From a .NET perspective, Microsoft TechEd 2001 in Atlanta was exciting. On Monday morning, in his keynote address, Paul Flessner, senior vice president for .NET Enterprise Servers, made several major product announcements. First, he announced Microsoft Mobile Information 2001 Server. "Mobility is core to what Microsoft is doing," he said. With Mobile Information 2001 Server, Microsoft has mobile-enabled Exchange. Mobile Information 2001 Server provides full access to the Exchange mailbox and secure access to the carriers and the devices. Device support is limited, which is to be expected in a version 1.0 product, but overall, Mobile Information 2001 Server looks fantastic.

Ironically, Wireless Knowledge, a Microsoft/QualComm partnership has a similar product—Anystyle. In its TechEd booth, Wireless Knowledge demonstrated Anystyle for cellular telephone, Windows CE, RIM, and Palm—so Anystyle's device limitations are negligible. Despite being a long-time BlackBerry user, I switched last week from BlackBerry to Anystyle on the same RIM device. Now, instead of a device that simply receives scraped copies of email messages, I have a fully enabled Exchange client. So, if I delete a message from Anystyle on my RIM device, it disappears from my Exchange inbox. In addition, Anystyle gives me access to my Exchange folders; now, from my wireless device, I can move my messages from my inbox to Exchange folders.

Flessner also announced Mobile Web Controls, which are .NET controls that wireless-enable Web applications on the .NET platform, and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), which manages data centers and distributed enterprises. Finally, Flessner announced Microsoft Content Manager Server, a content-management system that facilitates multiple content creators, templates for authoring, an approval process, and many other features. Microsoft Content Manager Server isn't a version 1.0 product; it is, in fact, NCompass Resolution version 4.0 (Microsoft recently purchased NCompass). I'm speculating that Microsoft will marry Resolution's content management features to Microsoft Application Center's deployment features to provide a software suite that will be irresistible.

Attendees at Flessner's keynote also saw a sneak peek of Yukon, the next version of SQL Server (with a ship date in 2003). Microsoft promises deep XML integration by integrating structured, semistructured, and unstructured data in SQL Server.

In the keynote on Tuesday morning, Bill Gates celebrated Visual Basic's (VB's) 10-year anniversary by officially announcing Visual Studio.NET (VS.NET) Beta 2 availability. Gates called this release "the most solid beta we have seen." He also described the ASP.NET go-live license, which will help companies put into production applications built on VS.NET Beta 2. Every conference attendee received the VS.NET Beta 2 CD-ROM set.

Certainly, the most amusing part of Gates' keynote occurred when Ari Bixhorn, the VB product manager, appeared on stage with Donkey.bas, a character-based game that Gates wrote with the first version of VB more than 10 years ago to prove VB's capabilities to IBM. "The first version of VB was the last product that Microsoft shipped \[for which\] I wrote most of the code," Gates said, smiling. VB has enjoyed much success; more than 8 million developers worldwide write code in VB. Bixhorn demonstrated a VS.NET version of Donkey in which Gates drove a car and ran over donkeys—all in third gear—to the crowd's delight.

"This is the XML era," Gates boldly proclaimed. He explained the transition through the years from server-centric computing to client-centric computing. "We think we'll have a balance where the intelligence is in the center—the best of both worlds. No protocols have handled this. With the arrival of XML, now we have an emerging standard as the protocol of this era," Gates said. XML hysteria puts pressure on Microsoft to make huge advances in the tools. And that is exactly what the company promises with VS.NET, due out late this year.