The State of Microsoft Technology

David Tan
Next week, Microsoft holds its North American Tech-Ed event in New Orleans. This is an annual event where developers and IT professionals all gather to get access to product insight and expertise, along with a lot of training opportunities that will shape their technology decisions for the year to come. It's a great event for people that live and breathe Microsoft technology at work, and it seemed like a really good time to take a step back and look at the overall state of technology at Microsoft.

If we use the Tech-Ed learning tracks at a blueprint, there are about 12 key areas of focus Microsoft is addressing for its customers. I'm not going to run through them each one by one, but would like to touch on the important ones and take a look at where they are.

We have to start with the cloud computing offerings, because that seems to be where Microsoft is making the biggest bets. While the technology is solid, I think the message is still a little mixed.

One the one hand, Azure (the cloud development platform) is allowing developers to build their own solutions on the Microsoft back-end. The 2010 versions of Office and SharePoint allow customers and partners to deploy their own, smaller managed clouds. Microsoft Online Services offers hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint, CRM, etc. So what path are we going here? Office and Online Services are clearly a shot at Google, and frankly the offerings are about the best you can get in the hosted space. Microsoft hit a home run with Office and SharePoint 2010 and now just needs to get the word out.

Azure, on the other hand, is more of a competitor to Amazon, and from what I've seen isn't catching on as fast as it probably would have hoped. I think the problem with Azure is that it's a little too ambitious for a first-step cloud entry. It is an entirely new operating system and platform, and while it's great that traditional tools like Visual Studio are used for development, it still requires a lot of new coding. I just don't think application developers can see the ROI on that right now. Something like the Amazon cloud, which is basically just hosted computing, makes for a much simpler transition to hosted applications. While I think Azure will do very well in the long run, I think the general IT population is just not quite there yet.

I mentioned SharePoint and Office, and with new versions just having been released, these are going to be hot topics for sure. Business intelligence and collaboration have been buzzwords for a few years around Redmond, so now is as good a time as any to look at how they're doing. If it's any indication, there are five different tracks on BI at Tech-Ed, and the Microsoft BI conference actually overlaps Tech-Ed.

The first thing Microsoft did was simplify the overall product suite and offering around BI. Functionality from PerformancePoint Server (part of its ProClarity acquisition) is now just a component of SharePoint.  FAST Search (another acquisition) is an add-on to SharePoint. Quietly, Microsoft has built one of the best BI platforms on the market, and delivers it with SharePoint, a very well designed and now mature product. I think the 2010 product will finally start to make inroads against traditional players like Oracle and IBM, especially when you consider the really competitive price points.

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