It’s customary around these Microsoft-oriented parts to head to a big convention city in mid-June -- maybe Dallas, Atlanta, or New Orleans, although this year’s pick was Orlando, Florida -- to attend and, what the heck, celebrate the software giant’s annual TechEd confab. As I write this, TechEd is just underway, but there’s still plenty of interesting news to go around.

Windows Intune

The biggest bit, perhaps, since it involves shipping code, is Windows Intune 3, the latest version of Microsoft’s cloud-based PC (and, now, device) management service. Intune 3 is now generally available -- i.e., out of beta -- which is a pretty quick turnaround time; Intune debuted in late 2010, received its first major update last year, and is now on its third rendition. So much for the “Microsoft moves too slow” theory.

The biggest new feature in Intune 3, of course, is mobile device management, which provides policy-based cloud management of any Exchange ActiveSync-compatible device. This includes Apple iPhones and iPads, Android phones and tablets, and of course Windows-based phones and, with Windows 8, PCs too. Intune 3 has other new features, too, including Windows Azure Active Directory compatibility, a new self-service portal for application installs, and more. If you need a quick overview of this service, check out "With v3, Windows Intune Takes a Stand in the Enterprise."

One final piece of the Intune puzzle is worth mentioning, too: This product provides upgrade rights to the latest version of Windows Enterprise. Today, that’s Windows 7 Enterprise, but in the near future that will be Windows 8 Enterprise, the highest-end version of Microsoft’s next desktop OS. So for that $11 per month per PC fee, you’ll be getting Windows 8 too, if you want it. Something to consider.

Windows Server 2012

Microsoft released the feature-complete Release Candidate (RC) version of Windows Server 2012 alongside Windows 8 on May 31, so Microsoft Server & Tools Business president Satya Nadella used his TechEd 2012 keynote address to focus on the transition his product is making. That is, while we think of Windows Server as a traditional on-premises product, it’s now being influenced, heavily, by Microsoft’s experiences with the cloud-based Windows Azure. So while Azure is obviously Microsoft’s “cloud OS,” even Windows Server 2012 can make a compelling case as the foundation for an organization’s private cloud computing integration.

“The operating system does two things: It looks after the hardware, and it provides a platform for applications,” Nadella said. “The modern data center and modern apps put more pressure than ever on infrastructure to become truly cloud-optimized, and that’s where Microsoft builds on our legacy with the OS to help our customers. Only Microsoft offers the modern, yet familiar, platform that enables you to connect with the cloud on your terms.”

A big part of this advantage, of course, is Microsoft’s support for hybrid environments that bridge the public cloud world of Azure with the private cloud world of Windows Server 2012. 

Visual Studio

Microsoft recently revealed a lot about its plans for Visual Studio 2012, the upcoming family of software development products that will include several paid and free editions, including free products aimed specifically at Windows 8 (Metro) development for both Intel x86 and ARM, Windows Phone, Web, Windows Azure, and, in a more recent development, desktop software development using C++, C#, or Visual Basic.

During the TechEd 2012 keynote, Jason Zander discussed the integration of the IT pro-focused LightSwitch technologies -- with which you can create Silverlight-based data-attached applications for the web or Windows -- into mainstream Visual Studio 2012 product editions (Pro and up). More exciting, and a hint at future directions, I think, Microsoft will be bolstering LightSwitch before the Visual Studio 2012 RTM with a new feature called HTML Companion that will make short work of creating HTML-based “companion” mobile apps for existing LightSwitch solutions. Zander told me that these companion apps were basically another way for people out in the field using smartphones or tablets to access the same data as those at the home office. It sounds like a great idea.

Microsoft also took the Visual Studio Team Foundation Service -- the cloud-based version of Team Foundation Server -- from a closed preview version to an open and public preview, allowing anyone to give it a go. Team Foundation Service brings the project collaboration features of its on premises-based predecessor to the cloud, of course, and it’s free during the preview. Pricing and timing of the final version has yet to be determined.

More next week!