Microsoft takes wraps off Vista for business

New versions of Office, Exchange, too. But are businesses ready to buy?

NEW YORK--Vista may be ready for businesses, but are businesses ready for it?

Microsoft on Thursday said its newest version of Windows, along with a revamped Office and new Exchange e-mail server, is completed and is now available to business customers. The company said it will make Vista and Office 2007 available to consumers worldwide on January 30.

Vista launch

"This is the biggest launch in the company's history. That's for sure," CEO Steve Ballmer said at a press conference at the Nasdaq stock exchange here.

Thursday's announcement offered little in the way of new information and served more as a rallying cry for corporate customers and the multitude of partners in the Windows ecosystem. Microsoft announced earlier this month that it had completed work on the operating system, a major milestone for the oft-delayed product that has changed markedly from the company's initial conception under the Longhorn code name.

Ballmer alluded to the many delays. "It's an exciting thing to finally be here. That's all I'll say about the past," he said.

Despite Vista's long gestation period and the length of time since Windows XP's debut--more than five years--it's will adopt the operating system immediately. The announcement is more likely to mark the start of serious testing within companies, analysts said.

According to market researchers, only a small percentage of companies are expected to update their systems from Windows XP to Vista over the next few months. A recent poll found that 86 percent of IT decision makers surveyed said their companies plan to implement Vista, though only 20 percent plan to do so in the next year. The poll of 761 buyers, commissioned by online retailer CDW, found 51 percent of respondents saying that they would have to replace or upgrade half of their PCs to run Vista.

Given Windows XP's unexpectedly long life and the interim release of several major revisions, or "service packs," driver and third-party application support is stable. Some third-party software and many drivers for connecting to hardware have had to be rewritten for Vista. Not all are available yet. Most analysts expect big companies to wait for at least the first round of service pack updates from Microsoft before they put Vista into daily service.

Ballmer downplayed the need for companies to wait for a service pack before adoption. "We've built the highest-quality operating system we possibly can. We have many customers who are anxious to deploy. We will have a stronger, faster upgrade cycle for Vista than for Windows XP," he said.


News.Commentary

For all the new features in the Microsoft
operating system, there's no real hurry for
most businesses to deploy Windows Vista.

Microsoft, undaunted, has high hopes for Vista adoption in the coming months. Ballmer said this will be the most widely marketed launch of any set of products that the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker has ever done. It will spend "hundreds of millions of dollars, a very big number," on Vista and Office 2007 marketing, he said. "It's more than we spent of Windows 95 and Office 95."

Both Vista and Office had originally been slated to arrive on store shelves and new PCs in time for this year's holiday season. However, in March, Microsoft said it of the products until January, with large businesses still having access to the two products this year.

All three products announced on Thursday--Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007--are already available to business customers through Microsoft's Developer Network and TechNet services. The company will now begin selling the products through its various business licensing packages.

Ballmer said the launch marks the beginning of a long line of product releases in the coming year. "There will be an additional set of clients and servers coming in the next year. There are 30-plus new products for business customers as a result of this wave of innovation," he said.

One of those products is a new release of the server version of Windows, currently called Longhorn Server, which is expected next year.

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