Foley on Microsoft

Product Launch Tidal Wave

Microsoft's ambitious product-launch schedule requires a delicate juggling act.

Microsoft says the second half of this year will feature "the biggest launch wave in Microsoft history." That's not an overstatement. Microsoft isn't making a single big product bet in the new fiscal year, which began July 1. Instead, it's stacking the deck with lots of them.

The 'Softies didn't roll out a whole lot of new products over the last 12 months. Instead, the company's product units were preparing for future launches that are now suddenly coming close: Windows 7, Office 2010, Windows Live 4 and more.

I didn't realize how ambitious Microsoft's upcoming launch plans were until I assembled a rough launch timeline. Here's my best attempt at outlining a delivery schedule for new products for the 2010 calendar year:

September 2009
  • Zune HD ships
  • Windows Mobile 6.5 phones ship
  • Windows Mobile 7 is released to manufacturing (RTM), though phones are not due until sometime in the first half of 2010
  • Windows Marketplace for Mobile opens
October 2009
  • Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 become generally available
  • Microsoft Security Essentials free anti-virus/anti-malware product ships
Late 2009
  • Exchange 2010 rolls out
  • Natal Xbox controller and Xbox console refresh ship
  • Azure cloud environment opens for business
  • Live Mesh goes final (maybe)
  • "Geneva" identity server slated to RTM
Early 2010
  • Office 2010 client and Office 2010 Web Apps ship
  • SharePoint Server 2010 ships
  • Visual Studio 2010 ships
  • Forefront "Stirling" security suite rolls out in full
  • Windows Home Server "Vail" scheduled to ship
  • "Quebec" Windows Embedded Standard release ships
First Half 2010
  • SQL Server 2008 R2 ships
  • System Center 2010 rolls out
  • "Madison" data-warehouse appliance likely to ship
  • "Chelan" Windows Embedded Compact 2010 (the renamed "Windows CE") RTMs
  • Refreshes of Windows Live services and Bing Search (Wave 4) due

Microsoft sure has a lot in the pipeline for a company that many industry observers view as being washed up. This plethora of product launches brings up a few questions. Will the economy recover enough for consumer and business users to buy these offerings? Will Microsoft, which is tightening its own belt during this economic downturn, complete and ship all these products? And even with its marketing millions, does Microsoft have deep enough pockets to launch, advertise and support so many wares?

I'm wondering, too, how well the 'Softies will balance the growing consumer-enterprise tension within the company. For decades, Microsoft focused on showing the world that its high-volume, low-price-point servers, tools and database were ready for enterprise-computing demands.

But since Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie joined the company, there's been an unmistakable emphasis on making sure the consumer house is also in order. It's not a coincidence that Microsoft's first showcase application for its Azure cloud environment is the consumer-aimed Live Mesh-or that the "three screens" vision that seems to be driving a good part of the company is focused around handheld devices, the PC and television.

Is Microsoft trying to be too many things to too many customers? Or is CEO Steve Ballmer right to crank out as many products and services as Microsoft can?

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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