Just hours before Windows 7 hits store shelves across Canada, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer took his company’s sales pitch on the road Wednesday, hyping new products and the company’s focus on virtualization, security and cloud computing.
Speaking to Microsoft customers and partners at a pre-launch event in Toronto, the always excitable Microsoft chief targeted his talk to IT professionals, pushing the new Windows 7 operating system, as well as upgraded versions of Windows Server 2008 and Exchange e-mail software.
While making a point to defend the quality of Vista, Ballmer did admit to the Toronto crowd that the nearly three-year-old operating system was not well received by enterprise IT shops.
“There was a lot of noise in the system, let’s call it that,” he said, referring to Vista’s uptake.
Despite the fact that capital budgets are still being impacted by the recession, Ballmer said an OS upgrade could be the right thing to do for IT shops still using the aging Windows XP. He said immediate IT cost savings will be achieved in areas such as power consumption, the service desk, desktop management, and deployment and provisioning.
The Microsoft CEO added that he was “bullish that information technology will drive the next wave of economic growth in Canada.”
For Ballmer, Windows 7’s best feature is its simplicity.
“I like it because it’s faster and more responsive,” he said, adding that the improvements made to wireless connectivity and networking are particularly useful for today’s enterprise “road warrior.”
In terms of security, Ballmer hyped Windows’ BitLocker Drive Encryption functionality and the software’s updated policy and compliance tools. He also referred to Internet Explorer 8 as “the most secure browser in the world.”
In addition to making the Windows 7 pitch, Ballmer also spoke about cloud computing and the heavy interest in cloud-based SharePoint and Exchange services.
“We have a million seats signed up already,” he said, referring to Exchange in the cloud. While many interested customers are using on-premise Exchange software, he said the company is also receiving a lot of interest from IBM Lotus Notes users.
In response to one customers’ worry about using Exchange in the cloud and having his data transferred across the border to the U.S., Ballmer promised the audience that Microsoft plans to build Canadian-based data centres in the future.
As for the company’s virtualization plans, Ballmer took at shot at VMware Inc., saying that Microsoft’s Hyper-V will give IT shops “what they need, and only what they need.” He added that virtualization capabilities are built into Windows Server software, making it easier to manage and incredibly cost effective.
In addition to prospective customers, many organizations that have been piloting the new operating system were in attendance to share their experiences with the new Microsoft products.
At Bombardier Inc., “many reasons” prevented the company from moving over to Vista. The Montreal-based aerospace firm featured an operating system mix, which included Windows XP but even some machines with Windows 2000.
“So we approached Microsoft and said, ‘Can we go with Windows 7 because it just makes sense for us,” said Alain Pacquette, Bombardier’s technology integrator.
Bombardier began with about 40 users in June, building a desktop image for Windows 7 in about 20 days and putting about 90 applications on it. It has since expanded to 75 users and so far Paquette said there haven’t been any problems. “In terms of ease-of-use, I took a survey and people came back to me giving it a nine of out 10 or a 10 out of 10 . . . no bugs, no issues. It’s solid.”
Pacquette gave particularly high marks to Windows 7’s security features. Bombardier, for example, was in the middle of rolling out a hard disk encryption product when they realized similar capabilities were already built into Microsoft’s new OS.
“In the aerospace business there is a lot of competition, so we want to make sure that the data is not lost if people use USB keys or whatever,” he said. The company has great interest in Branch Cache, a feature in Windows 7 designed to reduce bandwidth consumption on branch-office wide area network (WAN) links. “We have many locations around the world, so Branch Cache will be a good feature to prevent sending the data 10 times,” he said.
Apart from properly planning their desktop image, Pacquette recommended other enterprises do the usual back-end testing, but also to focus on application compatibility. Bombardier has about 1,600 applications it runs regularly and is concentrating on moving over the top 200, with the others following on an on-demand basis.
“If they’re coming from Vista, I think it will be transparent. There may be some odd application that might not work,” he said. “If they’re coming from XP you really have to have a strategy (to deal with any incompatibility).”