Vista Finally Sets Sail

In an understated launch in New York at the Nasdaq market site, Microsoft formally ended what arguably has been the most painful development project in its 31-year history: releasing the business version of Windows Vista.

The delivery of Vista, which formally debuted along with the business versions of the Office System 2007 and Exchange Server 2007, marks the beginning of what company officials promised will be the most ambitious product delivery cycle to date. Throughout 2007 and into early 2008, Microsoft expects to deliver at least 30 new products aimed at business users.

In his typically over-the-top presentation at the launch, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the new products collectively represent the "biggest launch in the company's history." Microsoft will put its money where its mouth is, spending "hundreds of millions" to promote and sell the products over the next year or so, according to Ballmer.

In his opening remarks, Ballmer alluded vaguely to the many delays and core features that were taken out of Vista during its five-year-plus development odyssey. "It is an honor and privilege to be here or, I probably should say, an honor and privilege to finally be here today. But that's all I'll have to say about the past," Ballmer said.

Microsoft will position Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server to work in concert to form its own business platform, on which IT shops and third-party developers can more effectively carry out a variety of collaboration and communications-based strategies, company officials said. The company is being typically aggressive in its forecasts for the acceptance of all three.

"I really see these products as game-changers. We fully expect [that] more than 200 million people will be using at least one of these products by the middle of next year," Ballmer said.

But many industry observers don't share Ballmer's optimism about Vista's short-term success. In one poll conducted by online retailer CDW, some 86 percent of IT professionals surveyed said they planned to deploy Vista eventually, but only 20 percent of those expected to do so in the next year. As one reason for being cautious, slightly more than 50 percent of those respondents said they would have to replace their existing PCs in order to run Vista.

"It's going to be a slow uptake, which is what we've been saying for some time. We don't expect Vista to have a very big impact in the business markets for at least another 12 months," said Al Gillen, Research vice president, System Software with Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC.

One critical goal for Microsoft to accomplish was to ensure that Vista makes users measurably more productive in both their personal and professional lives through the dozens of new features included in both versions.

"At the end of the day, we realize this is how people will judge how successful we will be with these products," Ballmer said at the launch event.

Ballmer promised reporters and analysts on Nov. 30 that Microsoft was still on target to deliver the consumer version of Vista on Jan. 30 in New York.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.

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