Microsoft Pushes Partner Ecosystem, Reveals Partial Roadmap

Last week at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver, Microsoft talked up the opportunities for its partners, as you might expect. But it also served up an unexpected portion of product roadmap information, though questions about the future of the Windows client remained notably unanswered. Here are some highlights from the show.

Windows Server 2008 Wave Launches in February

Microsoft will "launch" Windows Server 2008 (formerly code-named Longhorn Server), SQL Server 2008 (code-named Katmai), and Visual Studio 2008 (code-named Orcas) on February 27, 2008, but don't let the date (or the launch event) get in the way of a dirty little secret: Only one of the three products, Windows 2008, will actually become available to the public that day. Of the other two, Visual Studio 2008 will actually ship in final form before the end of 2007, while SQL Server 2008 isn't expected until Q2 2008. So why have a single launch event? Microsoft considers these three products a single product wave, with Visual Studio 2008 being the development environment that targets the platforms provided by Windows 2008 and SQL 2008. I guess I buy that, but the company could have been a bit more open about the tiered-release strategy at the show.

Future Windows? Not So Much

Although Microsoft is pounding the message about its upcoming server releases loud and clear, the company is less expressive about future updates to the Windows client. The will-they-or-won't-they silliness over Windows Vista SP1 is finally over, and Microsoft says it will now deliver SP1 in beta form by the end of 2007, although it's pretty quiet about the feature set. Meanwhile, the next major version of Windows, code-named Windows Seven, is still largely an unknown, though Microsoft claims it's looking into releasing Windows on the same four-year plan it uses with Windows Server, with major releases every four years and minor updates half way between each major release. If this is true, we can expect a minor Windows release in 2009 and a major update (Windows Seven?) in 2011. But there's no way to confirm that because, you know, Microsoft just isn't talking.

Microsoft Has Its Head in the Cloud

With increased competition from Google and Yahoo! in the Internet-based services space, Microsoft has come under fire for not fully understanding the importance of delivering full-featured Internet-based software, even if it happens to compete with its traditional offerings like Windows, Office, and Windows Server. Well, the silliness is apparently over: Microsoft is now talking up an evolution to its "software + services" strategy, in which it will indeed deliver core functionality to customers in three forms: online-only, a combination of client software and Internet-based services, and client-only. To make the online-only part of this equation work, the company is developing a new Internet platform called Windows Live Core that will host products that, yes, might one day actually compete directly with cash cows like Microsoft Office. I'll never say never again.

Office Business Applications (OBAs)
We discussed this topic a few weeks back, but it bears repeating: OBAs are among the brightest of opportunities for Microsoft's partners, especially for those who can target Office 2007, which is the most programmable version of the company's office productivity suite yet. OBAs will become even more relevant as Microsoft fine-tunes its software + services strategy because the Office client will become an even bigger consumer of Web services than it is today. And in the meantime, the suite is open to integration between it and whatever back-end services you're already using.

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