Microsoft Tech Ed heralds company's biggest year of launches

Technology conference attracts more than 2000 IT attendees

According to Microsoft more than 2000 Kiwi IT workers and technologists are attending its Tech Ed conference this week at Auckland's Sky City Convention Centre.

During the opening keynote on Tuesday afternoon, the Redmond-based software company said 2012 will be its largest year measured by product releases. Over 20 new or refreshed products from its gaming, consumer, and enterprise divisions are launching this year.

Windows Server 2012

Microsoft's announcement that it would launch Windows Server 2012 for the first time at Tech Ed, drew applause from the crowd. The previous iteration of the server OS (Server 2008 R2) was released three years ago, and many have waited for new features to address the rise of virtualisation and cloud.

Microsoft has heavily pushed its cloud offerings, Azure and SkyDrive, to the enterprise over the last two years, so it was not surprising that Windows Server 2012 is also focused on the cloud environment.

"Windows Server 2012 is the world's first genuine cloud OS, which has been built from the ground up to provide one consistent platform across private, hosted and public cloud environments," says Microsoft NZ head of Azure and server business group Bradley Burrows.

Windows Server 2012 incorporates Active Directory mirroring between Azure and Server, and Burrows says integration with System Centre 2012 will give more control to companies wanting to use cloud service providers.

Server 2012 has the same Windows 8 user interface (formerly known as Metro UI) as its upcoming PC counterpart, Windows 8. But the UI change is only a small part of the overall offering in Server 2012, Microsoft has enhanced or expanded Server Manager, PowerShell and Hyper-V.

Reaction from delegates that Computerworld spoke to after a server-related briefing was positive towards the new features, in particular Hyper-V. One made the comment that working with the touch-centric Windows 8 UI seemed unnecessary for this type of application, but he thought the live tiles used for monitoring critical server information was appealing.

Microsoft says a bare bones Server 2012 can be installed that removes the Windows 8 UI and replaces it with command shell interface instead.

Lync 2013

Many of the features for Microsoft's unified communications product, Lync, were announced back in July, along with the release of the customer preview version. Microsoft unified communications solutions architect Andrew Ehrensing (below), says the final feature set in Lync 2013 could change between now and the time it ships next year.

Ehrensing says Skype federation will be supported in Lync 2013, which will allow Lync users to connect to Skype to facilitate communication with staff or customers without Lync. XMPP support will give users the ability to instant message with Google Talk and Jabber users, among others.

Integration with Exchange 2013 means there will be a single source of truth for contact information and archiving, says Ehrensing, who adds that Windows Server 2008 R2 or Server 2012 is required to run the Lync 2013.

Kinect Robotics

Pictured above is Roborazzi, a Kinect-powered robot looking to make party photographers and the paparazzi redundant. Developed in Microsoft's headquarters in Seattle, the initial prototype was created to showcase the Kinect sensor's capabilities in a real life situation.

The Kinect sensor is connected to a laptop and DSLR camera. The four-point wheel base of Roborazzi makes it manoeuverable in tight spaces. It's capable of recognising faces and can navigate rooms on its own, taking photos of people and uploading it to social networks like Flickr. The entire machine is coded on Microsoft's Robotics Developer Studio 4 software.

Loke-Uei Tan, senior product manager in Microsoft's robotics division and Roborazzi’s minder, says the robot is a bit “cheesy” but demonstrates technologies that can be applied elsewhere, in health robotics applications for example.

“The combination of the Kinect sensor technology and the robotics software to take advantage of that could be used in health care or hazardous locations for research,” says Tan.

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