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Microsoft service desk beta 1 ready for download

Testers will get a glimpse of System Center Service Manager's features, including the CMDB and an end user self-service portal built on SharePoint Server 2007.

IT managers interested in Microsoft's service desk technology can now download a trial version of the software.

A beta for System Center Service Manager 2007 was released in April for the company's technical adoption program (TAP) customers. Late last week, Microsoft made available the Service Manager 2007 beta 1 to a broader group of customers. Beta 1 highlights include what Microsoft is calling the "first phase" of asset and configuration information gathering in the service desk's content management database (CMDB).

The database gives IT managers a unified view of all components in an organization by pulling information from other System Center products.

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IT managers will also be able to set up Active Directory and Systems Management Server 2003 SP3 connection wizards to Service Manager 2007, and they can test incident management and change management tools including queues, notification workflows and customizable drop-down values.

A self-service portal that's built on Office SharePoint Server 2007 is also in the beta. It lets end users see information about a current ticket, request software and check a knowledge base.

Microsoft is on the right track with the self-service portal, said Richard Ptak, in that ease of use could be a boost to adoption of the product. Ptak is a principal at Ptak, Noel & Associates, a Nashua, N.H., consulting firm. He compares giving end users the ability to easily resolve redundant technical issues to the tact Microsoft took with Windows. Microsoft's goal with Windows was to make technology useful and accessible to people who are not technologists, according to Ptak.

"With service desk, they are automating functions for unsophisticated users to get more efficiency out of the computer," he said. "That was what Windows was all about, simplicity at the expense of flexibility and reliability."

But service desks may become obsolete in a few years, given the trend toward self-healing computers that would rely less and less on service desks. Both IBM and Microsoft have their own long-term self-healing computing strategies, for example.

"One school of thought is that service-oriented, process-driven problem avoidance will make service desks irrelevant," Ptak said. "What Microsoft is doing with the portal, for example, could accelerate the irrelevance of its service desk."

Microsoft unveiled the feature set for its help desk product at Management Summit 2006. The vendor's entrance into the help desk space was met with some skepticism from analysts who believed that a new offering in an already crowded market would be a tough sell. Microsoft will have to compete with the help desk offerings of BMC Software Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and homegrown solutions that are already entrenched in enterprises.

In January of this year, more details began to emerge about Service Manager 2007, including integration with offerings across the System Center family of products and the addition of service packs for incident management, asset management, problem management and change management.

Service Manager 2007 also promises to have a workflow engine to automate tasks, keep track of an organization's hardware and software assets and centralize software configurations.

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