I’d like to share a dilemma and ask for your input. I have to evaluate Microsoft’s releases in the past year and select the Microsoft product that has had the greatest impact on the industry and provided the greatest value. This is for Windows IT Pro and SQL Server Magazine's Editor’s Choice awards for the August issues. I'm struggling with how to think about Windows Vista in comparison with Microsoft’s other IT-relevant releases. (I’m not considering Microsoft’s consumer-oriented products, such as Zune or Xbox.)

Let’s start by listing the products that have launched in this period: Vista, Office 2007, Exchange 2007, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS), Forefront Client Security 2007, System Center Operations Manager 2007 (Ops Manager), System Center Essentials (SCE), Windows Mobile 6, Intelligent Application Gateway 2007 (IAG), and Identity Lifecycle Manager 2007 (ILM).

Choosing among this mixed bag of products feels like comparing apples, oranges, and Jupiter. Still, I have to start narrowing down the list by thinking about each product’s impact on IT today. Here goes: I have to eliminate ILM because, although it’s a highly significant product, it’s brand new and won’t be used widely for quite a while. (If you’re not familiar with ILM, watch for Windows IT Pro’s June cover story by Brian Komar.) Similarly, I’ll remove IAG from the list because it’s a new Microsoft acquisition and isn’t yet completely integrated with the other security products. Windows Mobile 6 is cool and will grow in industry importance, but let’s face facts--it’s an also-ran at this point. As Microsoft’s entry in the antivirus and antispam arena, Forefront Client Security is important and its integration with SQL Server Reporting Services and System Center previews the future of Microsoft products. But Forefront just doesn’t have the same industry impact as the remaining products on our list.

So putting those products aside leaves Vista, Office, MOSS, Exchange, and System Center. Now the question is: How does Vista stack up against the other finalists?

Vista Pros and Cons

When it comes to industry impact, you can hardly beat the significance of the OS that will eventually be on everyone’s desktop. From the IT perspective, Vista’s most momentous aspect has to be its baked-in security. (Did you think I’d say Aero?) Vista was created under Microsoft’s new security-conscious product-development process to avoid internal vulnerabilities, and the product includes protective features such as User Account Control (UAC) and BitLocker. End-to-end, Vista represents Microsoft’s determination to address customer dissatisfaction with OS security. Finding cons to balance the security pros is hard, but of course, there’s always the obvious target of UAC’s nagging. In contrast to the lack of deployment tools at the launch of XP, Microsoft provided deployment tools prior to Vista's launch. The company bundled these tools with a hefty amount of guidance in the Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) toolkit. But as readers of this newsletter have pointed out, Vista still lacks some basic deployment tools that XP eventually provided. And I can’t talk about deployment without mentioning app compat and drivers, even though Microsoft claims those problems have been solved.

And the big concern I have about Vista with regard to deployment is simply that it hasn’t yet been deployed widely. Vista’s potential impact is huge, but I suspect it will be much bigger a year from now.

Of course, the Aero UI has to be one of Vista’s pros. The UI is beautiful and cool, and has already been covered extensively. (For Paul Thurrott's review of Aero go to http://www.winsupersite.com/showcase/winvista_ff_aero_ux.asp.) However, I can’t think of Aero’s impact without being disappointed about all the UI innovations that didn’t make it into the product in the devil’s bargain that allowed Microsoft to finally get Vista released.

Which brings me to the biggest con of all for Vista: the amazing promise of early versions versus the pale and wan version we finally ended up with. Seven years and many delays later Vista is great, but imagine how amazing it would have been three or four years earlier.

Vista Versus the Other Releases

So after a hasty glance at Vista’s pros and cons as the Microsoft release of the year, it’s time for that apples, oranges, and Jupiter comparison of Vista against Office, MOSS, Exchange, and System Center. Office 2007 shares Vista’s ubiquitous presence on just about every desktop, as well as a revolutionary new UI. As a productivity tool, Office 2007 actually enhances productivity. But like Vista today, Office 2007 is not yet widely deployed. I also wonder whether the IT (not end-user) impact of Office 2007 is on the same scale as Vista and the other products that I’m looking at.

MOSS is officially part of Office 2007, but deserves consideration on its own. This server product is driving major change in IT and in business. With Windows IT Pro magazine, I've seen reader demand for SharePoint content increase and it might actually outstrip demand for Vista content. I get email messages about SharePoint from SQL Server admins, Exchange pros, IT generalists—everybody wants more SharePoint information. MOSS deployment seems to be going faster than either Vista or Office 2007, and I don’t hear the kind of controversy around MOSS that I hear about Vista and desktop Office. I’m tempted to select MOSS as my product of the year, so I’d like to hear what you think.

Exchange 2007’s enhancements are appealing, but I think Microsoft is shifting its focus to Office Communications Server 2007 (OCS) and Unified Communication (UC). Exchange is so widely used that it’s becoming just a part of the UC plumbing, and I think that’s part of the reason why Microsoft downplayed Exchange 2007’s launch.

System Center is bringing consistency to the management of Microsoft’s products and is raising consciousness throughout the company about the role of IT in business success. System Center Operations Manager and System Center Essentials have both launched and are impressive. We’ll see more and more products following the lead of Forefront Client Security and integrating with System Center. Microsoft’s management family is poised to have a major impact on IT, but I think that impact will be more evident next year, after the launch of Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2007, System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) and System Center Service Desk.

So, what would be your choice? I’ve just given a quick overview of my thinking, but am I off base? Am I overlooking something important? Would you select Vista, or one of the other products I’ve considered? I’m eager to hear what you think.

Resources

This week, I want to point you to some Vista tips from John Savill’s FAQ for Windows site. Find the answers to the questions below by going to http://www.windowsitpro.com/windowsnt20002003faq/.

Q. While preparing a machine for duplication, how can I bypass the Set Up Windows screen?
Q. Can I use Group Policy to deploy Microsoft Office 2007?
Q. In Windows Vista, how can I take ownership of a file from the command line?
Q. What is Windows Vista's Cacls replacement?
Q. For some reason, I can't access certain files on my Vista machine following an upgrade. How can I get to them?