The 2016 Microsoft Product Roadmap
RECENTLY UPDATED: Windows 10 Mobile (7/19), Windows 10 (7/19), Windows Server 2016 (7/12), System Center 2016 (7/12), Azure Stack (7/12)
It's back. RCP's annual roadmap is a comprehensive guide to upcoming Microsoft releases, encompassing both version updates and brand-new releases. For 2016, we're keeping track of the next-gen releases of SQL Server, Windows Server and SharePoint Server, as well as the next major Windows 10 update -- and much more. Here's what to expect from Microsoft and when (click on a product name to jump to that section):
Windows 10 'Redstone'
Anticipated release: Redstone 1, August 2016
Redstone 2, spring of 2017
Since its commercial release last summer, Microsoft's latest desktop OS has been off to jackrabbit start -- the fastest-growing of any other version of Windows, by Microsoft's count. In early January, just five months after making Windows 10 generally available, the company reported that the OS had already hit the 200-million-device mark, significantly outpacing the growth trajectories of both Windows 8 and Windows 7. Microsoft still has a ways to go before it hits its goal of putting Windows 10 on 1 billion devices by fiscal 2018, but the company is counting on a pair of Windows 10 updates coming this year, both code-named "Redstone," to make the OS more attractive to stragglers.
Media reports about Redstone have been circulating since the spring of 2015. At that time, longtime Microsoft watcher and ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley (who is also a columnist for RCP sister magazine Redmond), said the timing of the Redstone releases will mirror the summer/fall release cadence of Windows 10 and its first major update, Threshold 2. (Windows 10 was released in July 2015, while Threshold 2 rolled out in November.) Foley's estimate roughly jibes with that of Microsoft MVP Aidan Finn, who pegged Redstone 1 for a June release and Redstone 2 for November.
While Microsoft has already been updating Windows 10 regularly as part of its "Windows as a Service" model, the Redstone updates are expected to "be a larger update than the others and will provide new functionality and support for new classes of devices that aren't already part of Windows 10," according to Foley. Microsoft might also use Redstone to deliver the features that it couldn't develop in time for the initial Windows 10 release, she added.
For its part, Microsoft has not made any public mention of Redstone. However, the first three Redstone test builds have already been reportedly released to Windows Insider participants: build 11082 in mid-December, build 11099 roughly a month later and build 11102 in late January. While these builds focused mostly on bug fixes and various OS refinements rather than new features, Microsoft's Gabe Aul, who stewards the Windows Insider program, said that Microsoft made over 1,200 changes related to "OS development" from the second build to the third. According to Aul, Microsoft's objective with these early Redstone builds is to improve OneCore, which he described as "the shared core of Windows across devices," in order to streamline the company's internal process of testing new Windows features on different form factors. Once the OneCore improvements are done, Microsoft will be able to include more tangible feature additions and OS changes in the Redstone builds, though Aul cautioned that "[i]t will still be a few builds before any really noticeable changes show up, depending on when teams begin lighting up new features in their areas."
This focus on OneCore may have resulted in Microsoft shelving, or at least delaying, some features it had previously planned for Redstone, Petri.com's Brad Sams reported in January. "Multiple sources inside the company have said that some of the features for Redstone have been trimmed back because of the time dedicated to fixing the internal systems but that does not mean they are being scrapped," he wrote.
Whatever those features are, or were, is still up in the air, as there are scant few details about what Redstone will actually entail for users. According to various anonymously sourced media reports, Redstone will give Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant the ability to "float around Windows 10" (for instance, as a search widget in a live Word document), bring extension support to Windows 10's new Edge browser, and restore the old placeholders feature to the OneDrive storage service.
What Microsoft has promised is more frequent (if buggier) future builds of Redstone, at least for Windows Insiders on the "fast" ring. "The criteria we use to release builds to Windows Insiders in the Fast ring will be much closer to our criteria for flighting to our internal rings," Aul said in January. "This will allow more builds to reach Windows Insider. This also means that the builds we release to the Fast ring may include more bugs and other issues that could be slightly more painful for some people to live with." [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
Windows 10 Mobile
Microsoft has been baking Windows 10's smartphone counterpart for quite some time now. Brand-new Windows 10 Mobile devices hit retail shelves last November, but for existing Windows Phone 8.x users, the new OS is still a no-show. Initially expected in the summer of 2015 to coincide with the release of the Windows 10 desktop OS, Windows 10 Mobile's anticipated release was later pushed back to Q4 of 2015 and then to "early" 2016.
Now, the OS may not arrive until February for current users. Citing an unpublished Microsoft letter to its partners, VentureBeat in late January reported that "both the service update [for brand-new Windows 10 Mobile devices] and legacy handset upgrade will now occur in early to mid February." Of course, the timing of when individual users will actually receive the OS is dependent on their carriers, whose own testing and rollout processes can occasionally lead to months-long delays.
