Microsoft has a busy month of product launches or important events ahead.
Yesterday, the company launched Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004. The upgrade comes almost a year following release of the first version of the software. Timing of the release could be very important for Microsoft and its PC manufacturer partners. I've been saying for months, this holiday season might be a fair bit better for PC sales than the last couple. One reason: Three years ago, rebates from Internet Service Providers notched down a PC's cost by as much as $400 and contributed to a huge spike in computer sales. Now, those ISP contracts, typically with a three-year commitment, are expiring; it's good reason for consumers to consider upgrading those three-year-old PCs. Many factors contribute to PC sales cycles, and the economy certainly cannot be ignored. My unscientific speculation isn't based on any hard data, but I would be surprised to see another holiday PC sales season gone bust.
At the same time, Microsoft would appear to be releasing its new home entertainment PC operating system at the right time. My colleague Avi Greengart has a new report ready that covers the PC's role in the living room. I would expect that he or our colleague Michael Garternberg may blog on this topic tomorrow. Bottom line: The Media Center comes with many of the right features at the right time in the market.
Next week, Microsoft will hold its partners event in New Orleans. Attneding this year's conference will be a "Who's Who" list of Microsoft executives. The company doesn't have a fully-staffed sales force, relying instead on a worldwide network of about 800,000 partners--mostly value-added resellers, system integrators and independent software developers.
That same week, Microsoft will launch Small Business Server 2003. The software comes as Microsoft advances a $2 billion blitz to gain more customer traction in the small- and medium-business market. SBS 2003 is a tidy, integrated package containing Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003 and Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003. A second, premium, version adds advanced security features, among other enhancements.
On Oct. 21, Office 2003 officially will launch. The software already is available to volume-license or Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers. This new Office release is important to Microsoft, in part, as it is the first, major deliverable for many customers that signed up for Software Assurance upgrade protection. Microsoft also is looking to shift customer focus away from the applications and features and more how the new "Office System" can better facilitate the flow of information within the enterprise. Microsoft also sees Office's support for Web services as reason for some customers to replace Web browsers or custom applications with the productivity suite. I wouldn't be surprised to see marketing around Office as a "smarter" client for back-end information systems or client-relationship management and enterprise resource planning software.
The same day, Microsoft will launch Exchange Server 2003. The new version is, in some ways, more enterprise-ready than its predecessor. While the product offers many new visible features, some of the most important changes are under the hood, such as product scalability, manageability and performance. New privacy and security features, such as spam-filtering features that work with Office Outlook 2003, should appeal to some businesses.
Microsoft's professional developer conference--saving the best for last, so to speak--kicks off in Los Angeles on Oct. 26. On schedule: Previews of Windows XP-successor Longhorn, the upcoming Yukon version of SQL Server and the next release of Visual Studio .Net. I expect the event to showcase a tighter business strategy and technological integration between Microsoft developer tools and major, forthcoming products. It will be interesting to see Microsoft's progress on the new file system coming in Yukon and Longhorn. Watch to look for: How developed will be the Longhorn preview version Microsoft is expected to hand out to conference attendees. Based on the most recent, leaked Longhorn build, Microsoft is working on some interesting concepts for the new OS.
Microsoft's Autumn Harvest