the mobile, Web services, enterprise application and digital media spaces, to name but a few. The company seems well aware that developers are key to keeping up its momentum, however, and it's need for support is being drummed loudly.
"At the end of the day, it's all about you, the developers," Murray told the crowd.
Tech Ed Europe 2004 runs through Friday.