Planning for 2006? Microsoft's desktop blows ashore starting mid-year

Microsoft keeps talking about its Longhorn wave. It started with SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005. In 2006, we will see Vista, Office 12, MOM 3.0 and maybe even Exchange 12.

With the delivery of its database and development tools off the checklist, Microsoft is facing 2006 with a stuffed product pipeline.

IT administrators are now deep in what the company's marketing machine refers to as the Longhorn wave. IT administrators can expect to see a regular flow of new software, notably Windows Vista, which is on tap for sometime in the second half of the year.

The class of 2006 also includes Office 12, the possible delivery of Exchange 12, Microsoft Operations Manager 3.0, and a version of System Management Server, dubbed SMS R2.

Microsoft is also promising Compute Cluster Server 2003, which just entered its second beta in November, the Small Business Server 2003 R2, due mid-year, and Storage Server R2.

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Administrators, and practically all Windows desktop users for that matter, will be hearing lots about Vista and Office 12, particularly since there is heavy consumer interest. The message will most likely tout compatibility with third-party products and stability far superior to previous desktops.

But conservative enterprise customers, and business users in general, won't be rolling these products out in 2006, said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn.

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Enterprises currently on Windows 2000 won't be deploying Vista or Office 12 until 2008, mainly because their environments are typically so complex that they will need to do a lot of testing, Silver said. And companies with XP will be waiting even longer to bring Vista into their enterprises.

With its new file format based on Extensible Markup Language (XML) technology and a new user interface, Office 12 is the biggest makeover of this desktop suite in a decade. These differences are what also make it tricky for IT administrators who find they have to support a mixture of Office versions.

"Supporting users on two-user interfaces may be too hard, so even if there is a slow roll out of Vista, there may need to be a faster roll out of Office [12]," Silver said.

IT administrators won't see a beta of Longhorn Server until sometime in the second half of the year, so 2006 may turn out to be a year of tire kicking for products coming out in 2007. Exchange 12 could possibly fall into that camp.

But a new Exchange server is not a priority for most administrators. Most are busy thinking about or installing Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2, said Lee Benjamin, principal at ExchangeGuy Consulting in Boston. Admins are also anticipating some of the improvements to mobile connectivity -- in particular, direct push, which is expected imminently.

One prediction for 2006 has nothing to do with new products, but with increasing interest in old ones. Jeremy Moskowitz, an independent consultant based in Wilmington, Del., said he sees more IT shops taking an interest in getting more out of Group Policy. "Administrators seem to be interested in making it more secure and more automated," Moskowitz said. 

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