Also on the BI front, Office 2010-particularly Excel -- has some really nice new end-user BI functionality. Things like Sparklines, Slicers. And PowerPivot enables every user in your company to analyze data simply and create dashboards. I think you need to truly empower the end users if you ever want to see enterprise adoption of BI, and Office 2010 does it.
Another product that recently got a major new release was Exchange. It's clear with this version that Microsoft wants to own the unified communications space. You will be hard-pressed to find a Microsoft employee refer to Exchange as a mail server. It is trying hard to position it as the center of all your business communications. I think the concept is right on, and I think the Exchange piece of the puzzle is really well put together, but I think the rest of the pieces still fall a little short. Microsoft almost wants to hedge its bets on the voice and IM side. Office Communication Server is still the product for that, and quite frankly, it doesn't measure up to other IP phone systems on the market.
I think Microsoft either needs to take a step back and rebuild this product from the ground up as a phone system, or better yet, focus its efforts on building the bridges you need from Exchange and Outlook to the other phone systems on the market. I have seen far too many UC projects fall flat because of the shortcomings of this product.
This brings me to the Windows platform itself. Everything from the Server (2008 R2) to the desktop (Windows 7) to the mobile device (Windows Phone) has or will get a major facelift this year. Windows 7 has enjoyed a tremendous adoption rate, and deservedly so.
After many missteps with Vista, Microsoft finally has a client operating system worthy of working with. There is no doubt the pressure was on, and it delivered. On the Server side, 2008 R2 made all the right improvements in all the right areas. Security is tremendously improved, remote desktop computing is finally becoming a viable alternative to thick clients, and the virtualization offering (while not quite VMware yet) is finally a real enterprise solution. Clearly, this was a major win on the server side.
Lastly, later this year Microsoft releases Windows Phone and sets its sights on the iPhone. Of course, it's still too early to judge, but what we've seen so far makes it seem it has the right idea. Phones are for end users and need to be treated like consumer electronic devices. This attitude has given Apple dominance over the market recently, but with Microsoft seemingly taking the same approach, it will be interesting to see how the competition heats up.
The last thing I want to touch on quickly is the Web. Microsoft released a preview of IE 9 recently-the latest version of its Web browser. With greatly increased speed and support for standards, this seems to be another area where Microsoft finally gets it. The browser is a tool, not an application in the traditional sense of the word, and needs to enable users, not restrict them as IE has for so long. As crazy as it sounds, I might be more excited about this release than anything else on the Microsoft roadmap.
So where does this all leave us? If I had to rate the overall state of technology at Microsoft right now, I'd probably give it somewhere around a B+. In my mind, the products and technology they are pushing right now are very solid. I think the company as a whole is on a better path than it has been in a long time. The only things holding it back from a solid A right now are the unknown about some new product releases expected this year, and murkiness around the cloud messaging. Once those things get settled, I think we will see some truly great happenings from Redmond.