Vista and Office 2007: Will the Small Business Market Bite?

Next week marks the launch of Vista and Office 2007 to the consumer market, an event in New York that is widely believed to be the real coming-out party for the dynamic software duo, easily expected to trump -- from an entertainment standpoint, at least -- the rather staid, low-key business introduction that took place back in November.

But it's not just retail consumers that Microsoft is targeting during this second wave of product availability. Systems builders finally gain access to Vista and Office 2007, and many small businesses that don't do volume licensing will get dibs, as well. If you think about it, many of these small business customers purchase their software at the local Best Buy or CompUSA, so their connection to this launch seems fitting.

Small businesses are a coveted constituent for Microsoft today. The company has poured resources into this space over the last year, introducing products like Office Small Business Accounting software to take on leading solutions like Quicken and Peachtree. The new Office Live service enables small businesses to set up a free company Web site, company e-mail accounts and other staples to establishing an online business presence. On the partner side of the house, Microsoft is fast-growing the ranks of its Small Business Specialists, a designation given to partners that meet certain criteria for serving this market.

The next step, convincing small businesses to buy Vista and Office 2007, presents a certain challenge for Microsoft. Will small companies on small budgets be willing to shell out for the new software, which means in some cases coughing up cash to upgrade PC hardware?

It's hard to predict. Microsoft thinks the reasons to upgrade -- even for small businesses it defines as having 50 employees or fewer and up to 25 PCs -- are compelling. Its executives cite enhanced security as one prime reason, along with mobility features such as Vista's Mobility Center that makes it easier to set up mobile and remote access scenarios. Office 2007's much-touted ribbon interface should help small businesses finally use more than a fraction of the features in Word, Excel, Powerpoint and the like, so the company contends.

In mid-March, Microsoft will be holding its second annual Small Business Summit, three days of online speakers, sessions and training for small business IT folks. This year's emphasis by far is on the benefits of installing Vista and Office 2007. The company is billing it as a "call to action" and has added a day devoted strictly to startup businesses that in most cases are setting up their IT from scratch.

Trying to convince small business owners that they can't live without the new features found in Vista and Office 2007 is going to be a hard sell. Do you think the market will bite? Write to me at capril@redmondmag.com.

Carolyn's Mailbag: Novell's Vista Alternative, Microsoft's Open Source Moves, More
Last week, I asked readers if they were thinking of Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 as an alternative to deploying Windows Vista. Here are some of your thoughts:

I began the process of evaluating Novell's SLED 10 at Historic New England last October. I would characterize this as a low-priority initiative so I'm not sure this helps at all. But I personally have been using it regularly since early December. In fact, this message was created using Novell's GroupWise Linux client on SLED 10.

For everyday tasks, I found there is nothing I couldn't do using SLED than I could using Windows. I estimate SLED could provide all the functionality required that would allow the complete replacement of our Windows XP desktops for about 80 percent of our staff. Coupled with the superior management capabilities Novell provides with its ZEN product, it would seem like a slam-dunk decision to switch from Windows to SLED.

However, at this time, and with only performing a very limited evaluation, I have what I think would be a big problem in widely introducing SLED, or any other Linux distro, to Historic New England operations. The fact that faced with a largely non-technical staff that has been "visually programmed" to Windows fonts and graphics, any variation of the desktop would be like turning on a bright headlight toward a herd of deer. Gnome and KDE have come a long way and can be customized extensively, but in my humble opinion they lack the kind of "smoothness" the Windows OS mastered long ago. Incidentally, I also have been evaluating Vista and so far have some similar concerns.

This may seem a minor qualm but anyone who has to manage change knows it ain't so easy. Therefore, unless a compelling, positive business reason to introduce disruptive technology exists, to do so would be foolish no matter what the cost. In my little world, the rollout and training costs associated with an OS change of this magnitude would force a decision on what other priority is sacrificed.
-Gregory

I haven't thought about Novell/SUSE Linux, but then again I don't typically "deploy" operating systems, especially new ones, on the yacht environment. I go with what they are comfortable with. I'm fine with Mac and Windows, and haven't yet found any Linux takers. But if I do, I'm ready for them. Personally, I run Fedora Core on Pentium IIIs here because the P IIIs were throwaways from boats I've worked on. It's my DSL router and firewall, as well. I can't do much on the desktop on these boxes because they are too slow and don't have heaps of memory. But they run all day long as Web/e-mail/MySQL Servers and as a firewall/router. And they keep me up to date on Linux and Unix'isms and other core technologies such as ISC DHCP and DNS/BIND. Also comes native with IPv6 these days. I noticed Windows Vista seems to have finally done that, as well. MS has always seemed to fall a little behind in the networking stuff. Out of the gate they weren't ready for Internet.

