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Vista on the horizon

Microsoft wants to boost efficiency and tighten security with the immenent releases of Windows, Office and Exchange

With the tentative release of Windows Vista only months away, the debate as to how easy it might be to integrate into existing Microsoft applications is already underway.

When Microsoft created Vista, one of its main objectives was to make it easier for people to do their jobs, said Michael Bulmer, product manager at Microsoft Canada. Microsoft’s acquisition of Ray Ozzie’s Groove Networks in March 2005 has allowed it to integrate Groove’s ad hoc collaboration capabilities into Microsoft’s Exchange e-mail platform. This, for example, should enable users to use MSN Instant Messenger and Outlook to discuss projects in real time as opposed to linear applications such as SharePoint.

“Exchange extends collaboration down from SharePoint to real time,” said Bulmer in a recent briefing on Vista, Office 2007 and Internet Explorer. SharePoint is Microsoft’s portal product.

The enterprise edition of Windows Vista will be available to subscribers of Microsoft’s volume licensing program in the November-December timeframe, the company has said. along with the release of Microsoft Exchange 2007 and Office 2007.

At the beginning of September, Microsoft issued the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of Windows Vista, which is a near-final version of the operating system. Microsoft has hundreds of clients using Vista already through its technology adoption program, which pairs customers with Microsoft partners.

One of these VARs is Montreal-based Conamex, which serves the small and medium-business market. Conamex selected one of its long-time clients to participate in the Vista program as well as the Office and Exchange rapid development programs.

The client, which will not be made public until the Vista launch, is a pharmaceutical company and has been a Conamex customer for about a decade.

“Having worked with them already for about 10 years, they have always been open to advancing themselves,” said Elisabeth Vanderveldt, vice-president of business development at Conamex. “They’re on top of everything that’s current. They need all the right tools to make sure they can stay current and competitive.”

Microsoft’s effort to spur collaboration through Exchange 2007 and Vista isn’t new, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst, The Enderle Group, based in San Jose, Calif., referencing the rise of Lotus Notes in the 1980s.

“The test is going to be whether or not the people use the collaboration features,” he said. “That has historically been the problem. That’s because people are people and behaviour is really tough to change.”

But Robert L’Esperance, Conamex CIO/CTO, is confident that the ease-of-use associated with the new Exchange will make it easier for users to take advantage of its features.

“For users trying to connect to it, it’s a lot easier to set up to allow people to work with stuff to configure it automatically,” he said. “If they’re using things like Exchange it gives them a lot more features than they were used to in Outlook.”

L’Esperance added that better collaboration also makes it easier for companies to comply with regulations such as PIPEDA and Sarbanes-Oxley, which require companies to keep tabs on where their documents are in the organization.

“It’s a compliance issue from that point of view to managing folders to tracking, more built-in security features being able to run it and having a mirror on the system at the same time,” he said.

Compliance is another part of Microsoft’s strategy with Vista, said Microsoft Canada’s Bulmer. This falls under the category of helping businesses become more transparent to both internal (shareholders) and external (regulations) entities. Vista, for example, features a search function that allows users to save their searches, said Elliott Katz, senior product manager, Microsoft Canada.

“Search is built right into the start button and control panel,” he said.

Bulmer added that there’s a metadata search tool that goes through the document to search for metadata that the user has entered. The tool works by using logical assumptions, such as the big text is almost always the title of the document. Users can also search for people using group policies.

As well, Microsoft is going to lengths to ensure that security concerns are less of an issue with Vista than they were with previous versions of Windows.

The company is currently facing complaints from Symantec regarding its policy of locking all security vendors out of the Windows 64-bit kernel. (Symantec and other security vendors are not locked out of the Windows 32-bit kernel, which is the one that most users’ copies of Vista will be based on.)

But Enderle said from Microsoft’s standpoint, once it gives somebody access, then the information is out there, leaving Microsoft vulnerable to attacks.

“They don’t want anybody to touch the kernel outside of the folks who are working on it,” he said.

“That way they can ensure the integrity of the kernel.”