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VARs, IT shops in no rush for new Microsoft desktop

Whether Office 14 or Windows 7 ship this year or next, it won't matter much to the enterprise customers or the VARs that serve them.

Regardless of when Microsoft begins shipping its next wave of desktop products, the bleak economy means few IT shops will likely show interest in migrating to the new software.

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said last week that Office 14 won't be ready in 2009. He gave no details, but sources familiar with the matter blamed the delay on continued requests from the European Commission (EC) for documentation on Microsoft's work. When requests come, coding stops and documentation begins.

Last May, the European Union said it was looking into Microsoft Office Open XML format support. Microsoft has been slammed over the years for its evolving Office application formats, which critics said locked out competition.

Perhaps the most important improvement is that the planned Office 14 apps, using the Microsoft Groove technology, will better bridge online and offline worlds.

Discussion regarding the timing of Windows 7 availability spiked last week as blogs wrongly predicted a Release Candidate 1 for February; others said it might come in April. An executive with Taiwanese computer maker Compal Electronics Inc. told The Taipei Times that he expects the operating system to be available in September or October.

Hardware OEMs, like Compal, often have good insight into what's happening on operating system releases, and a fall release would make Windows 7 available for the all-important holiday preloads. It would also give Vista some breathing room since system builders can continue to preload Windows XP on their machines through June.

With Windows 7 seemingly driving up Vista's tailpipe, few customers will migrate twice -- from XP to Vista then to Win 7 -- although Microsoft continues to press them to do just that.

Ballmer reiterated that Windows 7 will run on the new-generation netbook computers. Vista is seen as too unwieldy to run on such machines.

New service packs are ready
Also, last week, Microsoft posted a release candidate for Vista and Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2. And value-added resellers (VARs) expect services news about Exchange Server 14 to come soon. Microsoft has tested the product internally since November, with more employees added to the trial this month. With this release of the company's venerable email server, Microsoft has added scalability to support big hosted email scenarios, and several Microsoft partners said this release could spell big trouble for Internet service providers and other partners that now host Exchange themselves. "With Exchange 14 as a basis, Microsoft will host a lot more people itself. I wouldn't want to be an Exchange hosting partner right now," said a Microsoft partner in the Southeast.

VARs typically look forward to big application and operating systems releases as an opportunity to sell software and related services. They're taking in stride this lack of major releases to sell in the short term.

"We are in a freaking depression!" said one exasperated Philadelphia-area Microsoft partner. "Ninety percent of my customers have not yet moved to Office 2007. Who cares about Office 14 or Exchange 14?"

Many corporate IT shops plan to stick with Windows XP as long as possible, which often equates to as long as their hardware refresh cycles permit. "[The Vista/Windows 7 dilemma] is really no quandary at all," said David Driggers, desktop systems team leader for Alabama Gas Corp., based in Birmingham, Ala.

"We weren't going to Vista anyway," he added. "Our focus is on [moving to] Windows 7, probably around 2011." Driggers' team maintains some 1,500 desktops, all of which are running XP and going to XP SP3 this year. Driggers and others decried Microsoft's call to move to Vista in order to pre-test applications going to Windows 7.

A Boston-area VAR said most of his customers will also stick with XP for as long as possible. His point is that while early reports on Windows 7 are positive, there's a long road between beta reviews and shipping products.

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