Having already taken the tech world by surprise with the Surface tablet, and generating a none too insignificant amount of noise with announcements around new content for the Xbox, smart glass, Halo 4, Win phone 8, Windows 8, Windows server... Windows Azure, a bunch of new PCs, Ultrabooks and tablets, the tech world is now waiting with bated breath to see what's next from the Redmond software giant.
This of course all weighed heavily in my mind as I was offered the chance to attend Microsoft's Annual World Partner conference in Toronto.
As with travelling almost anywhere from New Zealand, Getting to Canada involves a fair amount of travel. Having arrived in Toronto, I was up at 6.30am to beat the anticipated huge volumes of people registering (Since writing this I learnt that this year's Windows Partner conference is the biggest ever, with over 16,000 attendees).
I try not to think about what time it is in New Zealand, or just utterly how jet-lagged I am. Reaching the Air Canada Centre, it looks like all 16,000 attendees have had the same idea and there is already a massive line snaking out of the Air Canada Centre building to fill the entire concourse.
Thankfully I find some coffee and after a seemingly eternal amount of waiting and being lined up I manage to get registered and settled in at the massive (and packed) Air Canada Centre stadium waiting for Microsoft CEO, Steve Balmer, to take centre stage and for the show to begin.
It's now 9am and the lights have dimmed down, so Steve Balmer must be about to go on stage - Or at least that's what I thought.
It turns out that some guy dressed in a weird white spandex outfit and an aviator goggles/cap combo is walking on stage.
Unless Steve has undergone extensive cosmetic surgery, this definitely isn't him. Following our spandex clad friend is another a crazily dressed person who is also stage bound, followed by dozens in equally interesting attire.
Now a full-blown musical show extravaganza involving Taiko drums, fire eaters and several people juggling huge chrome wireframe geometric shapes is in full swing. No sign of Steve yet.
Wait, the stadiums big screens are now displaying a cirque du soliel graphic. Microsoft have literally started the world partner conference with a bang. John Roswell, Microsoft's VP of worldwide partners is now centre-stage thanking the huge audience for attending, saying that the Microsoft's partners drove US$609 billion of worldwide businesses.
Roswell also says that Microsoft and its partners are getting it right.... and that this was really driven home when he bought home a windows 8 slate and his 11 year old daughter got her hands on it - he still hasn't got it back.
Balmer also cuts in and talks up Microsoft's partner driven growth, which is up by 13 per cent on last year. It's at about that stage that I remember just what massive a business Microsoft really is, as according to Balmer, their cloud business is growing by nearly 1,000 new partners a month.
Rosewell exits amidst a deafening round of applause and Kurt Delbene, Microsoft's president MS-Office takes to the stage. According to Delbene, Windows 8 and office 365 are set to be bigger than huge for Microsoft.. Office 15 is now in technical preview - and if he is to be believed, the most ambitious release of office Microsoft have done.
Frustratingly Delbene says that he will have more details on Office 15 later this northern summer.... tantalisingly saying it is likely to integrate social networking. Balmer is clearly on form and joins in with "it's a huuuuuge opportunity for Microsoft partners!". The audience loves this and gives both Balmer and Delbene a huge round of applause.
Office mightn't be the sexiest product of the moment, but it does have nothing short of a massive user base (according to Delbene, Office is installed on over a billion desktops worldwide). Not to be outdone is Microsoft's hosted version of office, which they've branded Office 365, according to Delbene, its already being heavily used by a bunch of US mega chains including lowes, Burger King as well as Asian based Japan Airlines. The numbers are pretty staggering (Lowes alone has over 200,000 office 365 users).
Delbene also appears to be fired up about the enterprise grade social networking app, Yammer, who was recently bought by Microsoft. It looks like subsequent versions of Office will most likely be big on secure enterprise wide social networking and collaboration, whilst integration with Skype is also looking likely too. Balmer wraps things up by saying that he's using Office 15 and Windows 8, and that they're a great combination. Here's looking forwards to checking both out.
