By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-11-30

Ballmer: Vista to Spur Wave of Innovation

NEW YORK—The launch of Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 for businesses is the most significant release of the flagship products in Microsofts history, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Nov. 30.

In a media keynote at the Nasdaq Stock Exchange here to officially announce the business launch and availability of the products to volume-license customers, Ballmer said Windows Vista will usher in a wave of innovation.

This includes new products like SharePoint Server 2007 and Exchange Server 2007, he said, adding that the new enterprise versions of both Vista and Office 2007 bring new capabilities such as enterprise services for Exchange and SharePoint.

"But a new set of applications are also being brought to market and enabled by the core innovations in Office 2007 and Vista. Some 30 new products will come to market over time on the back of this wave of innovation," Ballmer said.

Included in that wave of products are Unified Messaging Services for Exchange, Exchange Hosted Services, Forefront Security for Exchange and Forefront Security for SharePoint.

Customer upgrades to the new products may not happen as quickly as Microsoft would like. Click here to read more.

Also coming down the road is Office Communicator 2007, Office Communications Server 2007, Voice Call Management for Office Communications Server 2007, Office Performance Point Sever 2007, data mining add-ins for Office 2007, the Windows Desktop Optimization Pack, Forefront Client Security, System Center Configuration Manager and client, and System Center Operations Manager and client, he said.

"I am happy to finally be here, and thats all Im going to say about the past," Ballmer said, referring to the fact that Vista has taken five years to bring to market.

Looking forward, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is concentrating on service enablement inside of Windows. "That is a big theme and you can expect to see a lot more services enablement going forward," Ballmer said.

Microsoft has also learned that new technologies need time to incubate before being introduced into the product, like those that had been dropped earlier in Vista development. They need to be allowed to come to market first and then be integrated into products, he said.

Asked about the timeline for Vista service packs, Ballmer quipped that as it is the highest-quality, most secure and reliable Windows operating system ever, there should be no need for a service pack.

He added that the company is getting, and will continue to get, feedback from customers and that will determine the schedule for service packs.

Click here to read eWEEK Labs review of Vista.

Each of the new products made available Nov. 30 has found new ground in a variety of ways, he said, before explaining that Microsoft started with a world view of whats going on in business and what the critical needs were at the outset of the product development process.

"The motivation for these was that the world is changing and organizations are more transparent and distributed than ever before, while IT needs to extend across company boundaries and geographies. People are also clearly suffering from information overload," Ballmer said.

People also wanted to be in control of their information and lives, he said, which is the basis for Microsofts People Ready Business, which recognizes that people are the top asset.

As such, every version of Windows and Office has to make users more productive and improve their experience. "These new products are phenomenal upgrades to our personal productivity tools," Ballmer said.

Windows Mobile is not being changed at this time, but it remains an important part of the customer experience with the Microsoft suite of products, Ballmer said.

Windows Mobile upgrades will be done about once a year and the timing is contingent on the certification process for the software with the associated hardware, he said, adding that while Microsoft has just finished a Windows Mobile release, it will take some time to get to market.

Ballmer said that in the past, customers had expressed concerns that their users were not taking advantage of the full feature set in Office, but the new user interface and its ribbon in Office 2007 is changing that. Early adopters are saying that the new user interface lets them take control and get fuller value out of the feature set, Ballmer said.

The search and ribbon experience will be carried over by companies in the services and applications they offer based on them, he noted.

Next Page: The four pillars.


There are four core pillars behind the business market needed today, which are the foundation for Microsofts People Ready Business, Ballmer said.

The first pillar is helping simplify how people work together, with unified communications a dominant theme in that regard, and which encompasses VOIP (voice over IP)—technology that will ship next year—e-mail, IM and video, he said.

Staying in sync with information is another core need, Ballmer said, encompassing Wikis, blogs and RSS, with collaboration and workflow very important in allowing people to connect and share easily. Working remotely with mobile PCs is another big area.

Finding information and improving business insight is the second core pillar, which includes finding information, searching documents, e-mail and people; integrating systems through XML and Web services; analyzing information through visualizations; and reporting and empowering decisions through business intelligence, portals and search, Ballmer said.

Diane Prescott, a technical product manager for Microsoft, demonstrated how data can be accessed through Outlook. Outlook Voice Access allows users to dial in and manipulate their e-mail and calendar, and it can also dynamically detect when a foreign language has been used, she said.

Outlook Web Access has also been changed and now allows users to wipe clean a device they may have lost or that has been stolen to protect company data, she said.

Ballmer said the third pillar for Microsoft is helping people protect and manage their content, including retention and rights management; drive encryption and backup; and electronic forms. The fourth pillar is about reducing IT costs and improving security.

"Vista is the first product developed under the SDL (Security Development Lifecycle), making it more secure. Deployment also has to be simplified, and a single image helps in this regard. Security risks also have to be mitigated, support costs reduced and identity and access controlled. I was astounded by a number I saw recently that 93 million records containing personal data have been breached or compromised in some way since early 2005," Ballmer said.

Business partners, from system integrators to ISVs to hardware and chip partners, are also excited about the ecosystem of opportunity for them opened up by Vista and Office 2007, he said, noting there are 500,000 such Microsoft partners globally.

"We are delivering the People Ready Business through Vista and Office 2007 and the 30 related products associated with them. This does indicate the dawning of a new day for customers who want to take advantage of all this," he said.

In a question-and-answer session following his address, Ballmer said this will be the most widely marketed set of products in Microsofts history, and much of that blitz will start with the consumer release of the products on Jan. 30. The total spending for will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.

He also said that the core development of Vista had taken about 2.5 years, given the early stages where the engineers were "working on a lot of related things and lost some cycle time, then the team was doing the Windows XP SP2 security update."

Read more here about how to assess the Vista-readiness of your PC.

Asked what else Microsoft could put into the next version of Windows, Ballmer said there are a "lot of things we never got to with Vista that we will work on going forward. There are improvements to be made in networking infrastructure, we need to take advantage of the shift to multicore processors, and there is a lot more to do for IT administrators to make systems simpler and cheaper to deploy," he said.

In related news, Dell announced Nov. 30 that beginning Dec. 1, a customer with a Microsoft volume-licensing agreement can send Dell its Windows Vista image and have Dell factory-install it through its standard imaging service.

Dell also unveiled several tools to help customers assess, upgrade and deploy desktops and notebooks in their networked environments. The Windows Vista ROI tool gives customers quantifiable information to help them plan and budget around their Windows Vista migration, helping them track their TCO for up to three years.

Another, the Exchange Advisor Tool, offers a blueprint to optimize and simplify customer e-mail environments, including system sizing, availability, data security, backup and recovery, and archiving.

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