It's official \u2013\u00a0Microsoft\u00a0officials said Wednesday the company will no longer stage its Microsoft Exchange Conference but will instead fold the whole of the proceedings into its annual TechEd Conference.The move is further proof that Exchange is becoming but a piece of the infrastructure Microsoft is trying to create to support its .Net strategy for building distributed applications based on Web services. And by lumping the IT-centric Exchange conference with the developer focused TechEd, Microsoft will bring together the two groups that are most important to gaining acceptance of its .Net strategy.For the past three years, the Exchange conference, known as MEC, has increasingly altered its pure messaging theme to include collaborative application development and finally infrastructure services.The conference tagline this year was \u201cthe essential Microsoft conference for planning, deploying and managing a connected enterprise.\u201d The conference drew 5,500 attendees, 150 Microsoft partners and offered more than 200 sessions.This year\u2019s MEC keynote speaker, Paul Flessner, the senior vice president of .Net Enterprise Servers, also gave the keynote at MEC in 2001 and the keynote at the past two TechEd conferences.Microsoft says it will add an extra day and 100 conference sessions to the four-day, 350 session TechEd Conference scheduled for Dallas on June 1-6, 2003. The conference, which typically is 70% developer focused and 30% IT focused, will now be evenly split between the two.Microsoft sent a mailing to some potential MEC attendees before this year\u2019s MEC conference Oct. 8-11 in Anaheim, Calif., saying that MEC would be folded into TechEd. But the decision was second-guessed internally and the change was put on hold.This week, the company decided to move ahead with its original plan citing the fact that IT and developers will be working more closely once Microsoft closes in on delivering all the pieces of its .Net platform, including development tools, client software and infrastructure servers.A Microsoft spokesman said customers told the company that they often had to choose between attending MEC and TechEd due to budgetary constraints.Microsoft held its first messaging conference in 1992 under the name Microsoft Mail Users Conference. The first official MEC was held in 1997 in San Diego and has run every year since.Rival Lotus Software plans to hold its annual Lotusphere user conference next year Jan. 26-30 in Orlando. The company is contractually committed through 2005 to hold the show at DisneyWorld in Orlando, according to a Lotus spokesperson. She said the company has not made any decisions past 2005 but IBM could extend the contract with Disney, move the 11-year-old show to another venue or move it into a larger IBM software conference.Rumors have swirled the past few years that the conference will eventually be folded into some IBM event centered on the company\u2019s software portfolio, which IBM is trying to integrate into a Web services platform. Lotusphere Europe already has become part of IBM\u2019s annual Software Symposium in Europe. There is no counterpart to that show, however, on the calendar in the U.S.In 2002, IBM did discontinue the Lotus DevCon conference and fold it into IBM\u2019s develeporworks Live! Conference, which includes tools from all the pieces of its Web services portfolio, including WebSphere, Tivoli and DB2.