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Microsoft releases new betas for Vista and Longhorn

It's official. Microsoft makes available fresh betas for Vista, Longhorn Server and Office 2007. Users are watching before they make the move.

IT shops will watch closely before they try out the beta 2 versions of Vista, Longhorn Server and Office 2007 released Tuesday at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference 2006 in Seattle.

But even if the software makes some great improvements over earlier Community Technical Preview code, some Windows managers said they probably won't start installing any of these three major Microsoft betas until several months after the products ship.

Vista code will reportedly be available in November. Longhorn Server is slated to ship in late 2007. Office 2007, which uses Sharepoint as a standard collaborative platform, is due out later this year.

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Customers who will have the most interest in Vista are those on Windows 2000 because of reports already circulating about new versions of third-party vendor applications that don't run or are not supported on Windows 2000, said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

"Doing some [initial] testing of beta 2 will give some indication about which application will be most problematic, but complete testing will have to wait for the final code," Silver said.

As for Office 97, customers will need to decide where they want to go because Microsoft will not produce converters for the new file format coming out in Office 2007.

"Customers should look at other versions they're already licensed for but not using, [or they should look at] buying Office 2007 or moving to other products, which might include WordPerfect, and StarOffice," Silver said.

IT customers who are in the business of fighting daily IT fires typically have lukewarm interest in software betas, and this time it is no different. Vista and Longhorn Server tout many new security features, but at Cape Cod Cooperative Bank, these betas are less compelling from a security standpoint than securing the network through the firewall.

"Windows Server 2003 was more impressive to us because the gateway at the Web was important," said Jason Bordun, an IT manager at Cape Cod Cooperative Bank in Hyannis, Mass.

Other customers are interested in upcoming collaboration features that tie together Office 2007, Vista and Longhorn Server. "We're especially interested in the direction Microsoft is going in with regard to document management, content management and workflow," said Greg August, director of management information systems at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Bethesda, Md.

With about 600 employees and 80 offices, the relatively small nonprofit considers the document management products on the market today to be too pricey. "We are excited about document management, the ability to tie that into the collaboration functionality and the portal functionality," August said. "It's a nice entry point for businesses of our size."

Even with this high level of interest, August said he won't rush to roll out Vista or Office 2007. "We wait for the first service pack to hit then go into a strategic rollout. We might look at introducing this in different departments in 2007."

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