I'm writing this week from TechEd North America 2010, which is taking place down in New Orleans, one of my favorite places to visit. It's very hot and humid, but the TechEd crowd is in good spirits nonetheless. This is partly due to the exceedingly powerful air conditioners at the convention center and partly due to all the cool things happening in the unified communications (UC) world. Let me share with you a few things I've learned this week.

First, and probably biggest, is that Microsoft has released a public beta of Exchange Server 2010 Service Pack 1. SP1 has been under test by members of the Exchange Technology Adoption Program (TAP) for a while, but this public beta represents the first time that the SP1 capabilities have been made widely available. As usual, there's no guarantee that this beta version of SP1 is suitable, or safe, for use in production, and of course Microsoft warns that you shouldn’t use it in production. However, it's well worth installing and working with it to see some of its impressive new features. My favorites are the new mailbox auditing feature—which I'll be writing more about soon—and the many improvements to Outlook Web App (OWA), including theme support and some really impressive performance boosts.

Next, I learned that Windows PowerShell has finally taken root across Microsoft's product line. Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010, and now Microsoft Communications Server "14" all provide a full set of PowerShell cmdlets for managing their objects, servers, and configurations. If you've held off learning PowerShell, now is the time to lay your objections aside and start learning . . . it's here to stay.

Third, I learned some amazing things about the IT infrastructure behind Live@edu, Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS), and Exchange Online. I hope to get permission to share some of what I've learned because the infrastructure design behind these services provides some interesting considerations that we can apply to smaller deployments.

Fourth, I learned that the Communications Server team is making some critical "big bets" in Communcations Server "14" around manageability, deployment, and video interoperability. The NextHop blog has more details on the interop piece, and you'll see more details forthcoming about the manageability and deployment changes coming with this release. The integration between Communicator "14" and Exchange continues to deepen, too, which is great news for users.

Finally, I learned that the popular Abita Brewery line of beers is complemented by a really smooth root beer. There's nothing like a cold root beer after walking back to your hotel through the New Orleans heat!

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