Because I was just in Boston last month for TechEd 2006, my return to the city this past week for the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) 2006 was a bit of deja vu. But after weathering last year's activities leading up to and following the release of SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005, and BizTalk 2006, I was surprised that SQL Server had such a tiny presence at the WPC this year. While walking through the (massive) expo hall, I finally found the SQL Server 2005 booth--or kiosk rather. I asked the product manager working the kiosk about SQL Server's reduced presence, and he nonchalantly reminded me, "It's not a launch year."

In the expo hall, I noticed a lot of the Microsoft booths and kiosks offered "fun-size" 3 Musketeers candy bars as giveaways. At first, I just figured one of the Microsoft event coordinators really liked 3 Musketeers, but when I was urged to take a handful of the candy bars, I needed to ask what the deal was. One booth attendant explained, "You know, they're the 3 Musketeers: Windows Vista, Office 2007, and Exchange 2007." Oh, now I get it: It IS a launch year--for the "3 Musketeers."

Like the TechEd Web site, the WPC Web site is still up and has been updated since the conference. (See the WPC Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/partner/events/wwpartnerconference/default.htm .) The WPC Web site doesn't have nearly as much content as the TechEd site offers, but you can watch a video of Steve Ballmer's opening keynote, read transcripts of other top Microsoft executives' Vision and Value keynotes, and check out the Partner Program Awards winners.

This year's WPC didn't go as smoothly as those in years past. The Boston- traffic mess due to tunnel damage was (and still is) unavoidable, but whoever decided to shut down the conference hotels' shuttle service for six hours each afternoon should be examined.

Regardless, the event was still a good conference for Microsoft partners to network with key Microsoft individuals and other partners to better understand how to build their businesses alongside Microsoft. Microsoft offers a networking infrastructure in which attendees can search for other attendee profiles according to company, geography, industry focus, role, or just keywords and then create meetings. This structured networking is very helpful for partners to engage with Microsoft-partner account managers and technology owners or to find other partners with which to build alliances.