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Analysts Outline Microsoft's 2015 Product Roadmap

The Directions on Microsoft analyst team recently provided a glimpse of where Microsoft may be heading this year, with a focus on future enterprise product releases.

Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft is an independent consultancy that has been tracking Microsoft for over 20 years. Its February 6 presentation, "Enterprise Priorities and Roadmap for 2015," was led by Rob Helm, the firm's managing vice president. Also participating was much of the rest of the analyst team.

The near hour-long presentation can be publicly accessed at this page. Here's a summary.

Windows 10
Helm noted that Microsoft has been generally shifting its business model toward mobile and cloud services, especially as the company seeks to replenish revenue formerly generated by its now sliding Windows operating system market. This business model shift encompasses both Android and iOS, in addition to Windows.

Microsoft's leading-edge Windows 10 client OS will be the company's direct attempt to regain lost mobile OS market share. Microsoft will use apps such as its Outlook apps for Android and iOS as a subtle way to drive users more toward its Office 365 services, Helm said.

The Windows 10 product will show up in the fourth quarter of this year. Helm said he expected it to hit release-to-manufacturing status in August, with product release in October. However, Microsoft hasn't publicly disclosed its exact release plans and Helm said that his speculations were just a guess. So far, the Windows 10 preview version includes a revamped user interface, security and management improvements, plus a new browser to come called "Spartan."

Microsoft is expected to deliver faster software releases, especially with Windows 10. One consequence of the faster releases will be that the concept of Windows versions will tend to disappear, especially for consumers. Microsoft has also recently hinted at coming new "servicing branches" for organizations managing Windows 10 deployments, which may entail accepting different update paces. Helm commented that the faster release cadence may prompt organizations to review their policies on getting future automatic updates from Microsoft.

Visual Studio 2015 will include tools for building Windows 10 universal apps, the team commented during the Q&A portion of the talk. These so-called "universal apps" are designed to ease life for developers, allowing them to code their Windows apps once to run on multiple device sizes. Microsoft's next integrated development environment product will include ASP.NET 2015, which will enable rapid code changes.

Office Apps and Office 2016
Microsoft is expected to ship its universal apps versions of Office when it ships Windows 10, according to Helm. These apps, which are touch-optimized versions of the Microsoft Office suite apps, were released this month at the preview stage. Helm described Office universal apps as having "a subset" of the Microsoft Office product suite capabilities, enabling quick edits. He thought that these apps would be aimed more at consumer use, and that they'd be free to use -- or they'd have similar use rights as Microsoft's Office apps for the Android and iOS platforms.

While it's likely that an Office 365 subscription would be required for business use of these Office universal apps, Helm conceded that it's possible Microsoft would offer business use rights for free as well when it releases the Office universal apps products. He said we'd likely hear more information from Microsoft on that topic in the coming two-to-three weeks.

Microsoft recently announced its forthcoming Office 2016 productivity suite, which will be optimized for keyboard and mouse use. Helm noted that it's not clear yet whether Office 2016 will be available to run on Windows 7. Microsoft has indicated that it plans to release its Office 2016 product in the second half of this year.

Mobile and Management Products
Microsoft will support mobile device management with its Enterprise Mobility Suite licensing, which includes rights to use Azure Active Directory, Azure Rights Management Services and Microsoft Intune, Helm said. Microsoft's upsell from the Enterprise Mobility Suite is its Enterprise Cloud Suite licensing option, which Microsoft rolled out on December 1. The Enterprise Cloud Suite includes an Office 365 E3 subscription, along with the Enterprise Mobility Suite plus Software Assurance for Windows licensed on a per-user basis.

Microsoft likely will be pushing its subscription-based licensing model. The company possibly might charge more for its nonsubscription licenses, Helm speculated.

Helm said that an updated Microsoft Intune service is expected to ship in the first quarter of this year. Possibly he means the February Intune update. Microsoft recently indicated that it plans to ship its Intune updates on a monthly basis, going forward.

The next System Center Configuration Manager product will get an update toward the end of 2015 to support Windows 10. Helm described Configuration Manager as "just a pretty front end" on Intune for managing devices. However, later in the Q&A portion of the talk, it was noted that Intune can't configure servers, so Configuration Manager is still needed for enterprise deployments.

During the Q&A portion, it was noted that the last System Center technical preview released by Microsoft did not include Configuration Manager. A Configuration Manager preview likely will be arriving sometime in the second half of this year.

The System Center suite of products will be updated to support the next Windows Server release, probably in the fourth quarter of this year, Helm said. For its part, Microsoft recently announced that its next Windows Server and System Center products will ship sometime in 2016.

Server and Cloud Products
Helm noted that Microsoft's server products are still catching up with its cloud products.

The next Windows Server product (Helm called it "Windows Server 2015," although it hasn't been named) will include storage, virtualization and security improvements. A new Azure Pack "platform on premises" product also will ship.

Microsoft recently announced an open source, multiplatform .NET core, which will be ported over to OS X and Linux variants. Helm said that Microsoft has now found a way to make money off other vendors' frameworks, which might mean that it doesn't have to push .NET so hard. However, on the client side, .NET is still proprietary, Helm noted.

The next Lync Server unified communications product will be called "Skype for Business." Microsoft previously indicated that the product will roll out in the first half of this year. Microsoft is supposed to be adding the ability to use regular phones to connect with the Skype for Business enterprise voice service, but it may be struggling behind the scenes, possibly with telco carrier or regulatory issues, Helm suggested. Lync Server users are supposed to be getting the ability to perform an in-place upgrade to the new Skype for Business Server product.

Microsoft has announced OneDrive for Business improvements, and has plans to bundle this cloud-based file sharing service with Office 365 ProPlus subscriptions. However, other SharePoint Online capabilities have been quietly going away. Helm pointed to the SharePoint Server Newsfeed feature, which might get killed off by Microsoft in 2015. Microsoft has typically pointed to Yammer, a cloud-based collaboration service, as its replacement, although there is no premises-based Yammer version. Helm expressed surprise at how slowly Yammer is getting integrated into Microsoft products. For instance, during the Q&A, it was noted that Yammer hasn't yet showed up in Lync.

Another deprecated SharePoint feature is forms with InfoPath. Helm pointed to four SharePoint forms features that currently exist. While InfoPath will be going away, there's no good update available yet from Microsoft.

On the cloud front, Microsoft Azure's platform-as-a-service operations will get improvements in 2015, including in areas such as data management, search and machine learning. It will get a couple of new components, including a new "Workflow Engine" and "Microservice Framework." The Microservice Framework is component technology designed to help Azure apps be built on reusable Web services, Helm said. Microsoft plans to use this Microservice Framework for its BizTalk line of services for apps and business-to-business services, he added.

The talk included lots more nuances than provided here. The Directions on Microsoft team is planning to update its roadmap publications next sometime in March, when it plans to update its enterprise software and Azure roadmaps.

Also, for those looking for updates throughout the year, check out "The 2015 Microsoft Product Roadmap" article at 1105 Media sister site RCPMag.com. Microsoft publishes an "Office 365 Roadmap" and a "Cloud Platform Roadmap," which sometimes show the changes it is planning, although they are not comprehensive lists.

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