Speaking of Windows, no Microsoft shindig would be complete without mention of it. To this end, Balmer says that Windows is the glue and the foundation that all of Microsoft is built on and yet again some boggling numbers are bandied about, with over 1.3 billion windows systems on the planet to date.
According to Balmer, Microsoft have sold over 630 million windows 7 licenses and over the next 12 months are forecast to sell a further 375 million windows PCs.
Enter stage right the VP of Windows and CFO, Tami Reller. According to Reller, some 50 per cent of enterprise desktops are already running windows 7 and the rate of adoption is accelerating with 630 million win 7 licenses sold. Reller also makes mention of the interoperability between windows 7 apps and windows 8 as well as Windows 8's ability to work across different form factors, ranging from servers through to tablets. Staying with the big numbers theme, Reller also mentions that More than a million downloads of win 8 consumer preview have happened.
Windows 8 Launch Date Confirmed
Seriously big numbers aside, the big news however is that Windows 8 is on track for a release to manufacturers version in the US in the first week of August and will become available for purchase in the US market at the end of October (here's hoping New Zealand isn't too far behind).
Users of existing Windows PCs will also be to buy upgrades at end of October with US businesses being given access to Windows 8 in August. It will be available in 109 languages in 230 markets.
By now the audience is fairly fired up at the prospect of an October Windows 8 launch, and gives Reller a generous round of applause as she moves to showcase a bunch prototype windows 8 hardware which includes the Acer Aspire S7 13" as well as the ultra-sexy S7 11" Ultrabook.
Reller moves onto Asus convertibles which can handily convert from a keyboard equipped laptop to a tablet by detaching the screen from the keyboard. Also showcased was Fujistsu's stylistic Q702 ultrabook/tablet convertible, the HP spectre XT Pro (which looked pretty slick in a brushed metal finish), as well as a Lenovo A720 all-in-one PC with a 10 point multi-touch screen. Also showcased was the Lenovo Yoga so called because its screen folds back 180 degrees to create a tablet PC.
Cloud and Windows to Go
By now the audience is captivated and Reller leverages this to showcase several nifty windows 8 tricks including synchronised cloud user profiles (which handily allows windows 8 desktop customisations and system configurations are able to follow the user on any internet connected windows 8 PC they log into).
Most intriguing however is what Reller has called "Windows to go" which can pack your entire Windows 8 desktop onto a single USB stick. Reller demonstrated this by plugging her own Windows to go USB stick into a "previous generation" windows 7 PC.
According to Reller, the stick has a 32Gb capacity and was running win 8 enterprise with bitlocker. In what will surely be a boon for travellers, Windows to go allows any PC to be booted into Windows 8 whilst leaving the original installed OS on the PC untouched (suddenly cyber cafe PCs don't seem such a dodgy proposition anymore).
Whilst it is hard to tell from a single demo just how well the whole Windows to go concept will work in practice, Rellers USB key took a mere 45-50 seconds to boot into usability.
Size Matters: Perceptive Pixel
Having concluded her demo we cut back to Balmer: "there's a lot of love in win 8!" - Balmer is clearly on form. "One more thing we'd like to show, a new device we're announcing today" I think I'm getting wow fatigue.
Microsoft have acquired Perceptive Pixel - a maker of larger than huge multi-touch displays. Microsoft showcased a massive 82" multi-touch screen running windows 8. In use the big screen seemed to offer a near Minority Report style of interactivity, and geeks seated either side of me began to salivate.
As exciting as Perceptive Pixel tech is, Balmer did bring some reality to bear by mentioning that Microsoft will need to work to bring price points down. Either way, the tech looks set to be both intriguing and compelling in equal doses.
Things wrap up with Steve's mic dying - he looks pretty peeved but uses humour and his own huge voice to diffuse the situation "is this working????" he bellows from the centre of the Air Canada Centre - I already feel sorry for the audio guy, even if the entire audience is laughing, taking delight in Steve's good humour.By Pat Pilcher