It's showtime for Vista, Office and Exchange

Early adopter IT administrators can start the downloading. Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 are ready to rock.

IT managers can finally get their hands on finished versions of Microsoft's Vista desktop operating system, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 -- three products whose road to completion was rocky and full of detours.

At the NASDAQ headquarters in New York, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer hosted what he called the biggest launch in Microsoft's history. "It's an exciting thing to finally be here, and that's all I'll say about the past," he said.

Vista and Exchange Server in particular have experienced long delays. But today that was all forgotten as Ballmer showed off the new platforms. He called Vista and Office 2007 "the two most significant releases we've ever done in terms of depth, breadth, functionality and new scenarios they enable."

It's the first time since the release of Windows 95 and Office 95 that both products were released simultaneously, and Ballmer said he expects about 30 new products will come to market from Microsoft, as a result of the release of Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007. However, not all of the new capabilities are ready; voice over IP, video and video conferencing will not come until 2007, Ballmer said.

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Enterprise customers now have the option of purchasing new enterprise versions of all three products. For example, customers who buy Exchange Server 2007 will have to buy an enterprise license if they want to receive the much touted unified messaging features. This marks a change for Microsoft; in previous releases, all business features would have been included in the product's standard license.

Enterprises aren't expected to roll out any of the new platforms for some time. As far as Vista and Office are concerned, analysts expect that enterprise customers will roll out those products when they are also looking to replace desktop hardware.

However, for customers who plan to deploy the software without new hardware, at least two major vendors are taking advantage of the Vista launch to introduce a line of software provisioning tools.

IBM said it will release its Tivoli Provisioning Manager for OS Deployment, which is technology based on IBM's acquisition of Geneva, Switzerland-based Rembo Technology last May.

CA, in Islandia, N.Y., said it will release the Business Desktop Deployment Plus, a management tool for installation, management and reporting.

However, since the IBM and CA tools can be used across multiple platforms, and not just on Windows, their launches are not expressly tied to Vista.

But the point is this, said Andi Mann, a senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, Boulder, Colo.: The job of provisioning software across an enterprise is a difficult one for IT managers.

"The first question everyone will be asking [about Vista] is how can I deploy this and what will it cost me [to deploy this]," Mann said.

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