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Vista and Office will start 2007 collaboration wave

Microsoft's Vista achieved release candidate status on Friday. With Office right behind, Microsoft is getting closer to bringing collaboration to the enterprise.

With Vista finally making it to the release candidate milestone, and with Office closing in on the same status, the tsunami of client and server collaboration products expected from Microsoft next year seems a little more real.

Microsoft got September off to a good start late Friday by releasing Vista RC1 to its first round of beta testers, the Technical Adoption Program and TechBeta participants. Another broader set of customers will receive the bits on Microsoft Developer Network and TechNet on Tuesday.

Both Vista and Office are due out to business customers by the end of 2006 and to consumers in early 2007. A technical beta refresh of Office is due out in mid September, Microsoft said.

More collaboration stories:

Microsoft ties Office closer to conferencing, IM

Microsoft and Nortel reunite in telephony

Earlier this week, Microsoft Vista pricing was listed at for customers who wanted to pre-order the upcoming desktop operating system. Microsoft has not officially confirmed the pricing. Office pricing has been listed at since February.

For the past couple of years, Microsoft has recast Office 2007, not just as a productivity suite of software, but also as the centerpiece to its collaboration strategy. In addition, Office has become a brand name for a suite of servers as well as applications. Microsoft Office Groove Server 2007 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, for example, are just two of the Office server products that will be offered to enterprises.

Collaboration technologies will be coming from Microsoft in waves next year, beginning with the release of Vista and Office. In June, Microsoft also described its unified communications roadmap, which included Communications Server 2007, Exchange Server 2007 with its unified messaging features, and Office Live Meeting. There is also a separate IP telephony initiative with Nortel Networks that was announced in July.

Among the most dramatic shifts will be with SharePoint Server because of its inherent architectural changes. This product will move from being a content delivery platform to an application delivery platform with business intelligence.

"People are either anxiously awaiting [SharePoint Server] or anxiously fearing it," said Michael Gotta, an analyst at Burton Group Inc. in Midvale, Utah. "There is a lot that is different."

Gotta said he constantly hears IT managers discussing the pros and cons of moving to Office SharePoint Server, vacillating between thinking that their SharePoint installations will pay off all the way to thinking that if they commit to SharePoint, they will be selling their souls to Microsoft.

All of the technological changes being put forth by Microsoft will take years to play out because of the changes required by each. "There will be Vista upgrades, Office client upgrades, maybe SharePoint on the back end," Gotta said. "But it's just too much to do at once. The most aggressive companies may install Office in 2007, but others will wait for service packs in 2008."

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