A year after Windows 7's release, Microsoft is starting to update its other product lines, including two new Small Business Server (SBS) offerings, a Windows Home Server (WHS) upgrade, Windows Phone 7, and Internet Explorer (IE) 9. Let's examine each of these coming releases, as well as Windows 7's deployment record with businesses, and the return, probably unnecessarily, of the Slate PC. Here's what you need to know.
Small Business Server "Aurora" Update
As Microsoft ships a near-final, public release of its upcoming Windows Small Business Server product, code-named Aurora, in late August, it appears that this intriguing "cross-premise" server offering will ship in final form by the end of the year.
With the caveat that I sometimes feel like the patron saint of small business computing, I think Aurora could be a game changer: This amazing product offers all of the Active Directory (AD)-based identity, security, and computer management that businesses need, but without the complexity.
And, I expect, without the cost: Though Microsoft hasn't yet revealed Aurora pricing, it's going to have to come in well under regular SBS pricing. This could be a mainstream, high volume product.
Of course, the success of Aurora won't hinge on pricing alone. What makes this product really work is its logical targeting of the real needs of small businesses. There's no need for a true admin or an IT pro; instead, the simplified system administration can be easily delegated to different people in the office.
New users can add their own PCs to the domain, and Aurora automatically copies all their data and settings over to a new domain account. And Aurora, like the WHS products on which it's based, offers excellent, centralized image and file backup of all connected PCs.
Where Aurora really shines, however, is storage: Using WHS's Drive Extender solution, newly added internal and external hard drives can be added to a bottomless pool of storage that doesn't need drive letters and offers data duplication functionality at the share level. Everything a small business really needs is available onsite.
The "cross-premise" promise of Aurora means that additional services—email, calendaring, communications, document collaboration, and more—can be added either via traditional on-premises servers (Exchange, SQL Server, and others) or via cloud-based services like Exchange Online and SharePoint Online.
And, of course, you can mix and match as your needs—and checkbook—allows.
After the misguided disaster of Windows Essential Business Server, Aurora is a breath of fresh air and proof that Microsoft really does understand its different business market segments.
WHS "Vail" Update
In tandem with the near-final Aurora code release, Microsoft also issued a second preview release of its upcoming WHS version, code-named Vail. This product looks and works much like Aurora, but with two important distinctions: It utilizes workgroups and Windows 7-based homegroups instead of a true domain, and its storage features are oriented around media sharing, as you might expect of a consumer solution.
But don't write off Vail so quickly: In many ways, Vail is an ideal solution for very small businesses as well as individuals, and if even vastly simplified domain management seems like overkill, this could be an interesting solution.
But the real advantage of Vail over Aurora is interoperability: An Aurora server must be the first server in a new domain, so you can't add Aurora to existing domain environments.
But if all you're looking for is the amazing storage functionality in Aurora, Vail features Drive Extender too. So it's an ideal storage solution for any smaller environment.
The Great Windows Phone 7 Debate
Microsoft and its partners will launch Windows Phone 7 this October, and although we've discussed the software giant's innovative new smartphone platform here in the past, there's an interesting debate emerging in the days leading up to the launch.
That's because Windows Phone, unlike its predecessor, Windows Mobile, and unlike leading competitors such as Google Android and Apple iPhone, doesn't support much in the way of PC-based sync.
That is, while you can—in fact, have to—use the Zune PC software to sync media with the devices, Microsoft is providing no interfaces for synchronizing with Outlook or other desktop-based productivity solutions.
And this is causing some predictably painful reactions in certain quarters.
The solutions Microsoft does support are cloud-based in the sense that they connect with Windows Phone over the air. These include Exchange and Exchange Online, Gmail/Google Calendar, Windows Live/Hotmail, and to a lesser extent Facebook and Yahoo! Mail. Microsoft is also supporting any IMAP- or POP3-based email accounts as well.
By supporting only direct connectivity between the phone and online accounts, Microsoft is shutting out PC-based middlemen, and not just Outlook, but also previous generation sync solutions like ActiveSync or Windows Mobile Device Center.