Data, and more data, is the big theme

Microsoft Corp. is kicking off the first of two back-to-back Tech-Ed conferences in Orlando this morning with a slew of product announcements, and one theme is standing out: data management.

For instance, Microsoft said it is partnering with IBM to let software developers use Microsoft's Visual Studio Team System Database Edition tools to program and test IBM's DB2 database, even while working offline. An initial Community Technology Preview (CTP) release of the DB2-enabled tool set is expected in the fall, said Jonathan Perera, general manager of Microsoft's application platform division.

Micosoft also is releasing the first CTP of a distributed in-memory application cache technology codenamed Velocity. That product is designed to enable .Net developers, especially those working on intranet or Web applications, to temporarily store data in a cache for quicker retrieval than if the information was written to an actual database. Doing so can improve overall application performance, Perera said.

In addition, Microsoft is issuing a second CTP release of Microsoft Sync Framework, its data synchronization technology for Windows and Windows Mobile . Sync Framework, which first became available in a preview release last fall, is supposed to enable data to be synchronized between various applications, services and devices.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is scheduled to give the opening keynote at the Tech-Ed North America 2008 conference at 8:30 a.m. today. Gates, who plans to give up his day-to-day role at Microsoft at the end of this month, is expected to reflect on the company's 33-year history with independent software developers, a group that often has been credited for playing a big role in the success of Windows and Microsoft as a whole.

For the first time, Tech-Ed is being run over two weeks this year. A Microsoft spokeswoman said that about 5,000 developers are expected to attend this week's conference, and that 10,000 IT managers, database administrators and other tech pros are expected at a separate event taking place in Orlando next week. In contrast, there was a total of 9,000 attendees at the single Tech-Ed conference last year, she said.

On Tuesday, Gates and other Microsoft executives also are expected to tout announcements such as the availability of the second beta release of the company's Silverlight 2 rich-media player.

When the first version of Silverlight became available last year, Microsoft emphasized the product's video capabilities, which at the time were superior to those in Adobe Systems Inc.'s more-established Flash Player software.

This time around, Microsoft is trying to impress upon .Net developers that they will be able to create "great-looking" enterprise Web applications with Silverlight 2, Perera said. "This will be .Net on a Silverlight canvas, which is difficult and hard to do with Silverlight 1.0," he added.

A commercial version of Silverlight 2 is expected to be released to manufacturing in the fall. Perera declined to give an update on how many users Silverlight 1.0 currently has, or on how many times it has been downloaded.

Microsoft isn't announcing the availability of any pre-release versions of its upcoming unified modeling platform, which was announced last fall. That technology, codenamed Oslo, is designed to support declarative programming, a technique in which developers specify what something is like instead of how to create it, and model-driven development, in which programmers build visual models of their applications and the underlying code is then filled in automatically.

Oslo will underpin future versions of Visual Studio as well as Microsoft's System Center and BizTalk Server products.

Heather Havenstein contributed to this story.

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