Microsoft previews Windows 8, Skype/Lync; bashes competition

Partner conference reveals future of Microsoft product lines

Microsoft partner conference featured previews of the Windows 8 server and desktop operating systems, talk about integration between Skype and Lync, and a barrage of insults aimed at Microsoft's competitors.

Microsoft's annual partner conference last week featured previews of the Windows 8 server and desktop operating systems, talk of integration between Skype and Lync, and a barrage of insults aimed at the company's competitors.

While Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer scoffed at Apple's Mac sales numbers compared to the 400 million Windows 7 licenses sold, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner bashed Google, Cisco, IBM, Oracle and VMware.

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Office 365 is "nothing but a Google butt-kicker," while IBM's Lotus Notes is hemorrhaging customers to Microsoft, and Cisco's unified communications product, Oracle's database and VMware's virtualization are overpriced, Turner said.

But Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles didn't focus just on competitors. Microsoft talked about upgrade paths from existing products and previews of upcoming ones such as Windows 8 for the desktop, Windows Server 8, a Skype-powered Lync communications suite and the next version of SQL Server.

Once Microsoft completes its $8.5 billion purchase of Skype, the consumer-focused chatting and calling service will be heavily integrated with the business-focused Lync unified communications software, Ballmer said.

"One of the great motivations in acquiring Skype is to enable the enterprise to have all the control it wants in communication and collaboration through Active Directory and Lync, and yet be able to connect people within enterprises to consumers, businesses and trading partners around the world," Ballmer said. "Lync ... with Skype is a strategy that will allow the consumerization of IT to really proceed with full vim and vigor."

Microsoft also talked up the future of Windows. Any desktop PC capable of running Windows 7 will be upgradable to Windows 8 because Microsoft plans to keep hardware requirements level or even lower them, the company said.

Despite strong Windows 7 sales, Windows XP is still the most widely used operating system, and Microsoft has consistently told businesses it's time to move off the OS, which will no longer be supported after April 2014.

Windows 8 will be optimized for both PCs and tablets, and Microsoft pledged that Windows 8 tablets will be able to do virtually anything a PC can do, perhaps a differentiator from Apple's iPad, which uses a different operating system than Mac computers.

Microsoft previewed Windows Server 8, which will feature upgrades to the Hyper-V virtualization platform. Reliability will be improved because of a new Hyper-V replication service that makes it easier to replicate virtual machines hosting databases and other applications to remote data centers.

"Hyper-V Replica works with any server vendor, any storage vendor, any network vendor, making it the ideal platform to deliver new service offerings," virtualization program manager Jeff Woolsey said. "With Windows Server 8 we're delivering massive, massive scale in the box, and we're delivering mission-critical reliability enhancements."

Release dates for Windows Server 8 and Windows 8 haven't been revealed, but Microsoft said it will provide further previews of their capabilities in September at the company's BUILD conference in Anaheim.

SQL Server and System Center 2012 were also on the agenda at the Worldwide Partner Conference. Along with the next version of Windows Server, these products will provide the foundation of Microsoft's private cloud technology.

Microsoft Server and Tools Chief Satya Nadella promised that System Center 2012 will work with multiple hypervisors and multiple guest operating systems, "because we recognize customers are going to be heterogeneous."

Microsoft launched an updated beta of Denali, the next version of SQL Server. This is the third beta since last November when it issued the first preview of Denali, which will replace SQL Server 2008 R2.

The release of the latest beta marks the first time "customers can begin testing ... features ... including SQL Server AlwaysOn and Project 'Apollo' for added mission critical confidence, Project 'Crescent' for highly visual data exploration that unlocks breakthrough insights, and SQL Server Developer Tools code named 'Juneau' for a modern development experience across server, BI, and cloud development projects," Microsoft said.

System Center 2012 will feature App Controller, formerly known as "Project Concero," to give IT managers greater control over applications across public clouds and their private data centers, and application managers a self-service interface to deploy and manage applications.

Microsoft is also opening a beta for an "Operations Manager" capability in System Center 2012.

"Operations Manager is a key component that provides end-to-end application service monitoring and diagnostics across Windows, other platforms and Windows Azure," Microsoft said. "Operations Manager will fully integrate technology from the AVIcode acquisition for monitoring and deep insights into applications."

Microsoft's private cloud software is designed to connect with its public cloud known as Windows Azure. Azure lets customers build applications to be hosted in Microsoft data centers, but lags rivals Amazon EC2, Google App Engine and Salesforce's platform cloud in adoption.

At the conference, Microsoft also announced an expansion of the cloud-based desktop management service Intune, with enterprise-focused features such as the ability for administrators to distribute and install third-party software across their systems. Microsoft also provided an update on its strategy for cloud-based ERP and CRM software.

The next update of CRM Online will be available in the fourth quarter, and customers with more than 100 seats will be able to get unified billing and provisioning for CRM Online and Office 365, the recently launched cloud productivity suite. CRM Online is also getting a social media makeover with the addition of real-time activity feeds that can be tracked both within the application and on Windows 7 mobile devices. On the ERP front, Microsoft plans to allow its Dynamics ERP software to run on the Windows Azure cloud.

Despite this breadth of offerings, Microsoft has lost some of its luster to rival Apple, which passed it in market cap, profit and revenue, Redmond's partner conference gave it the opportunity to boast about the numbers that show Microsoft is still growing.

Windows 7 has sold 400 million licenses in less than two years, Office 2010 has sold more than 100 million licenses, 50,000 businesses have trialed Office 365 since the cloud service's launch in late June, Windows Server locked up 75% of quarterly hardware shipments, and usage of the Bing search engine has tripled in the past year.

The only disappointment Ballmer mentioned was Windows Phone 7, but he claimed the future is bright.

"Phones: We've gone from very small to very small but it's been a heck of a year," Ballmer said. "You're going to see a lot of progress in that market."

The IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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