Microsoft and Friends Field Real-Life Questions About Vista, Office 2007


At the event in the Boston Convention and Expo Center -- held less than a week before the software is slated to be released to the public -- Microsoft Vice President of Managed Solutions Ron Markezich told more than a thousand partners and IT executives that the full value of the products won't be apparent out of the box.

"Vista and Office [2007] have different user experiences, and it's not just about the client but how it interacts with the back-end data and servers in your environment," Markezich said. "We are extremely dependent on our partners in our economy."

He said Microsoft will rely on partners to implement and serve to end users the new workflow, communications and collaboration services in Vista and Office 2007 that will change the way business is done.

Microsoft, EMC and Enterasys Networks, Andover, Mass., have collaborated on a workflow system that provides a simple on-ramp to systems for new employees, said Scott Burgess, CTO of the Microsoft practice at Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC.

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Erik Dubovik, director of IT strategic planning at Digitas, a Boston-based Web advertising firm, said during a panel discussion that his company will use Office 2007 and SharePoint 2007 to reduce the time it takes to create quality presentations, as well as improve their quality with new features such as SmartArt. "Last time, we did the rollout in four weeks, and we're hoping to meet or beat that," Dubovik said.

Microsoft and its partners highlighted the advanced features of Vista and Office 2007, including search, business intelligence, analytics and communication and collaboration. But attendees largely focused on core issues that could hinder adoption by small and midsize businesses: high costs, compatibility issues and interoperability with current systems.

During a question-and-answer session after the panel, Neil Wasserman, a managing partner at Belmont, Mass.-based Adaptive Service Engineering, said customers often resist changes, especially when they entail a major transformation of business practices. "There are a lot of people who don't want to move," he said.

Another attendee, David Schrag, who identified himself as a problem-solver for Schrag Consulting, Brighton, Mass., said the solutions demonstrated on Wednesday would likely be too costly for small businesses that have an annual budget of $1 million to $5 million and can only spend $10,000 to $20,000 on products and $15,000 on services in one year.

"Do you see small companies buying hosted applications rather than buying software in-house?" Schrag asked.

Others expressed concern about application compatibility and interoperability issues that may crop up once the software is implemented. Boston attorney Sandra Singer asked if applications now running on Windows XP would run on Vista and how much of a software and hardware investment would be needed to upgrade.

Scott Munsey, owner of WillsterWebWorks, a Web design and IT consulting firm in Arlington, Mass., asked if Microsoft has enabled non-Windows clients to use SharePoint 2007.

Interoperability is a key issue for Claudia Boldman, chief of IT planning and strategy for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which engaged in a highly publicized battle with Microsoft two years ago over open document standards. At the event, Boldman asked if Vista and Office 2007 "bring us further down the road" toward open standards.

Microsoft's Markezich and other partners had some answers to all of those questions:

&#149 To get customers to adopt a new platform, dangle a cool, new end-user application that requires the new platform.

&#149 For small businesses on a tight budget, Microsoft advises trying out Office Live, although Markezich acknowledged that Office Live doesn't actually include the Office applications.

&#149 Microsoft and its partners said most Windows XP applications will run well on Vista -- as long as the makers of those apps have provided a Vista driver -- and that current PCs can be upgraded with a little memory and a graphics card to run Vista.

&#149 Digitas was pleased to note that SharePoint 2007 offers out-of-the-box support for Macintosh clients via IP-based forms capabilities.

&#149 In the area of interoperability, Microsoft has worked with Sun Microsystems, Novell and Nortel Networks to improve Windows' interoperability with other platforms, Markezich said. Office 2007 also provides deeper XML support, partners added.

Attendee Kevan Keegan, a Boston-based consultant for The Beta Group, asked why Microsoft had little to say about Office Groove 2007, especially since Boston is the hometown of Groove Networks, which Microsoft acquired, and Groove founder Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's new chief software architect, who was hand-picked by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates to succeed him as the technology visionary at the company. "I was kind of surprised about that," Keegan said.