I've just returned from TechEd 2003; for the first time, the trade show combined TechEd and MEC content, leading some wags to call the conference "MEC Ed." As always, the show was a somewhat jarring experience thanks to the large crowds and the wealth of detailed technical information available in the sessions, hands-on labs, and Ask the Experts area.

TechEd has long been Microsoft's premiere show for IT professionals, architects, and administrators, and in recent years, the show has taken on a strong developer flavor too. One of the first things I noticed this year was that Exchange Server and related products held their own on the show floor. Some of the most heavily trafficked booths featured Exchange products and services--something I found reassuring. The big buzz among the attendees was the release of Exchange Server 2003 Release Candidate 1 (RC1), also known as build 6940.4. Each attendee received a copy (RC1 is also available at http://www.microsoft.com/exchange ). Microsoft's Joint Development Program (JDP) partners have been using RC1 in production for a while, and the product has proven to be quite stable. It's exciting to see how far the product has come since the start of the year.

The technical sessions were an eclectic mix of developer topics (e.g., "Head-Spinning C++ Interoperability") and the more standard administration, mobility, and management tracks that Exchange folks are used to. My favorite session was titled "Mobile Disaster Recovery Planning"; the presenter damaged mobile devices in a variety of ways (e.g., immersion in salad dressing, a 4-foot drop) to illustrate the many perils that these devices, and the data they hold, face. Several Exchange-specific sessions stood out, including Ken Ewert's talk about advanced backup and restore technologies for Exchange 2003 and Paul Bowden's session about how Exchange 2003 and Windows Server 2003 are "better together."

During much of the time that I should have been attending sessions, I was prowling the exhibit area (where, among other things, the expo gods teased us by putting rivals Connectix and VMware right across from each another). As at last year's MEC, I saw several interesting new products. I was a bit surprised by the number of companies selling mobility solutions for Exchange data. There were some cool new handheld devices (my favorite was Good Technology's Good G100, and I saw long lines of folks interested in the Hitachi G1000 PCS Phone at Sprint's booth), plus some announcements of Exchange 2003 support from antivirus and backup vendors. I was pleased to see a thriving, competitive antispam market, which bodes well for the development of better, less expensive filtering solutions.

As much as I enjoy meeting and talking with other administrators and Microsoft folks, I'm relieved to have returned home and left behind Dallas's heat. Next year's TechEd will be held in San Diego; I guess I should start making my travel plans now.