There’s an old industry joke about two women describing their husbands.

One says that sex was great. "My husband makes mad, passionate love to me every night, in every conceivable position in every room in the house. The other looks shocked and admits “I haven’t actually had sex with my husband yet. But he works for Microsoft and tells me that when we do, it will be great.” It’s a joke that stopped doing the rounds a few years back as Microsoft started getting its act together on various launches and started delivering decent product roughly to schedule (let’s just forget about Vista for the moment).

But attending the Heroes Happen Here (where was the David Bowie theme?) event - the lamentably-named launch of Windows Server 2008 and the accompanying launches of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 (although Visual Studio was launched at the end of last year and SQL Server isn’t out for several months) was like having my very own Ashes to Ashes moment and being transported back a few years.

Because it seemed that all the assembled suits wanted to talk about was Microsoft’s virtualisation offering, Hyper-V. This, of course, is not included as part of the Windows Server 2008 launch but due by the beginning of August (or even earlier according to heavy hints that Microsoft keeps dropping).

Now, I’ve been going to press launches for 25 years now (ye gods) and all of them talk about the new features and how they’re better/faster/cheaper/ than the competition; this was the first time where much of the talk centred on a feature that’s not yet been delivered - Hyper V, its own take on virtualisation.

This is an old Microsoft trick: the company lagged behind Netscape on browsers and were well behind Novell when it launched its NetWare killer Windows NT, Windows Server predecessor. But things are slightly different now; for a start, Microsoft wasn’t then in the dominant position that it is now. One would expect the company to act as the dominant force in server software to start setting the agenda, but the company seems to be constantly looking over its shoulder at what VMware is up to.

Rather more worryingly for Microsoft, VMware seems to be pulling further ahead. Even as Microsoft was setting up the stage for the launch, VMware, holding its first European conference and exhibition was announcing its move into desktop virtualisation, its counteract to the likes of Parallels.

Microsoft’s answer to VMware’s head start has been to talk up the power of its virtualisation offering with no fewer than six different levels of virtualisation - from server virtualisation right up to the desktop. Listening to this sort of talk, I was irresistibly reminded of Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tuffnell’s guitar amp going up to 11 - Microsoft might be trailing VMware but it can offer more.

One wonders whether this will be enough. Responding to a question from the floor, Microsoft’s Larry Orecklin said that the proof of the pudding would be whether users adopted it. Well, yes, but the company couldn’t offer much in the way of compelling reasons why users should adopt it - apart from pointing out that System Center management tool offered support for Windows and VMware. Still, there is time. As was pointed out over and over, only about five percent of servers have any form of virtualisation, so there’s still plenty to play for.

It wasn’t just virtualisation either. Microsoft was keen to talk up the company’s offerings in business intelligence - that catch-all phrase that covers a variety of dodgy software products. Except that the main thrust of the company’s new BI offerings will be in SQL Server 2008, the product that, remember, won’t be out for some months yet.

Enough of what wasn’t in Windows Server 2008. There’s enough in the product to keep even the most jaundiced journalist excited. There was plenty of information on what was actually going to be available and brushing all cynicism aside, it looks great.

There actually is plenty to shout about. There’s some useful functionality such as read-only domain controllers (RODCs) allowing more control in branch offices; IIS web management is greatly improved and a feature called Windows Server Core that can run server roles such as DNS or DHCP but not applications.

We at Techworld are going to play with it over the next couple of weeks to get a feel for the product but initial reports have been favourable (see our review) - although the real test will be after it’s been installed in several enterprises for several months.

With so much to talk about, it was a shame that the company was fixated by what wasn’t there but I guess that until Hyper-V is launched that this is going to be the case.