The High Points in Microsoft's 'Boring' Product Road Map

You know tech journalists are scraping the bottom of the barrel when you see articles with captions like "screenshot leaked of Windows 8" that include pictures that are downright worthless or when you see article after article about Office 365 (guilty as charged), which is still in private beta (not even public beta). Ah, years like 2010 are hard to repeat: It saw SharePoint 2010, Exchange 2010, SQL 2008 R2, Office 2010, Data Protection Manager 2010, Lync 2010, and more!

But that doesn't mean 2011 has to be a complete dud. There are some interesting releases planned, as well as some service packs. Here are the ones worth your attention.

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2011 Microsoft products already launched

Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2: Most people wait to deploy until after the first service pack, so we should see a new Windows deployment wave this year and next. Although this service pack didn't bring tremendous improvements to the desktop OS, it did add some cool virtualization features to Windows Server, such as dynamic memory for Hyper-V and RemoteFX for Remote Desktop Services.

SQL Server Fast Track Data Warehouse 3.0: Released in February, this wasn't as exciting as the upcoming version of SQL (code-named Denali), but it shows forward movement on Microsoft's part to provide for higher-scalability deployments.

Small Business Server 2011 Standard: SBS 2011 Standard went live in March. It includes Exchange 2010 SP1, SharePoint Foundations, and more for 75-seat-and-smaller deployments.

MultiPoint Server 2011: This is a great product for classrooms, conference rooms, and other such shared sites. It provides support for thin clients over a LAN to allow for a shared computing environment that teachers or others can control. The standard edition supports 10 stations, and the premium edition supports 20.

Windows Intune: I had the chance to see some of what Intune can do last year at TechEd, but it was just released last week. Windows Intune offers a cloud-based management for desktops. In environments where you think you would benefit from using System Center but the place is a bit too small to warrant that investment, you can gain the same benefits through Intune. One cool aspect is that you get upgrade rights for Windows 7 Enterprise for all desktops covered under Intune.

Internet Explorer 9: Microsoft's first HTML5-capable Web browser went live last month.

2011 Microsoft products coming soon (maybe)

Windows Home Server 2011: Just last week, the Microsoft development team finished up work on Windows Home Server 2011, which may be available as early as May. But the removal of support for the drive extender feature that many admins of previous WHS editions really liked is disappointing, as is the fact that Hewlett-Packard has decided not to release a WHS-based computer.

Small Business Server 2011 Essentials: SBS 2011 Essentials, which supports as many as 25 seats, just finished the development process and could be released soon. The only downside I can see is that much of SBS Essentials' capabilities are tied to Office 365, which isn't available yet. Granted, BPOS (Business Productivity Online Standard) is an alternative you can use until Office 365 goes live, but it would have been nice to have the two released at the same time. Perhaps the public beta of Office 365 will work with SBS Essentials.

Office 365 and Exchange 2010 SP2: I know, my colleagues at InfoWorld and I have covered these cloud products repeatedly. But it's exciting because whereas I didn't hear about BPOS every day, I do hear about Office 365 daily. Now there is talk that Office 365 may go live this summer. For that to happen, Exchange will need a bit of an upgrade to ensure it plays nice with Office 365. There is talk of a SP2 for Exchange, so we'll have to wait and see.

Windows 8: People are projecting a Windows 8 release in late 2011 or early 2012. I'd love to be able to tell you that's true, but it's just rumors and speculations. I'd love to see Microsoft show up with an ARM version on a tablet that I'm not ashamed of. Microsoft knows it has to get this right, so it looks like Windows Phone 7 could be tossed out for Windows 8 on smartphones, if rumors are true. A lot is hinging on Windows 8, and I would rather Microsoft not rush Windows 8 and blow it -- better to wait until it's fully baked, even if that means a release well into 2012.

Dynamics 2011: Microsoft is working on new versions of its ERP and CRM suite of products, including CRM 2011, SL 2011 (for project management support), GP 2010 R2 (for sales support), and AX 2012 (for multiple-currency support).

Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials: This NAS-based product for smaller business needs is also nearing release.

2011: Plenty to get excited about
I'd be lying if I said I'm as pumped about all these releases as I was last year about the 2010 offerings, but I am excited. Despite the relative lull after last year's frenetic release pace, 2011 is hardly a dry year for Microsoft product releases.

This article, "The jewels in Microsoft's 'boring' 2011 product road map," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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