Microsoft is in the midst of an unprecedented, massive upgrade cycle for its enterprise software products, a refresh wave that represents a major challenge for CIOs and IT managers responsible for charting their companies' technology strategy.
Not only is Microsoft working on a major revamp of its flagship Windows operating system, but significant upgrades are coming to its Office products, the Explorer browser and a range of back-end enterprise products.
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"There's definitely something unique going on here," said Ted Schadler, a Forrester Research analyst.
The current status and expected delivery dates of the various upgrades vary -- and in some cases, Microsoft hasn't yet provided specifics -- but the overall effort started last year and may carry over to next year.
Unsurprisingly, the vendor is trumpeting the initiative with an intense marketing assault, and CIOs and IT directors must be ready to analyze the individual upgrades to decide which ones make sense for their companies to adopt.
"Microsoft is the strategic supplier. It's far and away the No. 1 most-used workforce technology. That makes it a critical supplier to the enterprise and every CIO needs to be extremely in touch with what Microsoft is doing," Schadler said.
Chief among the upgrades are new versions of Windows OSes for PCs, tablets, servers and possibly even phones. Microsoft says that Windows 8, now in beta testing, is a major revamp of the Windows 7 OS for PCs. It includes a new touch-optimized user interface called Metro designed for tablet devices, which have become popular among enterprise users.
A new version of the Internet Explorer browser, version 10, is also in progress, designed to take advantage of the new features and capabilities in Windows 8, particularly the Metro UI.
Microsoft is also revamping its Office family. The "Office 15" upgrade initiative, now in its early stages, will include new versions of productivity apps like Word, PowerPoint and Excel, and communications and collaboration products like Exchange/Outlook, Lync and SharePoint -- both on premise and as part of the cloud-hosted Office 365 suite.
Back-end server and tools products, as well as enterprise applications, are also getting makeovers. These include the company's enterprise database, the new version of which is called SQL Server 2012; the IT management tool System Center; the application development platform Visual Studio; and Dynamics enterprise software applications.
Microsoft, naturally, is doing its best to generate excitement around the new and improved features in these upgrades, making a case for their adoption through sometimes lengthy and frequent blog posts, advertising, appearances by officials at conferences and the like.
However, CIOs and analysts caution against getting seduced by the Microsoft marketing siren call.
Focus on ROI
"CIOs need to focus on total cost of ownership and return on investment. Once you know what you're currently paying with the TCO analysis, then you can do an ROI assessment," said industry analyst Michael Osterman from Osterman Research.
IT professionals should focus on what their internal organization's road map looks like, said IDC analyst Al Gillen.