I wasn't able to attend this week's Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Washington, DC, because of a last minute change to my work-related commitments. And that's too bad. I love DC, but more important, WPC has offered up a ton of news from a variety of Microsoft product groups. In fact, WPC has become such a hotbed for announcements in recent years that it's largely replaced the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) and Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) as the most important stealth Microsoft event.

Here are some of the announcements that Microsoft made this week.

SP1 for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2

If you've been waiting to check out SP1 for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, it's available now in beta form. SP1 doesn't offer much for Windows 7, but it's a major update for Server 2008 R2, with new features like Dynamic Memory for Hyper-V and RemoteFX.

Windows Small Business Server 7 and Aurora

I've been getting increasingly frantic emails about the future of Windows Small Business Server (SBS), since the current version is based on Server 2008 and shipped years ago. I've been biting my tongue for months, but I can now discuss the fact that Microsoft is updating the SBS product line with not one but two new products based on the Server 2008 R2 codebase. The first, called Windows SBS 7, is a traditional SBS product with on-premise solutions that offer a logical upgrade path for current SBS customers. The other, currently code-named Aurora, takes SBS where I believe it needs to go: To the cloud. Microsoft calls it a "cross-premise" solution because it offers the on-premise services that make sense—storage, ID management through Active Directory (AD), security, and so on—but lets customers mix and match with the cloud services that they need (e.g., hosted Exchange and SharePoint).

I'm particularly excited about SBS Aurora and will reviewing this product as soon as possible. For now, if you want to learn a bit more about either SBS update, check out my preview on the SuperSite for Windows.

Windows InTune Beta 2

Last week I discussed Microsoft's in-beta Windows InTune management service, and this week Microsoft provided a major update, releasing the Beta 2 version of the product and announcing pricing. Like Beta 1, Beta 2 is a public beta. And like Beta 1, Beta 2 will only be made available to a limited audience, so sign up fast if you want to check it out. (With that said, the pool is bigger this time, with 10,000 open slots available in Beta 2.)

InTune Beta 2 comes with some new functionality, but the big news is that Microsoft will provide a multi-account management console. Partners that sell and service this product will now be able to manage multiple accounts through a single location. It was a big feature request, I bet.

As for pricing, Microsoft will make InTune available to paying customers in early 2011 for $11 per PC per month. This cost includes not only the InTune cloud management service with integrated functionality but also Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade rights for each covered PC. Additionally, customers who license InTune can also license the excellent and diverse Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) for an additional $1 per PC. MDOP provides a number of on-premise client management tools that, in Microsoft's words, "complete" what InTune offers from the cloud.

Slate PCs

At WPC this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer pledged that Microsoft's partners—including heavyweight, tier-1 PC maker partners like Dell, Samsung, and Toshiba—would ship Slate PCs (and a variety of other Tablet PC types) by the end of the year. These PCs will run Windows 7 and, unlike the Apple iPad market leader, will provide business solutions as well as consumer offerings.

At the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, Ballmer pledged that these Slate PCs would appear this year. The difference is that, in January, Ballmer was showing off an HP Slate PC that's now in limbo, either because of the unexpected success of the iPad or, more likely, because HP is going to forego Windows 7 and go with Palm's WebOS instead. (HP purchased Palm a few months back.) I think it's safe to assume that HP's Slate won't ship in a Windows 7 version.

Windows Phone

Microsoft is gearing up to deliver Windows Phone 7 by the end of the year—in October, according to one particularly loose-lipped executive. This week the software giant delivered the first beta version of its Windows Phone developer tools. (The previous versions were categorized as a Community Technical Preview, or CTP.) The beta includes a completely integrated version of Expression Blend (which lets you graphically design Windows Phone apps) and a near-final version of the Windows Phone SDK, among other tools.

Equally exciting, Microsoft will begin shipping prototype Windows Phone devices to developers next week, allowing them to test their new applications on actual (not production quality) hardware. Check out the Windows Phone Developer blog if you want to be included, though understand that only a limited number of devices are available.

There's a lot more, but I'm out of space. I'll have more WPC coverage this week on the SuperSite for Windows and in WinInfo Daily News.