This week, I'm at SQL Server Connections soaking up information from Microsoft, exhibitors, speakers, and attendees. I have so much to say about this event, but so little space. First, turnout for the Connections shows was fabulous this year. Preliminary head counts show close to 5,400 attendees, speakers, and exhibitors across all of the shows. Nine Connections events were colocated in Las Vegas, including SQL Server Connections and Windows Connections. This technology buffet gives attendees a diverse set of topics to choose from and feels a bit like a mini TechEd with the size of the crowd. You missed a great show if you weren't there. You should consider attending the spring event.

I'll be sharing random thoughts from the conference over the next few weeks. Today, I want to talk primarily about the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) keynote that I attended on Tuesday, and share the news that Visual Studio 2008 is scheduled to be released to manufacturing and available for download from MSDN by the end of November. I've never been much of a Visual Studio geek, and this release date was a bit earlier than I expected, so it will take me a few weeks to digest what's cool, new, and interesting about Visual Studio 2008 for the SQL Server audience. Needless to say, its release will have a large impact on us SQL geeks.

So what about MOSS? I was intrigued by a few of the comments Tom Rizzo made during his keynote. First, Tom mentioned that Steve Ballmer and other key Microsoft executives have been talking about MOSS as a "mid-tier operating system." That's an interesting thought and helps to define the direction that Microsoft is taking MOSS as a platform. MOSS currently offers interesting functionality across a wide range of feature sets, including forms management, business intelligence (BI), collaboration, portals, search, and content management services. MOSS is arguably becoming the midtier glue capable of holding a wide range of disparate solutions together.

I was also intrigued by Tom's exploration of the growing number of firms who are using MOSS as their customer-facing Internet platform in addition to the more traditional content and document management intranet usages that most people still box MOSS into. Tom pointed out that MOSS is closing in on making a billion dollars per year in annual revenue, quickly becoming one of Microsoft's fastest-selling server technologies. Tom went on to say that demand for the product is growing so fast that Microsoft, and many of its key partners, simply can't hire support and field engineers fast enough. The magic of supply and demand economics therefore suggests that MOSS might not be a bad place to hang your hat as a developer or IT pro over the next few years.

Tom's "big announcement" for the day was the announcement of Microsoft Search Server 2008, which will replace MOSS for corporate search. Tom highlighted a simplified installation process, enhanced administrative tools, new and better-federated search capabilities, performance and stability enhancements, and, perhaps most interesting, the fact that a Search Server 2008 Express version will be offered for free. The only restriction will be its single server topology (i.e., you can't hook multiple instances together into a federated environment). Tom also indicated that the next MOSS release will be the last version that includes support for 32-bit platforms. That's an interesting direction for Microsoft to go. On the one hand, it seems reasonable for server technologies to be moving to 64-bit. On the other hand, there are a lot of developers who use laptops and desktop-class machines for development, and 32-bit is still very prevalent at that level. I'm curious to see how much push back Microsoft gets on this move.

Finally, check out the Community Kit for SharePoint (CKS) that's available at CodePlex (http://www.codeplex.com/CKS). The CKS "is a set of best practices, templates, Web Parts, tools, and source code that enables practically anyone to create a community website based on SharePoint technology for practically any group of people with a common interest." I haven't had time to dig into it myself, but Tom promises that it's chock full of goodies.