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Microsoft channels rich client to IT shops

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer told partners to bet on a host of new technologies that add up to a very rich client. Will IT shops buy what's barreling through this channel?

BOSTON -- With the release of Vista, Office 2007, unified communications, search tools and Internet-based subscription software services in the works, Microsoft is prepping for one of the biggest client makeovers in its history.

The fact that Microsoft is making this software and technology available at roughly the same time will mean lots of products for Microsoft's partners to sell — but the adoption curve will be a long one. IT shops are not likely to adopt Vista or any of those other new products until they are ready to replace their current desktops.

"Microsoft is setting itself up for 2008 or 2009," said Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm. "People will buy Vista with new PCs, and Vista works well with XP, but it will be three years before all PCs run Vista."

There is no specific connection between Vista and Office 2007, which was aligned with Windows XP, he added. So, if there are dependencies between technologies such as Office, Vista and the Live online services, for example, Microsoft will have to be sure to devise services that work with existing platforms.

"If Microsoft hasn't linked these together, they will exclude much of its installed base," DeGroot said.

At its Worldwide Partner Conference here this week, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer gave his annual pep talk to company resellers, integrators and others who distribute technology to customers from small businesses to large corporate enterprises. He encouraged his forces to roll the dice with Microsoft and support this product wave, although it remains to be seen if IT managers will choose to take the same gamble.

Ballmer talked about the coming releases of Vista, Office 2007 and other products such as its unified communications server that would help allow customers to easily communicate with each other no matter where they are or what device they are using.

Although IT spending is increasing, those expenditures mean customers want to see big improvements in how systems or products work. Ballmer joked with partners, saying he knew they would be quizzing product managers during the conference about which customers would need Vista, which would need an Office update to use Vista and which could implement Vista without an Office upgrade. "I use both, and it's the way to go people, it's the way to go," Ballmer said.

Ballmer promised there would never be another large time lag between desktop software as there has been between Windows XP and Vista. "Trust me, you can just count on it, we'll never have this kind of gap again," he said.

Microsoft would heavily pitch Vista to consumers, said Ballmer, which would in turn drive corporate adoption. "Then you have people saying, I want this stuff at work," he said.

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