Microsoft's 2010 software 'most complicated lock-in decision in years'

Yet analysts advise customers to stick with previous versions

Microsoft's 2010 software suites present "the most complicated lock-in decision in years," and many customers will be justified in sticking with the 2007 versions of Office, Exchange and SharePoint, Burton Group analysts said this week at the Catalyst conference.

Microsoft is pushing its weight around in 2010 by offering numerous tools that used to be provided only by third-party vendors, and embracing the virtualization and software-as-a-service delivery models, analysts said.

"Microsoft wants more of your money," said Burton Group analyst Guy Creese. "This is going to be a pretty complicated decision, one that may lead to lock-in. … If you go forward with all of the 2010 products you will be a Microsoft shop for the foreseeable future because the offering is so monolithic."

Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office

That's not to say being a Microsoft shop is a bad thing, but the lock-in aspect should be considered before any deployment, he said.

For companies running the 2003 versions of Microsoft software, upgrading to 2010 will be a relatively easy decision. But companies on 2007 may find that the benefits in the 2010 products, which in some cases are minimal, do not justify the time and expense required to upgrade.

The decision three years ago to upgrade from 2003 to 2007 was simple, essentially involving just a few pieces of software and some third-party add-ons, Creese said. But now the product lineup includes new pieces like the FAST Search Server, telephony, and picture and video editing.

And the decision to upgrade includes not only installing client software but also potentially virtualization and cloud services such as Office Web Apps. While Google is luring enterprises with Web-based software only, Microsoft is pushing three delivery models in on-premise software, virtual machines, and software-as-a-service.

"We do not believe Google's pronouncement that software-as-a-service is the way of the future, that the world will ultimately be in the cloud only. That's too limiting," Creese said.

Most enterprises will go for a mix of the delivery models, he said. The good news with Microsoft is that customers can get everything from one vendor and the tools all fit together. But that doesn't make upgrading to 2010 an automatic decision. Burton Group analysts offered several issues to think about before deciding whether to upgrade.

When it comes to Exchange 2010, enterprises should upgrade if they haven't already optimized their 2007 Exchange deployment, if they are aiming to lower e-mail costs, and if they will likely run a combination of on-premise and SaaS software. Enterprises should not upgrade to Exchange 2010 if they have already gone through the trouble of optimizing their 2007 software and if they believe a transition would be too expensive.

Exchange 2010 has been re-architected to provide greater economies of scale and multi-tenant support, and can be seen as Microsoft's response to Google’s consumerization of e-mail, Burton Group analysts say.

New tools include role-based administration, federation tools, and optimization of I/O and storage performance, which makes virtualization more viable. Outlook Web Access has also been improved to include calendar sharing, rights management, and support for Firefox and Safari. Outlook 2010 includes a conversation view that brings Gmail-like capabilities to Microsoft e-mail customers.

SharePoint 2010 has new search capabilities and social software, a REST API, extranet capabilities, and unprecedented integration with Office 2010, Burton Group said. SharePoint also incorporates the Office ribbon interface within the browser. New metadata management services centralize descriptions of content and enable new features such as social tagging.

As a general rule, it's time to move off of SharePoint 2003, but if you have a 2007 deployment that works well and your organization doesn't require the 2010 features, there's no reason to upgrade immediately, said Burton Group analyst Larry Cannell.

Although SharePoint and Office have received richer integration, IT pros cannot assume that the integrations will work out of the box. IT needs to create and manage metadata and taxonomies, and work with end users to take advantage of the integrations.

If done correctly, the integrations can provide a much better experience, with Office users able to access SharePoint capabilities without leaving Office.

"The whole Office suite has become the rich client for SharePoint," Cannell said.

Customers that want to take advantage of both the 2010 upgrades and Microsoft's hosted Exchange and SharePoint, as part of the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), should consider waiting until early next year because Microsoft's cloud-based Exchange and SharePoint hasn't been upgraded to the 2010 servers yet.

Although Office 2010 has benefited from SharePoint integration, the new Office is really a "tweak release," not a groundbreaking change, Burton Group analysts said.

Microsoft is essentially bolting Office to SharePoint to prevent customers from moving to other office products, Creese said. Microsoft is also providing Office Web Apps access in the enterprise version of Office, and the core Office suite now includes the OneNote collaboration software. But whether the new user-friendly features "fully justifies a multi-million dollar investment is questionable," Creese said.

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Jon Brodkin

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