Don't get me wrong. I like Windows. I just wish it didn't hang on stuck IE Web requests, stuck movie/sound files or CD/DVDs, and other things. Seems like there ought to be a timing programming loop in some things that says "Huh, this ain't working," and exit the damn thing. At least give you a prompt: "This ain't working, do you want to exit?" Or die when you try to kill it. They need a KILL-9 like Linux/Unix. Die means die now, not 15 minutes from now. And die doesn't mean every IE window, just the one that was hung that you killed. Why does it kill all of them? Also, stop hogging the whole system resources when such a hang occurs. Maybe they'll figure that out in Vista. AN APPLICATION IS NOT SUPPOSED TO TAKE ALL OF THE RESOURCES OF, OR TAKE DOWN COMPLETELY, THE OPERATING SYSTEM. Isn't that the first rule of robots, or something, according to Isaac Asimov?
-Alan

As for whether Microsoft is really championing the open source spirit, here's one reader's blunt assessment:

I do not trust Microsoft. In the past, it had embraced, engulfed and taken over. Its promises are good for 30 seconds or 30 feet, whichever occurs first.
-Tex

And finally -- can any of you live without the Internet?

The first problem with this is we have to use the Internet to respond to your question. I don't remember you showing a snail-mail address.

That being said, I can live without the Internet most of the time. I'm a car racing fan and use it a lot between now and when all race tracks open to check for local and long-distance racing schedules. I also love to use it to look at the pass cameras when I drive from Yakima to Seattle during the winter season. I use it from time to time at work. So, all said and done, there are other alternatives to the Internet, but this is the fastest way to get information.
-Les

Condolences on your ice-bound isolation from the Web. Hope it doesn't last long. My answer to your recent question is, of course, resoundingly: NO.

But then, that's why I've got Opera Mini installed on my plain vanilla but GPRS-capable Nokia cell phone, and why I have T-Mobile's antiquated "T-Zones Talk 'n' Text" price-plan. Monthly, that's 300 minutes, 300 SMS and unlimited GPRS data: $30. (Don't ask: They no longer offer it -- I'm "grandfathered" in from the old VoiceStream days. So's my wife.)

Anywhere that there's a GPRS-capable GSM tower with a GSM operator that T-Mobile has roaming agreements with, I've got the Web in my hand. And it's also why I maintain the dial-up account I had before DSL became affordable -- in a T-Mobile-free rural motel I can still hitch my wagon -- er, laptop -- albeit painfully slowly, to the Web. But I must say, Opera Mini on a Java-enabled GPRS-capable cell phone is probably the best little miracle I've seen in years!
-Fred

After 30-plus years in this business, I have no problem going home and not turning the computer on, and I can gladly live for days and weeks without Internet access. Currently, I'm a contractor/consultant providing IT support and management services to the largest surface coal mine in the U.S. (located in Wyoming), so I'm still a part of the industry.

I think the issue is actually based on lifestyle choices and generational differences -- the PC and the Internet have become a form of escapism for a large segment of society, just like cell phones, iPods, mp3 players, PlayStations, etc. Start the car and immediately call someone and yak about whatever. And the generations that grew up with the Internet in place are basically attached at the hip. We have allowed our children to be taught that the Internet (and being constantly connected) is a normal part of life -- an extension of life itself -- so why not live there? It's more interesting than my "real" boring existence anyway. Blogs, news feeds, chat rooms, Internet cafes, online games where you become somebody/something exciting and endless garbage we shouldn't be looking at anyway (oops -- my morals popped out there)

Some of us old folks can still remember (some of us fondly) when you could go home and shut the door on the world. That almost seems impossible now. At least, it's difficult if you have kids in the house. Our youngest son, now 19, was constantly coming home from school telling us about how kids don't read (or can't) and he was amazed how kids didn't read for pleasure. What's that famous line? "Why read when you can watch TV?" Maybe that was the difference in our house -- we didn't have cable or satellite or Internet and the only cell phone was the one I carried for business use only. It's a brave new world.
-Kelly

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