Did Microsoft Redeem Itself in 2009?

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Microsoft was the butt of jokes in 2008, lampooned for its inept Windows Vista and its refusal to admit anything was wrong, criticized for ongoing security lapses, and targeted for much carping from both Office 2007 users who didn't like the new Microsoft ribbon UI and Mac Office users frustrated by a buggy, even-less-capable version of what their Windows users got.

But 2009 marked a change in the company's fortunes -- and its reputation.

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To combat the Vista woes, Microsoft stopped defending the OS and began aggressively marketing Windows 7, its replacement, with a broad public beta cycle that saw hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of users try it more than a half-year before its formal release on Oct. 22.

And they generally liked it. InfoWorld's Enterprise Desktop blogger, Randall C. Kennedy -- a Windows devotee who's grown frustrated by Microsoft's decisions for several years and became the poster child for many Windows bashers -- has repeatedly praised the new Windows. In an InfoWorld Test Center review, Curtis Franklin Jr. judged that Windows 7 was almost as good as Mac OS X Snow Leopard -- and he meant it as strong praise, not faint damnation. Kennedy's Windows Pulse service shows that users are happy with Windows 7, adopting it strongly -- even XP users.

IT-oriented betas show lots of promise Within IT, Microsoft's reputation was not so hard hit; most businesses simply ignored Vista while coaxing more life out of their Windows XP systems as one response to the 2008-09 recession. Also, many in IT were excited about the new set of Windows server products that began rolling out in developer betas. Windows Server 2008 R2 got good marks from the InfoWorld Test Center, thanks to significant improvements to Hyper-V R2, Server Core, PowerShell scripting, and Terminal Services. It also sports nice "joined at the hip" features with Windows 7, such as BranchCache and AppLocker.

Exchange 2010 and SharePoint 2010 have also received high praise for their beta versions. InfoWorld's Enterprise Windows blogger, J. Peter Bruzzese, has loudly sung the praises and share the joy on these new servers, but he's by no means an exceptional fan. Office Web Apps also looks promising.

Even Office -- whose new Scenic Ribbon UI rang alarm bells among many longtime users -- has shrugged off the criticism and gained popularity. Most users don't seem to be bothered by the ribbon, and those who object to it either stayed with the previous version or figured out the secret to turning back on the missing menus in Office 2007.

And the new Office 2010 beta has gained strong praise from InfoWorld's Fatal Exception blogger Neil McAllister, a stickler for quality who finds that Microsoft's perennial claims that each new version was based on user feedback and testing were actually true in the case of Office 2010.

Still, all the positive feelings about the 2010 series are tempered with the many holes and flaws typical of beta software -- and a realization that Microsoft could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory if it doesn't address all the issues that beta testers forgive in the early stages.

Developers largely happy as well On the developer front, the forthcoming Visual Studio 2010 looks very compelling, according to Martin Heller, InfoWorld's Strategic Developer blogger. But as a beta, it has some major issues that need to be fixed for that promise to become reality, he notes.

Users now say that Silverlight 4 is becoming a mature platform for Microsoft's rich Internet application competitor to Adobe Flash. "It's really powerful," says Tatiana Rizzante, senior partner at integrator Reply in Italy. Still, although she says Silverlight offers better image treatment and navigation, Rizzante notes that Reply continues to use the better-established Flash technology.

Among Silverlight's majopr improvements are Webcam and microphone support, notes Matthew Ray, technical director at ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky. He believes Silverlight has progressed a long way in 22 months and that version 4 should give Flash a run for its money.

Sean Gordon, an architect in the strategy architecture emerging technology team at Chevron, is happy about Microsoft's Dublin technology. Dublin previously was positioned as application server extensions to Windows, providing a host for applications that use workflow or communications. Now, Dublin and Microsoft's Velocity project for distributed in-memory caching are being linked in Microsoft's Windows Server AppFabric technology, for deploying and managing applications spanning the server and cloud. "[AppFabric] sounds like a great solution for caching," says David Collins, a system consultant at the Unum life insurance company. "It provides [sort of] a caching layer between our services and data tier, which is something we could definitely use."

And Windows Azure, Microsoft's coming cloud development and hosting platform, has also began to get positive interest from developers.

Not everything is rosy There's no question that Microsoft bounced back in 2009, digging itself out of its deep Vista hole and rallying the IT community around its 2010 product plans.

But the issues across the 2010 products' beta versions mean that Microsoft has to deliver strong quality in the final versions to preserve that good feeling.

Meanwhile, there's still that contingent of users who hate the ribbon UI in Office and Windows 7, whom Microsoft has no intention of pleasing. And there are some developers disappointed with recent developments regarding Oslo, which recently was renamed SQL Server Modeling and repositioned more as a technology for use with the SQL Server databases. "We're really disappointed about its becoming just a data modeling application," says Chevron's Gordon. The original vision, he said, was modeling for application architecture, but that "seems to have gone by the wayside," so Chevron is "going to have to look elsewhere for modeling capabilities for architects and developers."

Well, you can't please everyone. At least Microsoft is now pleasing more than not.

This article, "Has Microsoft redeemed itself?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments on Microsoft, Windows, and software development at InfoWorld.com.

This story, "Did Microsoft Redeem Itself in 2009?" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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