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Microsoft uses marketing, alliances to rev up Vista release

Microsoft is creating new industry alliances, cutting training prices, offering upgrade coupons and doing everything else it can do to encourage early Vista purchasers. VARs still expect the release to be less than spectacular.

Microsoft Corp. announced a new alliance of software companies this week, with the stated goal of increasing the ease and extent of interoperability among applications.

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The Interop Vendor Alliance, which Microsoft announced at the TechEd technical conference in Barcelona yesterday, is made up of companies such as Sun Microsystems, Inc., Novell, Inc., ZenSource, Inc. and Citrix Systems, Inc., with which it has sparred in the past.

It also included a host of less-direct competitors, including Advanced Micro Devices, CA, Network Appliance, Inc. and Siemens Enterprise Communications.

The alliance is one of several Microsoft has announced recently, including a high-profile peace treaty with Novell, with which Microsoft will work to make Windows/Linux networks easier to integrate.

Even that rebuilding-of-bridges was slammed in some quarters, however, especially from commercial and open-source Linux vendors.

Microsoft has also discounted value-added reseller (VAR) training for Vista, Exchange and related products in order to encourage fence-sitters to make the additional commitment to an upgrade.

While the Interop Vendor Alliance announcement language seems like an olive branch to other companies in the software market, it sounds a lot more like a lineup of potential sources of applications that will run in Windows Vista when it ships, according to Joe Clabby, analyst and president of Clabby Analytics in Yarmouth, Me.

"People don't buy the operating environment, they don't buy the hardware," he said of Vista. "They buy the apps. If I'm in sales and you just increased the number of applications I can sell on your platform, that is goodness to me. If I'm making any money, I'm making it in services, in what's left of hardware margins, in integration, in applications, all on top of the operating environment. Broader and deeper integration is better."

Microsoft is using the Barcelona conference as part of a marketing blitz in preparation for the release of Vista, shipped to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) earlier this month.

At the conference Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the Server and Tools Business outlined the company's vision for Vista, Exchange Server 2007 and Longhorn Windows Server as part of a suite of new and updated products he said will help users work in a safer and simpler environment.

Leading the security initiative is Forefront, a line of products for Exchange Server, SharePoint and clients that is set to replace Microsoft's current Antigen and Microsoft Client Protection security and filtering applications.

On the automation side, a new command line interface called PowerShell will provide improved scripting capabilities. Microsoft also stressed interoperability at the forum, including the announcement of the Interoperability Vendor Alliance, a group of vendors that Microsoft hopes will help deliver more seamless products to customers.

Vista itself comes with a host of improvements in security and other areas.

Many VARs and resellers expect Vista to be a tough sell, partly because of the need to upgrade much of the hardware on which Vista will run, and partly because of the perception that Vista doesn't add much beyond what XP can already do.

Microsoft and companies like CDW Corp., much of whose business will focus on Vista-enabled hardware –are predicting that Windows users will adopt Vista at twice the rate they did Windows XP; 10% or so of the installed base had upgraded within 12 months after its release.

A closer look at those numbers shows the assumption that 20% of Windows users will upgrade within 12 months may be too optimistic. But it is possible, Clabby said.

"People have been waiting five years for this operating system. They're dying to get it. I'm dying to get it," Clabby said. "There are thousands of people who are weenie enough to really want it and get it when it ships. So they might make it."

Neither Microsoft nor other Interop Alliance members have yet announced specific products or integration work to make non-Microsoft products more integrated with Vista.

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