Microsoft held its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2003 last week at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This PDC was the largest one ever. The convention center holds a maximum of 8500 people, and PDC was sold out weeks in advance. PDC badges were even being sold on eBay up to and through the event.

For those who are unfamiliar with this event, Microsoft shows technologies that it's developing at PDC. Microsoft uses this conference to make public announcements about technologies that have been kept secret for months and even years. For those fascinated with the bleeding edge, PDC is the best conference of the year. And this year's PDC didn't disappoint.

Microsoft went public on, and consequently demonstrated, several technologies that aren't even in the beta stage yet. Two strategically important technologies are Whidbey, the next major version of Visual Studio .NET, and Longhorn, the next version of the Windows OS.

Whidbey provides a host of new productivity-enhancing features for software developers. I attended a session about rapid application development with Whidbey and was truly surprised by the productivity enhancements. Whidbey promises to not only simplify development of Microsoft .NET applications but also reduce the amount of code for common Windows and Web scenarios by 50 percent or more. When Whidbey ships, building enterprise software will be easier. As Rick Rashid, senior vice president of research, said in his keynote address, software development "will evolve from an art to a science."

According to Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, Longhorn is the "biggest release of Windows since Windows 95." This sobering statement summarizes how dramatically different and improved the next version of Windows will be. Compared with past Windows OSs, Longhorn promises to provide faster and easier development, a broader platform, and richer capabilities. New platform features include a new managed-code programming model, declarative development, and four major new subsystems: Avalon, Indigo, Windows Future Storage (WinFS), and WinFX.

Avalon is the code-name for the Longhorn subsystem that serves as the foundation for the Longhorn shell. Avalon provides a unified architecture for presenting UIs, documents, and media in the system. The subsystem lets developers easily take advantage of leading-edge graphics and hardware and provides native support for declarative, markup-based programming, which makes building Windows applications easier. In an impressive keynote session, Amazon.com demonstrated an Avalon-based smart-client shopping application.

Indigo is the code name for a set of technologies that connects people, information, systems, and devices. Indigo's support for advanced Web services facilitates secure, reliable, and transacted connections. The technology's messaging capabilities and programming model simplify the development of services. Indigo promises to fill the need for true distributed computing.

WinFS is the code name for Longhorn's unified data storage. Keynote and session demonstrations of WinFS were impressive; they illustrated WinFS's vastly improved ways to find, relate, and act on information. With WinFS, developers can leverage prebuilt data structures in their applications and extend those structures to handle unique requirements.

WinFX is the code name for Longhorn's programming model, which builds on and extends the Windows .NET Framework. WinFX provides a set of managed-code classes for Windows, which will improve developers' productivity.

PDC's overall message is that the next wave of software innovation is beginning. Unfortunately, Longhorn is so far away from shipping that the pain in waiting for it will be excruciating. When I talked with David Treadwell, the general manager of the .NET Developer Platform Team, I commented that developers need Whidbey and Longhorn now. He replied with a smile, "I know...I've been hearing that a lot this week."