The Vista/Exchange/IE combo: Who needs all three?

With the tentative release of Windows Vista only months away, the debate as to how easy it might be to integrate into existing Microsoft applications is already underway.

The ability of people to do their jobs effectively and efficiently is one of the key themes that Microsoft had in mind when creating Vista, said Michael Bulmer, product manager at Microsoft Canada. Microsoft’s acquisition of Ray Ozzie’s Groove Networks in March 2005 has allowed it to integrate Groove’s ad hoc collaboration capabilities into Microsoft’s e-mail platform Exchange. This, for example, should enable users to use MSN Instant Messenger and Outlook to discuss projects in real time as opposed to linear applications such as SharePoint.

“Exchange extends collaboration down from SharePoint to real time,” said Bulmer, who spoke during a recent briefing on Vista, Office 2007 and Internet Explorer. SharePoint is Microsoft’s portal product.

The enterprise edition of Windows Vista will be available to subscribers to Microsoft’s Volume Licensing Program in the November-December timeframe, the company has said. The Windows Vista launch will coincide with the release of Microsoft Exchange 2007 and Office 2007.

At the beginning of September, Microsoft issued the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of Windows Vista, which is a near-final version of the operating system. Microsoft has hundreds of clients using Vista already through its technology adoption program, which pairs customers with Microsoft partners.

One of these partners is Montreal-based Conamex, which serves the small and medium-business market. Conamex selected one of its long-time clients to participate in the Vista program as well as the Office and Exchange rapid development programs. The client, which will not be made public until the Vista launch, is a pharmaceutical company and has been a Conamex customer for about a decade.

“Having worked with them already for about 10 years, they have always been open to advancing themselves,” said Elisabeth Vanderveldt, vice-president of business development at Conamex. “They’re on top of everything that’s current. They need all the right tools to make sure they can stay current and competitive.”

Microsoft’s effort to spur collaboration through Exchange 2007 and Vista isn’t new, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst, The Enderle Group, based in San Jose, Calif., referencing the rise of Lotus Notes in the 1980s.

“The test is going to be whether or not the people use the collaboration features,” he said. “That has historically been the problem. That’s because people are people and behaviour is really tough to change.”

But Robert L’Esperance, Conamex CIO/CTO, is confident that the ease-of-use associated with the new Exchange will make it easier for users to take advantage of its features.

“For users trying to connect to it, it’s a lot easier to set up to allow people to work with stuff to configure it automatically,” he said. “If they’re using things like Exchange it gives them a lot more features than they were used to in Outlook.”

L’Esperance added that better collaboration also makes it easier for companies to comply with regulations such as PIPEDA and Sarbanes-Oxley, which require companies to keep tabs on where their documents are in the organization.

“It’s a compliance issue from that point of view to managing folders to tracking, more built-in security features being able to run it and have a mirror on the system at the same time,” he said.

Compliance is another part of Microsoft’s strategy with Vista, said Microsoft Canada’s Bulmer. This falls under the category of helping businesses become more transparent to both internal (shareholders) and external (regulations) entities. Vista, for example, features a search function that allows users to save their searches, said Elliott Katz, senior product manager, Microsoft Canada.

“Search is built right into the start button and control panel,” he said.

Bulmer added that there’s a metadata search tool that goes through the document to search for metadata that the user has entered. The tool works by using logical assumptions such as big text is almost always the title of the document. Users also have the ability to search for people using group policies.

Microsoft is also going to lengths to ensure that security concerns are less of an issue with Vista than they were with previous versions of Windows. The company is currently facing complaints from Symantec regarding its policy to lock all security vendors out of the Windows 64-bit kernel. (Symantec and other security vendors are not locked out of the Windows 32-bit kernel, which is the one that most users’ copies of Vista will be based on.)

But Enderle said from Microsoft’s standpoint, once they give somebody access, then the information is out there, leaving Microsoft vulnerable to attacks. “They don’t want anybody to touch the kernel outside of the folks who are working on it,” he said. “That way they can ensure the integrity of the kernel.”

The restriction includes Microsoft employees with the exception of those who are working on the kernel itself.

To improve security in Internet Explorer, Vista logs on users in user mode instead of admin mode, which 80 per cent of users are running in now, said Katz. Admin mode gives hackers special privileges to a user’s PC that aren’t available in user mode. Vista also helps protect users from malware by putting the PC into quarantine when it is connected to the network.

Conamex’s L’Esperance said after ease-of-use, his client reported the security of the Vista OS as a benefit.

“Being a pharmaceutical and R&D firm, security is a big issue,” he said.

Enderle also said there have been improvements to dealing with security across Microsoft’s Office 2007 and IE 7 platforms.

“IE has been strengthened substantially to address the Web sites that misrepresent themselves and the Web sites that fall into that hostile category,” he said. “It is much more robust against what is a clearly growing threat level.”

IE 7 also allows users to report unsecure Web sites to the Microsoft community and alerts users to problems with a site’s security certificate by warning them that it’s not safe.

Businesses likely won’t be deploying the Vista operating system across their organizations until late in 2007 because its scheduled release is right before the holidays, according to Enderle.

“We’re not expecting businesses to go to (Vista) until late into 2007,” he said. “I’m not aware of many businesses that can do testing in the December timeframe because of vacations and they have to close the books at the end of the year. IT groups may bring it in house and begin playing with it but I wouldn’t expect any major testing to start until sometime next year.”

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