Microsoft in 2010: The Year in Review

Microsoft succeeded on many levels in 2010. In fact, it was a banner year for cloud development and for the release of some key products: Windows Phone 7, Internet Explorer 9, and SQL Server 2008 R2, to name a few. The diversity of these product offerings show that Microsoft continues to compete on many fronts. Critics would point out that sometimes the company spreads itself too thinly across a range of areas. See, for example, Office Web Apps, and the ever elusive tablet PC. Still, Microsoft continues to impress with the breadth of its offerings. Here is an overview of some of the more auspicious releases in 2010.

IE9, Windows Phone 7, Visual Studio 2010

Microsoft released the Internet Explorer 9 full public beta version in September, 2010 and this indicates its official release as taking place sometime in 2011. It’s important to note that HTML5, the new open standard version for Web applications, is well supported in IE9. HTML5 takes markup language to an increased level of versatility for Web developers and designers. Internet Explorer 9 capitalizes on this next standard for Web development by providing a strategic foundation.

Windows Phone 7, as in previous versions, was released to compete directly with Apple and Google. This newest offering provides the elegant “Live Tiles” feature, which makes it a compelling differentiator from its competitors. It lets users perform social networking, Web browsing, email and other tasks with a level of sophistication the other devices lack. And this seems to be the direction Microsoft is heading to attract an increasing number of users. Current shortcomings to the phone, such as the lack of multi-tasking and copy/paste, will be made available in the first quarter of 2011.

In April, 2010, Microsoft celebrated the release of Visual Studio 2010. This version, now using the Windows Presentation Foundation, offers a new Visual Studio editor, multi-monitor usage, Windows 7 multitouch as well as the standard ribbon interface. Overall, unlike previous versions, Visual Studio 2010 provides better support for all development activities, specific enhancements for each development environment, and tooling for new features in .NET 4

Lync Server 2010, SQL Server 2008 R2

Lync Server 2010, Microsoft’s communications software platform, received an upgrade in 2010. The company not only changed the cumbersome name, from Office Communication Server (OCS) to Lync, but also added several changes in attempt to differentiate this new version from its predecessors. Microsoft added a new management control panel and management store as well as improvements to the monitoring features. Although these streamlined tweaks and developments don’t significantly change Lync from its earlier incarnation, they do show progress, especially in the area of providing new voice capabilities.

The CTP (Community Technology Preview) version of SQL Server 2008 R2 was first made available in August 2009. However, in May, 2010, the official release was offered. This newest version of SQL Server 2008 R2 not only enables IT to centrally manage information, it also provides virtualization support, Live Migration and the PowerPivot feature. Both Excel 2010 and SharePoint 2010 have PowerPivot add-ins which speed up data sharing and publishing. The PowerPivot feature helps SQL Server 2008 R2 directly compete against Oracle and IBM.

Cloud Computing: Windows Azure Platform, Office 365, Office Web Apps

As mentioned above, in 2010 Microsoft solidified its commitment to the world of cloud computing with a range of offerings. The Windows Azure Platform, released in February, 2010, is a diverse cloud-based operating system. Not only does it offer management and development of applications off-premises that run on top of Azure, it attempts to be the first cloud platform to move beyond SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). While developers concentrate on creating scalable apps, Microsoft will continue to offer new functionality through 2011

In 2010, Microsoft also introduced the subscription service Office 365 as a beta version. Office 365, formerly named Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), is an online suite of applications that includes Exchange, SharePoint, Office Live Meeting, and Lync Server in one cloud-based offering. For Microsoft, Office 365 represents a means for reaching enterprises and SMBs alike on the computing advantages of working in the cloud. The test for Microsoft will be to prove that a subscription service represents a true value for customers. The company will also need to develop flawless integration between the applications to keep administrators from looking elsewhere for admin solutions.

Microsoft released its online suite of applications entitled, Office Web Apps, as part of its Windows Live Service. It includes browser-based editions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. While Office Web Apps offers users much in the way of flexibility and accessibility, the company needs to do more to make its online app counterparts as robust as the stand-alone versions. That way it can successfully compete against the biggest game changer, Google Apps.

Exchange Server 2010, SharePoint 2010

Microsoft recently released Exchange Server 2010 while simultaneously introducing Exchange Online, its cloud-based messaging service. Inclusion of the Outlook Web Access Webmail Client offers a vast improvement over previous versions. It provides much of the same functionality as its full Outlook client across diverse Web browsers, and having Outlook as a Web app is a great feature.

Microsoft’s current upgrade of their collaboration platform, SharePoint, now provides quite a range of cloud-related and enterprise-friendly features. SharePoint 2010 was released this year with much fanfare and the company successfully updated a number of features without overdoing it. While overall customer satisfaction produced a big win for the company, 2011 will see further enhancements to this key collaboration tool.

Other 2010 Releases: Office for Mac 2010, Microsoft Kinect, Tablet PC

The general consensus seems to be that Office for Mac 2010, released in October, was significantly better than its previous release in 2007. The software for OS X contains a few feature updates that most users had requested. Many IT enterprise managers applauded the return of Visual Basic macros as well as the Windows-style Outlook component. A number of integrations with other Microsoft cloud-based services are available along with the update.

Released in November, Kinect is an Xbox 360 peripheral that monitors body language and movements in front of a television via the device’s built-in cameras and 3D depth sensors. It then relays the information to create a truly live gaming experience. Users can choose from a variety of interactive games: whitewater rafting, racecar driving, or MTV-style dance routines. With 45 million Xbox game consoles sold, expect the company to continue releasing many more related games

In 2010, Microsoft continued to proclaim tablets as the way of the future, along with the cloud. The company’s goal continues to be to build viable consumer-centric tablet PCs equipped with Windows 7, and the Apple iPad remains the product to beat.  The challenge will be for Microsoft to work productively with possible partners, HP and Dell, to offer a truly competitive product with a touch-centric UI. Part of the issue may lie in reconfiguring Windows 7 for a better fit to the tablet form factor. Perhaps next year?

And speaking of Windows 7, Microsoft has continued to show strong sales of their latest OS throughout 2010. The minimal clamor for service packs or for a Windows 8 release means that most customers are firmly behind the OS as well.

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This article was written by Kerry Doyle.

Kerry Doyle (MA, MSr, CPL) writes for a diverse group of companies based in technology, business and higher education. As an educator, former editor at PCComputing, reporter for PCWeek Magazine and Associate Editor at ZDNet​.com, he has written extensively on high tech issues for over 15 years. His articles have appeared in a range of technology and industry publications. He specializes in computing trends vital to SMBs and enterprises alike, from virtualization and cloud computing to disaster recovery and network storage.

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