Tech-Ed kicks off with Azure, Office 365, Windows 8

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Microsoft is going through an exciting phase of innovation, says Microsoft corporate vice-president for Visual Studio, Jason Zander. The company’s aim, he claims, is to build connected devices focusing on elastic resources, composable services and to take away the worry from the cloud by making it more secure through carefully controlled access.

Zander addressed an audience of more than 3 000 people at the opening keynote of this year’s Tech-Ed conference in Durban South Africa.

Tech-Ed Africa is billed as Microsoft’s “premier technical education event providing the most comprehensive technical training on Microsoft’s suite of products, technologies, solutions and services”.

The conference, according to Microsoft South Africa MD Mteto Nyati, will focus strongly on the two broad trends that are shaping both the industry and Microsoft’s strategy: Cloud computing — both public and private — and devices.

“You’re going to see a whole bunch of devices of different shapes, sizes, form factors, speeds, usage types. We need a world of devices, and they need to be smart. They need to create data, they need to connect to the cloud,” said Nyati.

“The cloud for us is the extension of rich experiences that once began on the desktop or on the server, and it’s making them richer and more interesting to users and more compelling every single day.”

Zander’s keynote addressed those two broad areas with a developer demonstration of the Windows Azure platform as well as Office 365. Azure is planned for release between March and May 2012 in South Africa. Office 365 will be commercially available in the first half of 2012, with trial availability towards the end of this year.

“Microsoft has repeatedly made its commitment to the cloud very clear and has made repeated updates to its cloud offerings. We recently announced several new updates to the Windows Azure platform — which we see as the most comprehensive operating system for Platform as a service that will help customers create rich applications that enable new business scenarios in the cloud,” says Zander.

Zander explains that Microsoft has “high hopes” for Office 365, which it says will bring cloud productivity to businesses of all sizes, particularly smaller businesses without an IT department. The service will be hosted from the Microsoft datacentres in Europe, “leveraging the economies of scale present in these large datacentres”.

“Office 365 is the best of everything we know about productivity, all in a single cloud service”, said Zander. “The power of cloud solutions allows companies to rent computing power, rather than acquire it outright. Microsoft Office 365 is software-as-a-service, a form of cloud computing where business services are presented to the end-user in a subscription model.”

Zander also demoed the upcoming Windows 8 with its “touch first user interface” and “faster boot time”. The operating system is designed for easy access says Zander.

“It’s an app rich platform. You can move seamlessly between apps, we have also integrated search in every app for easy access. Social data can be fed back in to you easily. Apps such as Photo Feedr, allow you to see photos from your friends have uploaded from an event you were at,” he says.

A version of Windows 8 is available for developers to use and build apps for at dev.windows.com. The software giant claims that Windows 8 machines will have new generation hardware, more ways to engage with powerful and connected apps and many new developer opportunities. The OS will also come with Marketplace which recently launched in South Africa.

A brief and rather unsuccessful demo of Windows Phone Mango explored the latest updates which “bring 500 new features to local users of the platform”. The major development, however is the availability of Marketplace, which will allow South African consumers to buy local and international apps using local currency via their credit cards. Mango also includes Xbox live integration, which will allow users to access Xbox mobile games.

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