I'm what you might call a tradeshow veteran. Indeed, I have hundreds of tradeshow badges hung around the doorknob of my office closet, waiting for that day when I feel just silly enough to put them all on at once, like a 21st century Mr. T, for the inevitable photo op. Despite this experience, I approached Microsoft TechEd 2006, held last week in unusually sunny and warm Boston, with a casual, even cavalier, attitude.

A week later, I'm slumped over the keyboard with a nasty cold, thanks no doubt to the hit my constitution took after six consecutive days of early mornings and very late nights. The problem is, I live in the Boston area. So I approached TechEd 2006 as if I were home, rather than gird myself with the mentality one needs to tackle a show of this size. TechEd beat me, and I'm humbler for it.

I should have known better. I've been to several TechEds, and I certainly have been to even bigger shows, such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the lamented COMDEX. But TechEd is an assault on your brain, not your senses as with those other shows. There's just so much to learn, and so much to do--an utterly valuable show full of nonstop information, directed at you with all the subtlety and speed of a fire hose. Yes, TechEd beat me. But I just love TechEd.

So what did I learn? As you might expect, it's all over the map. So rather than present a single topic this week, I run through some of the more valuable tidbits I picked up at the show. This is IT goodness, from beginning to end. I'll try to expand on as many of these as possible in the future.

First, Antigen. Microsoft, as you might know, is finally releasing its first Microsoft-branded Antigen products next month, though the products still look suspiciously like their Sybari predecessors. That will eventually change, as Microsoft is rebranding all its server security products under the new Forefront moniker. Think early 2007.

The Microsoft SQL Server team released a public beta version of its new SQL Server Everywhere product, which will replace the CE version of SQL Server and will come in versions for both Windows Mobile and, interestingly, the Windows desktop client. SQL Everywhere is light and compact, with a 2MB disk storage footprint, and it requires only 5MB of RAM. Obviously, it can't offer some of the high-end functionality you'd expect from the other SQL Server 2005 editions, such as stored procedures. But it does offer ADO and T-SQL support and can work with databases as large as 4GB. You can check out the public beta on the Microsoft Web site. Looks interesting. http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=85E0C3CE-3FA1-453A-8CE9-AF6CA20946C3&displaylang=en

Microsoft was talking up its newly released Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 at the show, which might seem odd when you consider that it's aimed at specialty markets such as aerospace, science, research, and so on. But Compute Cluster Server 2003 is a blockbuster product, and one that both catapults Microsoft into a new market and sets the stage for the eventual mainstreaming of that market, thanks to Microsoft's low prices and common management tools. Virtually any Windows administrator should be able to create and manage Compute Cluster Server 2003-based clusters, and that means that the skills you now have are suddenly more valuable.

Microsoft is completely changing its certification process, which means that the familiar MSCE will soon be obsolete. This change began with SQL Server and Visual Studio 2005 last November, and the second round will commence with Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007, and Longhorn Server. With these products, the certification process (like the products themselves) is getting more modular. Now, you'll achieve a technical specialization on the core technologies of the product for which you are certified and add one or more job roles on top. These changes will be expressed in various ways, but let's examine Vista. With that system, Microsoft will offer a desktop support specialist certification, along with separate consumer and enterprise support technician jobs on top. The former is new, and was made partially to allow Best Buy's "Geek Squad" to become certified on Vista. Longhorn Server, which is the furthest out, is still up in the air. Microsoft expects that Longhorn Server will have from three to five job roles. This topic fascinates me, and I'd like to follow-up on it in the near future if there's any interest.

Dave Thompson told me that Microsoft would ship Exchange 2007 Beta 2 in July and that it would be a public release. Microsoft has already deployed almost 7000 Exchange 2007 mailboxes internally and will ramp up following Beta 2. Incidentally, the Beta 2 release is feature complete. Separately, I was shown a demo of Exchange 2007's new Exchange Voice Access feature, which is quite cool, letting you access and interact with your Exchange-based email and calendar. The new PowerShell (formerly code-named Monad) -based Exchange Management Shell (EMS) is sure to cause some palpitations, especially if you happen to be a UNIX old-timer. This is excellent stuff and surprisingly intuitive for a command line environment.

I chatted with VMware CEO Diane Green, who blew through Boston pretty quickly, but was nice enough to sit down and review VMware's virtualization strategy. I don't have to tell you how hot virtualization has suddenly become, but an interesting battle is brewing here between the platform-agnostic (and let's face it, just plain superior) products VMware currently offers and the hypervisor-based OS feature Microsoft intends to eventually deliver. (Think 2008.) Green made some good points, and I'll devote a full commentary to this fascinating issue as soon as possible.

I went to a few sessions, most of which were worthwhile. Mark Russinovich and David Solomon gave a technology-packed presentation about Windows kernel changes in Vista and Longhorn Server. I learned a bit about Vista deployment strategies and changes coming in Windows Deployment Services, which, incidentally, will be made available to Windows 2003 as well as Longhorn Server. Mark Minasi gave his standard command performance, this time about truly useful features almost no one knows were included in the last two Windows service packs. Microsoft's Ward Ralston gave an almost inspirational talk about the top Longhorn Server features, and, I kid you not, he brought down the house with a Server Core demo.

And really, that's what it's all about. I'm glad TechEd is over. But now I need to figure out a way I can swing a trip to Barcelona this fall for TechEd Europe. Planners are even splitting the developer and IT tracks into two separate weeks, which is a fascinating idea. I just can't get enough.