Vista and Office Beta 2

Put 23 May 2006 in your diary – that’s when the music stopped and Microsoft did its grand unveiling. We knew what was coming, of course, but on this date it finally put its cards on the table: “Come forward with us or be left behind” was the crux of the message. On that morning – the first day of the WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference), a relatively small Microsoft conference held in Seattle – Microsoft went through one of those inflexion points that happens maybe once a decade.

Vista and Office Beta 2

You might think I’m overstating the case, and maybe I am, but the simultaneous launch (in Beta 2) of Office 12, Vista desktop and the Longhorn server platforms demonstrates a crushing level of code deliverability. I can’t think of any other company in the world that could slap that much new stuff on the table in one go. (In truth, I can’t think of another that could deliver products of this size and scope at all.) Anyway, you can download all of this stuff now from the Microsoft website, so I’m sure you’ll dive into the details over the coming months, and I’ll be there to point out the significant bits and pieces, and other issues of interest.

Why do I think Microsoft is so bullish about this release? The answer is simple – it has to be bullish. The merest hint of a wobble of confidence and the whole thing falls apart. You see, although it’s perfectly possible to do an incremental upgrade to this “brave new world of Microsoft”, the company really wants you to end up with the whole package. That means Office 12 running on Vista desktops and laptops, and with Longhorn Servers running the Office Server products. Obviously, this is too much to bite off even for the biggest players, so each part can be used on either the current or previous version of the platform. Office 12 will run fine on Windows XP, for example, and Office Server runs fine on Windows 2003 Server. But there’s no doubt that Microsoft wants us to take the lot.

There are lots of reasons for this wish. By forcing us to buy into rolling licences, Microsoft hopes Vista will make it possible to get the last remaining companies onto the treadmill of server licensing by usage rather than by outright purchase and then not coming back for more for another five years. That’s the situation we’re in at a number of my smaller clients – they bought into new server systems back in 2000, based around the new 2000 Server with Exchange Server 2000. Their desktops are now mostly on XP and Office 2000. Getting such customers to move to 2003 is hard because there’s little perceived benefit in the move – okay, there are some nice features here, a few improvements there, but nothing worth the big financial outlay. They need more than this to justify the move, and with the Office 12 and Vista launch Microsoft hopes it’s done enough work on every part of the platform to provide that justification (and to make them realise that a rolling licensing programme might make financial sense at the same time).

Of course, Microsoft is happy for us to run Office 12 on XP if that’s as far as we’re prepared to go. It would be happier if we put the Office Server components onto our Windows servers too, but of course these require Server 2003 and so we’d need to roll out at least one Server 2003 box, plus all the desktop CALs to support it. Does it make sense to go halfway like this? Microsoft hopes not, and it fervently hopes we’ll tip over and go for the whole enchilada. There’s little else it can do after all – if we don’t jump and stay happily in the 2000 era, it really will have to wave goodbye.

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