The new features of a Microsoft release are interesting, but sometimes it's more important to know what won't work with a new release. Windows IT Pro Contributing Editor Alan Sugano raised that point in a conversation about Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. Alan said he continues to deal with Vista app compat issues, such as the fact that SonicWALL still doesn't have a VPN client for Vista, the BlackBerry redirector still doesn't work, and a Vista patch for Outlook Web Access (OWA) is required with Exchange Server 2003. Of course, Microsoft's Vista certification programs designate whether a software product "Works with Windows Vista" or is "Certified for Windows Vista." But one problem with these certifications is that some ISVs participate in the logo program while others choose not to. As a result, the lack of certification doesn't necessarily mean that a product won't work just fine on Vista. That inconsistency raises the question of how useful these logos are for evaluating compatibility.

With Windows 2008, Microsoft aims to improve the logo program and its value for ISVs, as well as IT pros. The company solicited feedback about the Windows Server 2003 certification program. Senior Product Manager Steve Bell told me Microsoft "had several Windows Server 2003 logos that had different levels of criteria and different test cases. \[That program\] provided a very good technical bar that applications needed to meet, but it was somewhat confusing to IT pros: What does ‘Designed for Windows Server 2003' \[versus\] ‘Designed for Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition' mean? We wanted to make it easier to know that \[the new logo\] is the standard for mission-critical applications to run on Windows Server 2008, no matter which version. That's why we have only one logo for Windows Server 2008, and that's ‘Certified'. " (Server Core will not have a separate logo because it's an installation option that supports a subset of Windows 2008 roles.)

In addition, as with the Vista program, Windows 2008 applications can receive a "Works with" label. Whereas the "Certified" logo "supports rigorous standards for stability, security, reliability, and overall performance," according to Microsoft, the "Works with" designation "ensures that an application is in compliance with best practices for the most common Windows Server 2008 functions."

A New Approach
What's important about the Windows 2008 certification, Microsoft said, is that it "reduces the cost of certification by 50 percent for ISVs, and provides a comprehensive suite of new tools to help them achieve certification. It is also designed to help customers select software applications." Microsoft is trying to remove barriers that previously prevented ISVs from certifying their applications and to get as many applications certified as possible to provide the consistency lacking in previous logo programs.

Taking a new approach, the company is making the same tools ISVs use to test products available to IT pros to test their commercial and homegrown applications for compatibility with Windows 2008. Steve emphasized, "The logo program is designed for IT pros, as well as ISVs, to identify top-performing technologies. The program saves IT pros a tremendous amount of time in evaluating Windows Server 2008 applications, as well as transitioning to 64-bit."

Steve continued, "For the first time, Microsoft has provided certification utilities for Windows Server as a free download. These are the same utilities that third-party test vendors will use to qualify applications for certification. In the past, an ISV would take its application to a third-party test vendor, VeriTest, to have that application validated. But the IT pro had to have separate policies and methods to validate the application once it hit their door, whether or not it was certified. The Certified for Windows Server 2008 tool is a GUI-based wizard-style interface." (You can download the free tool at http://www.innovateonwindowsserver.com/learnbuild.aspx.)

The Logo's Value
The question is whether ISVs will be motivated to spend the time and money required for certification, even with the new, less costly process. Does the logo matter in purchasing decisions? Some IT pros do take the logo into account. For example, Mike Dragone noted that "vendors that take the time to go these extra steps have more robust products with fewer issues."

ISV Phil Lieberman of Lieberman Software Corporation pushed Microsoft to make the logo program affordable and achievable for smaller ISVs, and he would heartily agree with Mike. As Phil puts it, "The logo is a way of measuring the level of investment ISVs are making for the future of their customers." Phil is committed to certifying his company's products as a guarantee of quality to his customers.

Whether you're evaluating software for purchase or wondering whether existing applications will run on Windows 2008, the new logo tools could prove useful. Let me know if you try them out.