For Microsoft, 2006 may have started off as a casual walk in the park, but it ended as a sprint to the finish line.
Over the year the company faced product delays and the resultant unhappy partner and developer ecosystems, as well as a change in leadership at the very top, with Bill Gates announcing his intention to spend more time working at his charitable foundation.
Jim Allchin, who has led Windows product development for the past 15 years, will retire as soon as Windows Vista ships to consumers, with Steven Sinofsky, who headed the Office team, given broad responsibility for planning future versions of Windows.
The software maker also made some half-hearted attempts to be clearer about its software-as-a-service vision, which is being led by Ray Ozzie, Gates replacement as chief software architect.
But Ozzie has been laying low for the past few months, with rumors and speculation about the future of that vision taking center stage while he and other Microsoft executives remain strangely quiet on that front.
But, on the positive side, the company overcame potential issues with European competition law to get the green light to ship Vista in Europe at the same time as everywhere else.
The Redmond, Wash., software company has also penned some significant deals, particularly with regard to working alongside competitors on product interoperability, as well as releasing Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 to its business customers with volume licenses.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, says the most notable Microsoft milestone in 2006 was the deal it struck with Novell around interoperability and patent protection.
"By visibly changing tactics, Microsoft caught the open-source software crowd off guard, while enhancing their own image in the process," he told eWEEK.
Another notable milestone of the past year was getting Vista released to manufacturing. The product appeared "badly stuck midyear, and each release candidate seemed months away from being ready," Enderle said. "Then the RTM version came out stable and in good shape for market."
The effort to take a product that was "on life support" and turn it into something that was actually ready for market "almost seems super-human given how far the product came in the last three months," he said.
Michael Cherry, the lead analyst for Microsoft at research firm Directions On Microsoft, agrees that the companys most notable achievement in 2006 was the shipping of new versions of its flagship Windows and Office products.
"It has been some time since the latest update, depending of course, on how you define Windows XP Service Pack 2. Vista also has some interesting features, like User Account Control and BitLocker Drive Encryption," he told eWEEK.
That being said, Vista was also one of Microsofts biggest failures for the year, according to Enderle—because it reminded hardware manufacturers "just how dependent they were on Microsoft and started them talking about finding alternatives to create the same dynamic they created with AMD [Advanced Micro Devices] to correct a similar problem with Intel."