Plotting a course on Microsoft’s roadmap

Brett Roberts is Microsoft New Zealand's newly appointed director of innovation. He talks to Chris Bell about upcoming trends, technologies and - of course - innovation

What are the emerging trends for 2006?

I think it’s safe to say that software-as-a-service is finally set to gain traction this year. With SaaS we’re seeing a completely new distribution model, where applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over the internet or via a private network. Office Live — a set of internet-based services for growing and managing a business online — is a great example of this model. It’s designed to help companies establish an online presence, automate tasks and collaborate with employees, partners and customers.

The initial Office Live offerings are targeted at the approximately 28 million small businesses worldwide that have fewer than ten employees.

Following on the back of our recently announced partnership with Nortel, I think that unified communications will also take off this year, merging the experience of different communications systems such as email, IM, telephony, voice and videoconferencing.

According to Gartner, within three years, 95% of enterprises will have started or completed the convergence of their entire voice and data networks onto a single network and, by 2010, 80% of companies will have integrated communications such as voice and messaging into some business applications or processes.

Microsoft’s roadmap has been updated to improve integration of voice features with new business products. For example the new Office Communications Server 2007 will have VoIP call management, videoconferencing, IM features, web and audio; plus Microsoft Office Communicator will have VoIP, softphone, web, audio and videoconferencing and Exchange 2007 Unified Messaging will offer unified email and voicemail.

What this all means is that users will be able to communicate via a wide range of devices while IT departments will find it much easier to deploy and manage systems via familiar infrastructure and tools and utilising existing IT skill sets.

What technologies or trends do you think have become established or have gained momentum in their development this year?

It would have been hard not to see that virtualisation has been gaining momentum. According to IDC’s enterprise computing group, the virtualisation market was worth US$19.2 billion (NZ$30 billion) in 2004, and is forecast to top US$30 billion by the end of 2008. Microsoft is working across the industry to foster interoperability of virtualisation technologies by standardising virtualisation management models and specifications for device virtualisation.

In addition, Microsoft licenses — royalty free — the Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format, enabling industry vendors to innovate new virtual machine management solutions. A common file format helps improve security, reliability and cost efficiency for customers and helps ensure a uniform product support system. Customers who invest in the Microsoft VHD format, available now with Virtual Server 2005, will have a clear path forward to the “hypervisor” virtualisation technologies we will be delivering in the Longhorn Server timeframe.

In terms of trends, we’ve also seen the needs of a mobile workforce continue to evolve. This is perhaps most clearly shown by the laptop and more so the mobile phone with technology such as Windows Mobile 5, which has become for many businesses the weapon of choice, as well as the call for software that supports both mobile and stationary platforms such as in Windows Vista.

Security for mobile data is also a growing concern, which has led to us developing features in Windows Vista to address the problem of intellectual property theft. One feature built specifically for a mobile workforce is Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption, a hardware-enabled data protection feature designed to encrypt the entire hard disk to prevent sensitive data being accessed on compromised computers.

Windows Vista can also restrict the use of removable storage devices such as USB memory sticks, thereby helping to prevent theft of intellectual property and potentially disastrous privacy issues.

Tell us about your new role as director of innovation for Microsoft New Zealand.

Microsoft is in the business of innovation. My role’s a wide-ranging one, aimed at fostering innovation through the use of Microsoft technologies, deve-loping new channels to market here in New Zealand and ensuring that New Zealanders understand Microsoft’s plan in helping them to succeed both in their home lives and business activities.

Innovation is essential in technology and can make a very real difference to the people that use it. We drive innovation into everything we do, from the development of our software through to our digital education programmes that are helping teachers unlock the potential of ICT.

Microsoft understands how public- and private-sector

partnerships can create tangible rewards for our communities and believes that ideas — and the courage to liberate them — are important innovation drivers to our notion of a knowledge economy.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I’m really looking forward to the launch of Windows Vista, which is our first operating system to completely go through the Security Development Cycle and has been engineered from the ground up to be the most secure OS yet.

Parents will love the Parental Controls — although the kids might not — and businesses will appreciate the wide range of security features designed to protect their IP. Vista also has great features which let you search your computer like a database, has the full-bodied entertainment experience with an inbuilt Media Centre and provides a visually attractive working environment with the new Aero user interface. And then there’s MeetingSpace, IE7, Windows Defender and User Account Control.

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