Click here to watch video of interview with Jill Schoolenberg, General Manager, Windows, Microsoft Canada

Length: 11.12 minutes; Type of file: .wmv.

Jill Schoolenberg, general manager, Windows, at Microsoft Canada had a key role to play in the launch of Windows Vista in Canada. She and her team were the people behind the Canadian launch. At last week’s launch event in downtown Toronto, Schoolenberg dscussed various aspects of Microsoft’s new OS with IT World Canada’s Web editor Joaquim P. Menezes. In this interview, the Microsoft Canada executive highlights some of the new capabilities of Vista – the “enhanced” security features, the Search functionality and more. She explains how customer feedback has been incorporated into the final versions of Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007, and outlines Microsoft’s initiatives to help small and mid-sized businesses adopt the new products.

Please talk a bit about Microsoft’s initiatives to speed up and simplify Vista depoloyment, in particular the ‘Early Start’ program announced on November 10.

Early Start was to make sure we had the right partner evidence and training. However, we’ve been working with partners long before Nov. 10. We worked with all our OEM partners in the local market [as well as] infrastructure partners to ensure they were ready to deploy and use the technology. We also interacted with people developing apps on Vista to ensure the core apps would be ready for development at the right time. Early Start was an extension of our partner program. We’ve been working with our partners for the past 2-3 years to ensure they were ready to deploy, and their applications are working [on Vista]; we also worked with our customers’ customers. So Early Start was just a last critical phase to ensure we were prepared for the final push to market as we launch today.

Could you cite some instances of how customer feedback has been rolled into the final version of Vista?

As we worked through our deployment processes and our rapid adoption programs, customers would be reporting bug issues. In terms of Search, they made sure that’s more effective in actually locating information. All that data feeds back (to us). As well, [we look at] how they are deploying the technology. So, for instance, we worked with a customer in Quebec that’s seen an almost 300 per cent improvement per seat, per user in terms of management costs and security and stability. That’s an example of how a customer has reduced desktop costs by using [Vista] technology.

In recent survey of Windows corporate customers planning to upgrade to Vista, most said increased security was the main driver – even more important than performance. Did you get the same feedback in your interaction with customers?

Security is definitely a core pillar of the technology. It depends on which customer you are talking to. If you talk to someone in your IT department, security is absolutely important in terms of file encryption and full drive encryption. But it’s also important to your chief financial officer, and HR managers. We have a new technology called Bit Locker. If your machine is lost or stolen, the hard drive is encrypted. So none of those personnel records are lost — payroll data and your legal information isn’t lost. So security – from a technology and infrastructure deployment standpoint – is definitely improved behind Windows Vista. But corporate compliance, data integrity, information…those are also key pillars.

You mentioned the new Search function in Vista. Tell us more about that.

The day-to-day worker wants to be able to find and use information more quickly and confidently. One of the best [tools for this] is the new Search function in Vista. There’s a simple Search bar in our Start menu [that allows] you to search for anything that’s in the OS; you can search your Files, and everything on your desktop. Candidly, people spend around three hours a week just trying to find information. And then another three hours a week recreating stuff they already have because they can’t find the original files. So for the information worker this is going to be very important, helping them to be more productive in their day to day jobs.

Many companies may have to upgrade their hardware – desktops and laptops – before moving to Vista. Is this likely to delay adoption?

Any hardware that has shipped in the past couple of years will be Vista capable — it will will be able to run a Vista product. We’ve also offered the Upgrade Advisor tool that lets you know if your hardware is capable of running Vista, or if you need to make any modifications to do that. But most hardware that’s been out there in the past two years will be able to run Vista.

Will the fact that you’ve scheduled the consumer launch after the year-end holiday season negatively impact Vista sales to consumers?

Based on our conversations with retailers and our OEMs, we’re expecting an incredibly bland holiday season. So we have no concerns about that. We have put our tech guarantee program in place, so anyone buying a new PC over the holidays will be easily guaranteed a copy of Windows Vista. Our information from IDC says the market has grown over the past few quarters and will continue to grow.

In the U.S., Microsoft has entered into an agreement with CompUSA stores that will be offering licenses to small businesses prior to the consumer launch. Is there similar agreement with a retail store in Canada?

Today (November 30), we are launching Vista for all the volume license customers. So yes, a small business could acquire [Vista] today with as few as three licenses. They can contact their local reseller if they want. And those who already have the rights to the product are able to upgrade online. In terms of a specific partnership with a retailer in Canada, no we don’t have that at this phase, but there are many channels for small businesses to access Vista starting today – and we hope they do.

Steve Ballmer said the five year gap between the launch of XP and Vista will never be repeated. Going by that, could we expect the next version of Windows much before 2012?

I don’t really want to disagree with Steve Ballmer, but we actually did launch Windows XP Service Pack2 about two years ago. And that was in response to new security threats that the Internet brought to our customers. We didn’t call SP2 a new version, as we thought it was necessary for us to provide it free to existing customers as an upgrade given market conditions. But that was fundamentally a new OS. So we have done an interim release of the product.

In terms of our hopes and ambitions – consistent with the Office system and the Windows Server launch today – both those products are launching on regular three-year cycles. We will continue to upgrade and launch our products consistent with customer demands. “Quality first” is our priority, so sometimes that takes a little longer. But we have to keep up with customer demands. XP2 was a good interim step and we have a whole new OS today.

Many enterprise customers are concerned about possible bugs in the first version of Vista. How would you reassure them?

I think we’ve learned

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