It's always fun to see references to things that make you feel old. For me, I get that feeling when I explain to my kids that rotary-dial phones were the norm when I was a child, or that we used to listen to big black vinyl things called records. In the Microsoft Exchange world, one measure of how old you might be (or, more precisely, how long you've been an Exchange administrator) is whether you remember the original Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) series. The first one was in 1996, and the last one was in 2003. In between, MEC quickly became the best place to go for in-depth Exchange information. This was partly because a number of Microsoft developers and support personnel presented sessions at these events. There's nothing quite like hearing about how some component works from the person who wrote it!

Unfortunately, MEC was subsumed into Microsoft TechEd, which steadily grew bigger and bigger until it had swallowed all of Microsoft's developer and IT professional content. The problem with TechEd has typically been that it's a fixed length. As Microsoft developed more and more products, with more and more features, those products and features squeezed out other content—to the point where it seemed that none of Microsoft's major units was really pleased with the result.

Thankfully, some sanity has returned. The first indicator was the appearance of Microsoft’s SharePoint and Office developer conferences. Someone at Microsoft realized that there's a lot of value in having product-specific conferences—something that has been proven by the long-running Microsoft Exchange Connections conference, the next installment of which is in Orlando at the end of April; see the event Web site for details. In fact, Bill Gates has keynoted both the SharePoint and Office developer conferences, which is usually a pretty good indicator of the importance Microsoft places on an event.

The second movement toward a better conference lineup was the announcement that Microsoft was splitting TechEd into two events: one for IT professionals and one for developers. This organization follows the successful model that Microsoft has used for the IT Forum events in Europe, and it means an expansion of the amount of time that's available for individual products and topics. There's just not a lot of overlap between the developer and IT pro communities, so it makes sense to break the events up along these lines.

The third development is Microsoft's announcement of a new event, focused solely on unified communications (UC). Called INTERACT2008, it's different in one major way from the other events: It's by invitation only. This is a unique approach that, at least in theory, should help Microsoft reach some key market segments with information about its UC products, without having to compete for attention with Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 at TechEd. Because the event is so tightly focused on UC, and because it's the first one, I'm not sure what the practical differences will be between INTERACT2008, TechEd, and Exchange Connections, but I'll report back from each of them to keep you posted.