Microsoft Launch Tour 2007 – ready for a new day

I attended the “biggest Microsoft launch event in history” today, here in Detroit at Cobo Hall.  For the non-microsoft followers, the event was intended to “launch” Vista, Office & Exchange 2007.  While each have been available for some time now, whether publicly or to business customers, the event, in a nutshell was a dissapointment. 

Sure, its true, we tend to follow Microsoft technology rather closely, so we were well aware of the new products, most feature-sets and of course the new whiz-bang Vista UI – so I didnt expect to get blown away, however I did expect more fan fare, from the keynote, through the vendor hall to the sessions.  It was almost like a non-event.  Presentors went through the motions, showing off (yet again) flip 3D, widgets and the new ribbon UI of office.  But this stuff has been promoted for months, analysts and beta testers have done a good job covering the “top 10s”; so I expected something new, beneficial or valuable to our company, since they have been working on this release for 5 years!

To their credit, delivering software ourselves, I can appreciate the surface-stuff isnt all thats going on.  I’m sure they’ve may huge strides behind the scenes, but with all the advancements Apple & Google have been making – this was Microsofts big opportunity!  While the event [literature] was catered to Vista/Office & Exchange the underlying theme, from the keynote through the sessions was heavily upon SharePoint Server 2007 and workflow.  Microsoft has been significant enhacements in this area.  While the orchestration of all the office products (now pushing 15) and the Exchange platform (now with 5 roles) is great, it didnt exactly resonate with me.  We built alot of custom software, so most of our internal document or business workflows have long since been addressed.

The conference started off addressing 4 tenents of the “People Ready” enterprise.

  1. Simplify how people work together
  2. Find information faster & improve business insight
  3. Reduce IT costs and improve security
  4. Protect and manage content

These make sense to me, and in general I’m pretty happy with the Microsoft offerings to support each.  Recognizing we’re a somewhat unique company, not using alot of “off the shelf” products, I can appreciate lots of companies do.  More and more of us are working among [distributed] teams, the ability to create adhoc networks, whether using sharepoint “webs” to collaborate or physically with Groove can lead to better productivity. 

Unified messaging (UM) is also noteworthy.  Exchange 2007 also offers a UM role, which has hooks into other VOIP systems to enable email retrieval of voice messages.  As most of us know, UM pushes the “paperless office concept” integrating email/IM/chat/fax and now voice.  While the value proposition is strong, I’ve yet to see it truely leveraged in an real-world enterprise.  We at Billhighway have made inroads with UM and our Mitel VOIP telephone system, as it enables us to combine voice/data systems, namely with IVR (interactive voice response) systems, agent management systems (email/IM/chat) and “screen pop” capability, which *could* our agents recieve advance notification of the caller before they take the call.  I say *could* because we haven’t fully deployed that module.

While each topic, Vista/Office/Exchange warrant their own conversation there are many other places to find indepth content on each, so I wont go into the pros/cons here.  For those evaluating these products within their organizations I’ll simply leave you with this:

  • Vista – wait.  Deploy it in labs or even laptops until SP1 or a legitimate business requirement surfaces. 
    • While it definately has some IT configuration/deployment advancements it largely won’t increase productivity of your employees – UNLESS, search is a big part of what they do.  The UI is cool, although its the hardware requirements enable it to run [well] on only the latest equipment, often requiring upgrades (cpu, memory and/or video card) to leverage all advancements.
    • Look to deploy at home or on laptops.  Both offer features/functionality worthy of the upgrade.  The tablet and media center stuff is pretty cool, but you’ll need the Ultimate version for all that.  Salesman or frequenty travelers/presentors will benefit from the quick configuration options, toggling/optimizing settings for each respective environment.
  • Office 2007 – again wait. 
    • While the new ribbon navigational UI may be the easiest to learn to date, it is still a fairly drastic change from how things work in previous versions, which therefore will undoubtly reduce productivity and raise support costs initially. 
    • With the exception of Outlook, the driving force behind upgrading would be leverage SharePoint Server 2007 and the new workflow capabilities.  If your organization doesnt intend to do much document workflow, you probably get all the productivity you need out of your existing office products.
  • Exchange 2007 – depends.
    • If your organization is ready for an upgrade, meaning you’re looking to consolidate servers or finally move from 5.5, 2007 looks like a great product.  The new “roles” requires some advanced preparations, however you should be doing that anyway.  2007 as you probably know requires 64bit hardware, which again is good & bad.  If you planned to purchase new hardware anyway great, if not, you’re going to have to!
    • There are definatly some advancements made with Exchange 2007, so read through them thouroughly.  Installation/configuration doesnt seem too complicated, as they appear to be re-incorprating characteristics of AD (active directory) and 5.5 (mgt console), whereas 2000 & 2003 moved toward AD with mailbox configuration primarily being done through users and computers.
    • Outlook Web Access has again been updated, employing lots of ajax.  The experience is about as good as the Outlook client, with some vast improvements to your calendar/scheduling.
    • Our organization will be moving 2007 this summer, so I’ll surely be writing more about our experience and it occurs.

In summary, the conference was by far the worst launch I’ve ever attended (now being about 6) and if there are lots of compelling reasons to upgrade, they’ve seemed to slip by my observations.  Again, these products are conditional to the needs and requirments within your business, as I’m sure there were alot of firms there that have been waiting for alot of these advancements, however you’d never know it by the crowds response to most of the demostrations – the presentors were greeted with a mediocure response at best.  Most seem rather unimpressed.  On that note though, I’ll leave you with a few items I have been impressed with (inside Vista): BitLocker, Reliability Monitor, Application Compatibility Analyzer & Office Diagnostics.

Proceed with caution and continue to wait patiently for a new day.

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