I was in Orlando this week to attend the Windows Connections and Exchange Connections shows. I enjoy these shows because it gives me a chance to catch up with our writers and contributing editors in person. I also enjoy the chance to talk with our readers to see what challenges they face and find out what topics they would like us to cover on our web site and in the magazine. Popular topics at this week’s show included Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, Exchange Server 2007, virtualization, SharePoint, and Group Policy.

Mark Minasi delivered an excellent keynote on Windows 7. He suggested that the product does not represent a significant upgrade from Vista and might be more accurately named Windows Vista SP3. However, his experience with Windows 7 so far is very positive. Windows 7 will run on the same hardware and with the same drivers that work on Vista. So “If you’ve solved that compatibility problem on Vista, you’ve solved it on Windows 7.” Mark highlighted some of the more significant new features such as DirectAccess, which gives users secure access to corporate networks without the complexity of a VPN. \[Paul Thurrott has been following Windows 7 closely, and you can follow his reviews on the SuperSite for Windows.\]

Minasi on Windows 7

Dan Holme presented a session on SharePoint governance. He provided guidance on how to align SharePoint farms, apps, and site collections to meet business requirements. Dan is working on an article on this topic. So if you’re planning to deploy SharePoint any time soon or need to get better control of your SharePoint implementation, stay tuned for guidance from Dan.

Exchange expert Kieran McCorry spoke on scaling Outlook Anywhere, an Exchange 2007 feature that lets Outlook 2003 and 2007 clients connect over the Internet to Exchange by RPC over HTTP. He shared the unexpected challenges he’s faced in the field and offered insights from a particular project where they needed to scale up to 100,000 users.

I spoke with many attendees representing a variety of IT settings, from small shops of 10 users to enterprise environments with 40,000 users. Attendees traveled from as far as Alaska and Denmark to enhance their skill sets and network with peers.

One gentleman I spoke with who works for a community college supports 1,000 regular staff users and more than 4,000 student email accounts. Although he acknowledged that the Exchange Management Shell is quite powerful, he expressed frustration that with Exchange 2007, Microsoft removed his ability to manage some simple tasks with a right click in the GUI. He’s adapted and learned the command-line instructions for performing some of these regular tasks (such as checking mailbox size), but he craves simple tools and commands that will make him more efficient and save time.

In a lighter moment, Dan Holme and Randy Williams delivered their panel discussion on SharePoint strategy, management, and value on the hotel beach after a fire alarm emptied the hotel just as their session was about to begin. Attendees made themselves comfortable on lounge chairs as the instructors launched the discussion. Ironically, it was the first time either of the two SharePoint experts, both from Hawaii, had set foot on a beach in at least a month.

SharePoint Beach