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SharePoint 14 and Office 14

Last week, I covered the announcement that Performance Point Server was being rolled in to SharePoint, and highlighted the sadly light guidance Microsoft provided in its “strategic roadmap” for the future of the various components of Performance Point Server. The Performance Point Server announcement was the first really big announcement related to the upcoming releases of SharePoint and Office, currently code named SharePoint 14 and Office 14. I’ll go out on a limb and gamble that Microsoft will brand as Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2010, but only after a significant amount of careful market research. Microsoft also recently announced Exchange 14 with a video on the Exchange Team Blog.

Microsoft has been unusually “tight lipped” about the next versions of the Office and Unified Communications products. While selected organizations are testing the applications, very few analysts, authors, partners, or even MVPs have had the chance to see the current builds.

For some reasons, I praise Microsoft for approaching Office 2010 this way. The market’s expectations aren’t set too high, as Microsoft often removes features during development that can’t be made ready in time. Books and other documentation about the applications aren’t based on too-early beta code. And there’s a reduced risk of over-hyped negative press, a la Windows Vista. These would be benefits in my view.

However, it also means that there will be blunders in the usability and functionality side that Microsoft could have avoided if they had actually cast a broader net with the early builds, and received broader feedback. Personally, I’m really distraught that I haven’t seen early builds because I cannot help clients make roadmap decisions related to budgeting for the new applications.

Why is Microsoft playing the early builds of Office 2010 so close to their vest? There are reasons and I’m sure they’re not the reasons that Microsoft bashers or most analysts would guess. Microsoft is making an intentional decision to sacrifice the feedback benefits of early releases, and they are not making that decision lightly. But it will all be over soon.

When will we see Office and SharePoint 2010? Most analysts expect to see an Office beta in the late spring or early summer, about the time that Windows 7 is expected to be released. I’ll make a prediction, and I’ll tell you up front that I don’t have “sources” leaking information to me. From watching Microsoft over the years, and learning how the company tries to align its business to hit its goals, my guess is that Microsoft will announce Office 2010 beta at TechEd (they like to make big announcements there) and that Microsoft will, as many expect, try hard to release Office 2010 in the last part of this year, with public availability just before or just after Christmas. Microsoft’s fiscal year starts mid-summer, so I’m guessing that its 2009-2010 fiscal year will be the year that Office 2010 marketing budgets are spent, and sales will need to be realized.

Windows 7 Beta

SharePoint doesn’t exist in a vacuum—it is surrounded by other technologies. I would like to call out two major developments in the Microsoft space over recent weeks, starting with the incredible level of interest in Windows 7.

Windows 7 Beta is, in a word, tremendous. The overhauled and responsive user interface marked by the new task bar takes a day or two to get used to, then is completely addictive. I applied the Beta to my production laptop (risky, I know) last week, and I am in fact addicted to the task bar’s previews, to the tight integration of search functionality, and to the new Explorer windows with their crisply designed navigation and the new libraries functionality. Even little things make a big difference—a New Folder button on every Explorer toolbar. It’s about time! Now if we can only get Microsoft to add an “up one level” button back in to make up for the sometimes too-small breadcrumb navigation feature that appeared in Vista. Oh, and if anyone at Microsoft is reading this—why the heck can’t we search Favorites within IE?

Windows 7 is a not-so-tacit admission that Vista just didn’t cut it from a usability perspective. I love Vista, and have been using it since early betas, but the “pro vs. con” equation was only slightly weighted on the “pro” side, and then only after significant tweaking. Windows 7 is a whole other story. It is, so far, entirely pro. There may be some problems that arise over time, but so far… wow. In fact, I’ll put out there that Windows 7 is arguably “moving past” Mac OS X (which I really like as well) for usability, and certainly for functionality.

If you are interested in trying Windows 7, follow the rules--do it on a test system. And if you’re going to dive in head first (like me), back up your system fully and read all the release notes (especially this time, so you don’t screw up your entire MP3 collection!). I found a few tricks. First, my laptop’s mobile broadband drivers would not install under Windows 7, so I ended up restoring my backup and upgrading my Vista system. This worked well.

With a few other small workarounds, I seem to be fully up and running in Windows 7, except for two pieces of hardware that are not yet supported. So I have a VMware virtual machine (which has USB support) running Windows XP with my video conferencing application, and anything else I find incompatible later on.

Hats off also to the Windows Live team, for the tremendous new Windows Live Essentials suite. The Photo Gallery is so, so good! Running WPG on Windows 7 I found I needed to disable automatic face detection in the application’s Options, else it would crash regularly, which seems to be limited to Windows 7. When I have time, I’ll post my configuration and favorite Windows 7 applications, but until then I found this blog, which boasts a list of recommended Windows 7 applications quite similar to mine.

My most recently implemented random and silly Windows 7 tips: Since I live on the Hana Highway in Maui, I just had to get the Hana Highway theme from the Windows 7 Themes site. I added my own photos of Maui and am using Windows 7’s new desktop background shuffle which, because I have a multi-monitor setup and one monitor is often showing the desktop, makes for a nice “picture frame” for me.

Enterprise Desktop Virtualization

A lot of organizations have applications that won’t run on Windows Vista, let alone Windows 7. These applications are, sadly, often among the most critical to a business because they were custom developed at some point to support a business process. Microsoft recently released MED-V Enterprise Desktop Virtualiztion Beta.

This tool allows you to run legacy applications on a Vista client. In a nutshell, a Virtual PC running Windows XP runs “in the background” to host the applications, but the applications appear in the Start menu just as if they were installed locally on the client. Enterprises can completely manage the Virtual PC images, so basically you will create Virtual PCs with one or more ‘problematic’ applications and deploy those Virtual PCs, rather than the applications themselves. It’s a super-slick technology based on Kidaro, which Microsoft bought a while back.

Why MED-V doesn’t run on Windows 7 so I can run my QuickBooks installation is beyond me! Windows 7 Team, please meet the Virtualization Team. But I’m sure it will happen by Windows 7’s release, predicted by most to be in the May/June timeframe.

Folks, this kind of solution is the future of compatibility solutions. Don’t wait to learn more about MED-V 1.0 Beta 1.


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