Location and Timing
Both conferences are held in Orlando. Lotusphere is at the Walt Disney World Boardwalk Area (Swan and Dolphin convention center) in late January, while TechEd is at the Orange County Convention Center in early June for 2007. There are advantages/disadvantages to each location. For TechEd it is nice to have all of the conference sessions at one building (although it is one MASSIVE building, probably the largest building I've ever been inside). At the same time there is not much wrong with walking a little back and forth at Lotusphere between buildings, which is typically held at 2 or 3 of the Walt Disney Boardwalk area convention centers. I am not sure if the Boardwalk area could accommodate a conference as large as TechEd, but I seem to remember in the pre 9-11 days Lotusphere having over 10,000 attendees. So I'd call this equal except one thing comes to mind -- there is nothing better than escaping the frigid cold of winter by escaping to Florida in late January, and you just can't beat being on site at the Disney Boardwark for a conference.
Keynote and Closing
Lotusphere wins this without much comparison whatsoever. Lotusphere's opening session is packed with electricity; there are rock bands playing, have amazing laser light shows, this year's guest was Neil Armstrong (!), and the content and demos generate a buzz that makes you want to go implement what they just showed tomorrow. TechEd on the other hand was very much just some Back to the Future stunt, simple product demos, it was too long, boring, and half the crowd left early. I've never seen so many people walking out of an opening session. Further Lotusphere does a closing session as well and a Meet the Developers session, both of which are not offered at TechEd. This one isn't even close.
Both companies set up a online collaboration site for conference attendees to use. While both are useful, Microsoft extends it much further and seemed to have less problems. CommNet and TechEd Connect are two excellent and useful sites they provide for collaborating, learning, and sharing information. I had several problems with Lotusphere Online while at the conference and the content is not as updated and useful.
TechEd wins this without much comparison. To me, this was the most impressive single thing of the conference. The instructor led labs are always booked at either conference and fill up fast, but TechEd actually set up two large areas to take hands-on labs anytime you want. Not only that, but there are HUNDREDS to choose from on every topic and software you can think of. I contemplated spending the entire week in just the hands on labs area. The staff in the lab area was extremely helpful and encouraging, and I learned more by spending time in this area than any other conference.
This one is a little hard to compare because TechEd is definitely more on the technical side of a conference, by design. Tech-Ed tends to have a lot more "looking at code on a projector" than Lotusphere. While it's neat they demo writing the code, at the same time how useful is that to watch someone write code? Maybe it is? I haven't decided. Lotusphere tends to have more best practices and marketing type of stuff at the sessions, so I guess this depends on the audience.
Birds of a Feather
Tech-Ed's BOFs are very large compared to small intimate discussions at Lotusphere. As a result I think it's hard to get your questions answered. At the same time, Tech-Ed organizes BOFs into lunch sessions and one "BOF night" where there are just BOF's from 6-10pm with food and drinks -- this is a much better way to do this rather than the 7am sessions at Lotusphere. All in all, I'm calling it a wash.
I have to say that Tech-Ed has a slight edge here. It just seemed like too many sessions at Lotusphere I was walking out of because the session wasn't very exciting. Maybe it's because I'm more experienced at Lotus than Microsoft as of today, but I think the speakers had something to do with it too.
I really like the idea of being able to attend many pre-conference "Jumpstarts" rather than one whole day on one topic... especially when that one topic is looking at code for most of the day.
Partner Showcase and Swag
You get more T-Shirts and giveaways at Lotusphere, but there's more "big" prizes at Tech-Ed. Vendors are also more prepared to do demos. We're talking $10,000, $15,000, and motorcycles. The only price I can think of at Lotusphere that was that big was an AS/400 giveaway one year.
Neither was outstanding, but I have to say Lotusphere has better and more available food (not that I need to eat it). My colleagues have told me the food was pretty much terrible at TechEd this year, worse than previous years.
Certification & Learning Area
It's great that both conferences have major discounts on exams and offer study-hall type of environments. I find them both lacking though and here's why... they never have any information on the newer released exams. I was looking to take the WSS 3.0 Development and/or MOSS 2007 Development exams, but there were no materials on it anywhere. In the Exam Cram area there wasn't even anyone there who had taken it or knew anything about it. These are going to be two very popular exams and there was no information about it. I ran into a similar situation at Lotusphere where I was looking to take the first Websphere Portal Dev Exam, and there wasn't much available for it. TechEd still wins this one because they did not have as much overcrowding and offered the ExamCram area, but I wish both conferences would have *some* information about every new certification exam offered.
Winner: TechEd (but not thrilled with either)
This year's Lotusphere conference party was at Animal Kingdom, which was neat with the new coaster there Expedition Everest. TechEd was at Universal Islands of Adventure. Typically these parties rotate from park to park each year. Ironically it rained for both parties this year and I returned soaked for both. So as far as the main party, TechEd gives you an extra hour while Lotusphere's party is not as crowded. But I'll have to say that TechEd winds this category because there seemed to be sponsored parties every night at this conference (doubletake, jamfest two nights, others) . It's a sure sign that I'm older now when I just skipped most of them to get some sleep.
In summary, both are great conferences which have ample learning opportunities. I can't say one is better than the other overall because it really depends what you individually need to get out of a particular conference.