Microsoft ends 2006 with a bang

Office, Exchange, and Vista highlight a prolific year in Redmond

Many companies had significant impacts on the IT technology landscape in 2006, but Microsoft stands alone in one special category: Prolific Tech Spewage. Vista, Office 2007, Office SharePoint Server, and Exchange Server 2007 are the four releases on everyone’s lips today, but if you cast your eye back across the narrows of 2006, you’ll see that the Redmond elves were busy with launch events all year long, not just in November. Let’s do a short recap: Exchange Hosted Services, Forefront Client Security, SharePoint Designer 2007, two System Center client/server releases, Small Business Server 2003 Release 2, Windows Live and (more importantly) Office Live, updates to Virtual Server, and VoIP capability for Desktop Communicator, just for starters. Developers got loads of goodies in 2006 as well (updates to Visual Studio, ASP.NET AJAX, the Robotics Studio, and more), and even the after-hours crowd got new toys as Microsoft handily spanked the Wii and the PlayStation -- at least this year.

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Many companies had significant impacts on the IT technology landscape in 2006, but Microsoft stands alone in one special category: Prolific Tech Spewage. Vista, Office 2007, Office SharePoint Server, and Exchange Server 2007 are the four releases on everyone’s lips today, but if you cast your eye back across the narrows of 2006, you’ll see that the Redmond elves were busy with launch events all year long, not just in November. Let’s do a short recap: Exchange Hosted Services, Forefront Client Security, SharePoint Designer 2007, two System Center client/server releases, Small Business Server 2003 Release 2, Windows Live and (more importantly) Office Live, updates to Virtual Server, and VoIP capability for Desktop Communicator, just for starters. Developers got loads of goodies in 2006 as well (updates to Visual Studio, ASP.NET AJAX, the Robotics Studio, and more), and even the after-hours crowd got new toys as Microsoft handily spanked the Wii and the PlayStation -- at least this year.

That’s a lot of product CDs, even for a campus that has its own, multimillion-dollar Starbucks franchise. If we had to gauge the technologies with the biggest bang for 2006, we’d put Office 2007 (including its server components) in first place, followed by Exchange Server 2007, and then Vista.

Windows Vista may be the frontrunner in terms of looks, but Office 2007 will dramatically change the way enterprises work, communicate, and collaborate. The combination of Office on the front-end and Office SharePoint, the upcoming Office Groove Server 2007, Office Forms Server 2007, and their corresponding touch points in Exchange 2007 will revive the term groupware in the near future. These technologies are built to allow front-line business managers to create their own line of business applications with little or no intervention from IT -- and from the testing that InfoWorld has completed so far, Microsoft looks to have largely succeeded with this goal.

Similarly, Exchange Server 2007 promises to take in-house e-mail to the next level. Buy the right cell phone package and you’ve almost got a BlackBerry killer built-in; and in a world where nine out of 10 e-mails are spam, Microsoft-managed Forefront Security Services Exchange Hosted Filtering (formerly FrontBridge) will make many e-mail managers’ lives easier. Now add deep integration with typical telecommunications chores, including voicemail and faxing, within a unified inbox environment, as well as support for SIP-based VoIP, and Exchange really is the communications hub.

Finally, there's Vista. You can say it was playing catch up to OS X in good looks, but Microsoft also added loads of new tools that will keep other operating systems chasing its tail: revamped A-to-Z networking, top-down security rebuild, integrated handheld syncing, and a high-end display capability that’s ready for advanced graphics processing tasks, and not just pretty wallpaper. Oh yeah, and a Mahjong game that’s more than a little addictive.

Microsoft has fought hard, and perhaps suffered an unhealthy caffeine-to-employee ratio, in order to maintain a leadership position across these market segments. The company still has effective competition in these areas, but the fact that one organization not only stays in the lead but often points the way is remarkable. In the coming year we'll see how the new Office, Exchange, and Vista are received in the enterprise. Today, it looks to us like Redmond is on a roll.

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