As Tech Ed 2009 fades into the history books, we can see the show for what it was: A muted, lightly-trafficked event that served as a warm-up act for Tech Ed 2010, which will be held in New Orleans.

Turn-out for Tech Ed 2009 was meager: Estimates from vendors hovered in the 4800-6000 range, while a Microsoft spokesperson pegged the attendee turnout at 7000+. Many Microsoft executives flew back to Redmond on the second day, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spent the week giving the keynote at Tech Ed India instead.

Despite the low turnout, most of the TechEd attendees I spoke with had positive things to say about the show. Matt Lavallee, Director of Technology at MLS Property Information Network, Inc., told me that he considers TechEd an excellent venue for sharing experiences with fellow IT pros. "I found the technical content to be somewhat lighter fare than in years past, but attribute that to the trough in product cycles," Lavallee said. "I was hoping for a real buzz-worthy highlight, but none materialized; ironically, I think Microsoft’s improved communications with its customer base has limited the possibility of show-stopper surprises."

Lavallee singled out sessions by Microsoft's Jeff Woolsey and Ed Wilson (aka "The Scripting Guy") on Hyper-V storage and Powershell, respectively, for praise. Lavallee also thought that the diminished attendee figures "fostered more dialogue in and around the sessions" and spoke highly of DoubleTake Software's customer appreciation party. "\[DoubleTake's party\] is a good example of where the money is better spent, in my opinion," Lavallee said. "It’s proof that that many of your peers use (and believe in) their products."

Andrew Steele, a web application developer at Sandia National Laboratories, also pointed out some favorite sessions. "My favorite session was presented by Scott Cate. 'Microsoft Visual Studio Tips and Tricks' was useful because it was directly and immediately applicable to my work," Steele said. "A close runner-up was 'A Whirlwind Tour of the Microsoft .NET Framework 4' presented by Scott Hanselman as it gave a 10,000 foot view of where the framework is headed."

Steele mentioned that this was the first Tech Ed conference he has attended, and he did like the fact that the low attendance translated into being able to always find a seat at the sessions he wanted. "No session was so crowded that I couldn't find a seat," Steele said. "\[And\] there were adequate numbers \[of people\] for networking and birds of a feather sessions."

Lavallee's biggest complaint was the difficulty in choosing one technology trade show over another. "I find that it’s getting harder and harder to pinpoint technology events to attend, especially at this time of the year," Lavallee said. "I (and a number of other peers I talked to) will have to reconsider TechEd next year in favor of the Microsoft Management Summit...it seemed to have deeper content with a similar class of presenters for Microsoft’s IT-focused developments."

Steele's biggest complaint was with the lack of a mobile-device compatible version of the TechEd web page. "All session related activities--from scheduling to providing evaluations--should be available from a handheld device. The lack of this made running to find a kiosk computer every few hours a necessity rather than a convenience."

The Freebie Factor

Some of the biggest draws for Tech Ed attendees are the gifts that vendors in the expo hall give out for free every year in an attempt to draw potential customers to their booths. These prizes can range from branded T-shirts and pens to gifts that drift into the thousand dollar range. NetApp gave one lucky attendee who held the winning prize ticket a check for $5000. (The original winner arrived a few minutes too late to collect his prize.) One anonymous attendee I spoke with mentioned he had already won an Xbox 360 and a mobile phone, and that the limited number of attendees increased his odds at winning dramatically. "There aren't as many people to compete with -- some of these drawings only had a few dozen people," he said.

Getting free T-shirts from vendors is always a popular pasttime at trade shows like Tech Ed. Show attendee Edgardo Vega created a 'T-shirts of Tech Ed' page on his blog that pointed show-goers to some of the better hand-outs from the show, including one from Infragistics that proclaimed that TechEd 2009 was "Like a Star Trek convention, only cooler."

TechEd 2009 T-shirt

Source: T-shirt photos courtesy Edgardo Vega, Casadevega.com

The Vendor Perspective

Meager foot traffic and the quality of show sessions may have made for favorable impressions of the show from attendees, but what did vendors think? Lieberman Software President and CEO Phil Lieberman thought that Microsoft's product pipeline would soon be delivering a large nbumber of siginificant product upgrades, and that the show sessions did a good job of preparing attendees for the upcoming product upgrade cycles. "It was good to see that Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 were almost here," Lieberman said. "Those are really good signs. Microsoft also admitted their weakness with Windows Vista, which was an obligatory mea culpa on their part."

Lieberman did mention meager show attendance as a negative from a vendor perspective. "Attendence was dramatically lower that last year, but Microsoft has more products coming out \[over the next 18 months\] than they've had in years. On the product side, many of the attendees I spoke with saw the show content as being extraordinarily valuable, and they were saying positive things about the quality of the new products they've seen. A lot of people I spoke with have already installed Windows 7, and we're having good results with it," Lieberman said. "A lot of the people I talked to about Windows Server 2008 R2 really see that as a VMware-killer \[with the new Live Migration feature\]."

TechEd 2010: New Orleans Bound

Tech Ed 2009 may be in the rearview mirror, but TechEd 2010 will likely be a much more well-trafficked show. Microsoft has an unprecedented number of new products shipping over the next 18 months: Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 7, SQL Server 2008 R2, Exchange 2010, Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, Windows Mobile 7, and more should be available or in late stages of product development by June of next year. Given the sheer number of new product releases, there should be plenty of new things to talk about at the show.

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