Microsoft, Version 2007

From Longhorn to Crossbow, next year is shaping up to be a big one for Redmond

Happy holidays, everyone. I'm writing this from The Inn at Spanish Bay, right off of 17-Mile Drive near Carmel, Calif. Man, if only I'd bought Microsoft stock in high school, maybe I could afford to live here now. But I didn't, so all I can do is visit.

Unfortunately, I couldn't visit with my small and brand-new Gateway 255E notebook, which I recently Vista-ized using my press copy of Vista Business. The night before, I decided to make sure I could play a DVD on there for the plane ride, and sure enough, Windows Media Player 11 wants a separate $20 download for that. I tried to make that work, but Vista wasn't taking what's up there right now, so apparently an MPEG-2 decoder is something Microsoft needs to make happen in 2007.

Which brings me to other things Microsoft will make happen in 2007 -- and I'm not talking about things that don't really interest us. Just the stuff I think is important. For example, I think shipping Longhorn will be important. Shipping Service Pack 1 for Vista, on the other hand, likely won't be that important unless that MPEG-2 decoder is in there. Yes, some haunted Russians have found a Vista security flaw, but it was minor, and if that's all they've gotten in two months of trying, I think we're pretty safe.

Crossbow will be important -- that's next-gen Windows Mobile for those who don't like goofy code names. It's in late Beta 2 right now, which makes a late spring or summer release look feasible. Microsoft has made a big push toward mobile devices with Exchange 2007 and its new communications server releases. Crossbow is the necessary front-end part of that equation. It's going to be important to IT managers, because if you don't have a smart phone/PDA policy now, you will after you install Exchange 2007. And deciding between the Microsoft monster, RIM, Palm, and Linux will be critical. Don't kid yourself: Crossbow will be slick, slick, slick.

We're also going to see shipping versions of Small Business Server 2007 next year, followed closely by either late beta or early RTM versions of Centro. That's the mid-size business version of SBS. There's not much news out of Redmond on either product at this stage save the obvious: One, both will be based on Longhorn; two, SBS will continue to aim at the 75-user or smaller business; three, Centro will hit the "mid-size" business (expect that to be between 100 and 500 or slightly more); and four, both will have UIs and tools specific to that customer segment. Frankly, I can see some great possibilities for SBS 2007 in the UI department, but it will be interesting to see how Microsoft thinks an IT guy working with 500 users will want to look at Longhorn differently from one who works with 5,000 users.

Next, think virtualization across all of these products -- heck, maybe even the Xbox. Microsoft has been open about the importance it's placing on virtualization all the way through 2006. But there's something else coming down the pike; I just don't know what it is yet. Whatever it is, it'll be aimed at making Microsoft the go-to virtualization platform for both Windows and Linux.

Office Live should see a service bump, too. The initial set of services that came with Office Live were pretty darn good -- especially when compared to what's being offered by Intuit or the Google/Yahoo Web 2.0 magpies. If those folks in Redmond are smart, they won't rest on their Live laurels all through 2007. They've got to stay ahead of that game, no question. Bundled accounting was a great start; but if it were me, I'd up the ante with more integration into online business centers (right now it's just eBay -- what about Craigslist or Microsoft's own Expo?); a makeover on the collaboration stuff (think point-and-click menu backed by two- or three-step wizards, tops); and (hopefully) some real integration between Office Live and Windows Live Spaces. After all, blogs are the small biz marketing hot button right now, so why Redmond ignored the connection the first time out is beyond me.

There'll be a lot more, obviously, but these are the ones I'm thinking about. I know I'll see more news on security and storage, but I hate speculating on either. And I know I'll see more news on development tools, but that's not my department. So that leaves new XBox updates and Halo 3. I'll let you know about those after I get review units. [Editor's note: Your plate looks pretty full, Oliver, so I'll have those last two shipped to me to test.]