For all the talk about cloud computing this past year--and believe me, I'm a huge proponent of this emerging computing paradigm--as I look forward to 2009, the biggest product I see impacting IT is in fact the most classic and traditional Microsoft product of all, Windows. More specifically, I'm referring to Windows 7, which in 2009 will appear in both client and server form, the latter branded as Windows Server 2008 R2. These products will together define what kind of year the software giant and its customers will have. And I have to tell you, I think they're both going to be excellent products, and ones that will finally signal the death knell to their aging predecessors, Windows XP and Windows 2003.
The New Year will begin with the first public beta of Windows 7. This is the time for businesses of all sizes to begin evaluating this release, because I believe that Microsoft intends to ship only one major beta version of the product, followed by a single release candidate, and then the final version. If this schedule unfolds as expected, Microsoft will be able to finalize Windows 7 in April and then ship it to customers by mid-year at the latest. That means, unlike with Vista, you're not going to have a lot of time to get ready.
Speaking of Vista, your first impression of Windows 7 will vary wildly, depending on your opinions about Vista. Windows 7 looks and acts a lot like Vista, and that can be off-putting. But you don't have to look too far to see minor but important UI tweaks. I've been using an early version of the official beta since last week, and it's pretty clear that no corner of this OS has been left untouched. The taskbar, Start Menu, tray notification area, desktop, and Windows Explorer have all been given much-needed usability improvements.
As for performance, I think Microsoft is going to surprise people. And if you're working for an enterprise that hasn't upgraded to Vista because it won't run acceptably on your existing PCs, you'll want to look again at Windows 7. It may look like Vista, but it boots and runs appreciably faster than its predecessor, and can even run acceptably on low-end netbook-class machines, something that is simply impossible with Vista. (My only performance complaint regards file copies, which often work as slowly as they do in Vista, especially network-based file copies.)
Microsoft is making quite an effort to push a "better together" story with Windows 7 and Server 08 R2, but these products won't make the same splash as did Windows 2000 Professional and Server, the last Windows versions to be co-developed. That's not Microsoft's fault, per se, as the Windows platform doesn't require the same deep level of improvements that was needed back then. But if the company is hoping to inspire businesses to co-deploy both Windows 7 and Server 08 R2, it's going to have to do better than Direct Access, Branch Cache, and BitLocker To Go.