What's also still unclear is which existing devices will receive the Windows 10 Mobile upgrade, and which will be unable to support it due to hardware limitations. Microsoft's Windows 10 Mobile Web site provides only a partial list of devices that qualify to receive the upgrade (see this screenshot taken Jan. 23): "Lumia 430, Lumia 435, Lumia 532, Lumia 535, Lumia 540, Lumia 635 (1 GB RAM), Lumia 640, Lumia 640 XL, Lumia 735, Lumia 830, and Lumia 930." The company says it is "working hard to make Windows 10 available for other Lumia devices," though it has yet to specify what those other devices are.
Microsoft's latest Windows 10 Mobile test build (10586.63) was released to testers in early January. That build, like most of the mobile builds preceding it, comprised mostly bug fixes and OS refinements. Microsoft has described Windows 10 Mobile as being essentially "feature-complete" since the summer of 2015, so there has been little in the way of major concrete developments to report since then.
For future Windows 10 Mobile updates, however, Microsoft does seem to have a few new features on tap -- possibly signaling a mobile equivalent of the Redstone updates coming to the Windows 10 desktop OS. For instance, Microsoft may be preparing to extend Windows 10 Mobile's hardware support beyond 32-bit ARM chips to 64-bit ARM and x86 Intel chips. Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott reported on this issue in mid-January, pointing to a since-deleted Microsoft job listing that called for a senior program manager whose responsibilities would include "[b]uilding the plan for for ARM64 aligned with the Redstone wave," as well as to a Microsoft Hardware Dev Center page that mentions "Windows 10 Mobile x86" in documentation related to testing audio devices. So far, however, Microsoft has not officially shared any details about this point.
The mobile version of Cortana may also see some new features. According to The Verge, Microsoft is working on enabling Cortana to retrieve contextually relevant information for a user based on what they are currently doing with their phone (similar to the Google Now feature for Android). Microsoft is also reportedly developing a feature powered by Cortana that would let users start an action on one device running one platform, pause, and then continue that same action on a different device running a different platform. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
SharePoint Server 2016
Microsoft has been noticeably forthcoming about its plans for the next version of SharePoint Server, perhaps in an effort to quash the concerns of recent years that it might leave the on-premises version of SharePoint by the wayside in favor of the cloud-based SharePoint Online. Since even before the 2015 Ignite conference last May, there has been a steady stream of information from Microsoft about new features and changes coming in SharePoint Server 2016, such as:
- A more streamlined update and patching process to reduce downtime at organizations.
- A new "hybrid search" capability that promises a single cloud-based index, an improvement over the current disjointed search experience for organizations using SharePoint Server 2013.
- A new MinRole capability for server farms. IT pros can specify the server's role and SharePoint Server 2016 will automatically configure the server within a server farm, making it easier to scale operations.
- Data-loss prevention capabilities and information rights management protections.
Throughout its messaging about SharePoint Server 2016, Microsoft has emphasized the product's support for running hybrid SharePoint architectures -- that is, situations in which the on-premises server product running in an organization's datacenter is able to integrate with Office 365 running out of a Microsoft cloud datacenter. One of Microsoft's stated goals with SharePoint Server 2016 has been bridging the feature gap between it and SharePoint Online. Microsoft has done this by integrating several Office 365 features -- such as Delve, Groups and Clutter -- into the on-premises server product.
"Everything we're doing in Office 365 inspires the [SharePoint Server] product going forward, and you'll see this cadence continuing," said Mark Kashman, a senior product manager on the SharePoint team at Microsoft, during a presentation at the SPBiz Conference in June.
Microsoft has updated its projected release timeframe for SharePoint 2016 twice now. Originally, it had been scheduled for the second half of 2015, but Microsoft pushed it to Q2 of 2016 early last year. Then, in a message to the SharePoint IT Pro group on Yammer dated Nov. 18, Microsoft Senior Technical Product Manager Bill Baer said the release had actually been moved ahead to Q1 of 2016. The earlier-than-expected release is not surprising, given that Microsoft already released a "mostly feature complete" release candidate of SharePoint Server 2016 in January. That's after two public previews that were tested by over 5,000 users, according to Microsoft. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
Microsoft's suite of enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools will hit several milestones this year, starting with Dynamics AX.
The next version of Dynamics AX -- previously code-named "AX 7," though Microsoft said in November that the final version will forgo the year designation -- will be the first of the Microsoft ERP products to become truly cloud-based, following the leads of Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online. It is expected to become generally available in Q1 as a cloud solution hosted on the Azure PaaS, with the on-premises version being released closer to mid-2016.
"We're launching initially with Azure cloud delivery, and we're focused on customer deployments in the cloud. We optimized every architectural choice around the idea of saying we want to have the best possible experience in the cloud," said Microsoft Technical Fellow Mike Ehrenberg in an interview with RCP late last year.
Besides the cloud-first approach, Dynamics AX will feature a more streamlined user interface that leverages HTML 5, a new training feature called Task Guides and improvements to Dynamics Lifecycle Services. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
Anticipated release: Mid-2017
Microsoft first took the wraps off its new Azure Stack offering at last year's Ignite conference, touting it as a solution that would enable users to easily run Azure cloud services in their own on-premises datacenters, thus supporting the increasingly hybrid nature of organizations' IT environments. Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson, speaking at the 2015 Ignite keynote, described Azure Stack this way:
"This is literally us giving you all of Azure for you to run in your datacenters. What this brings you is you get that great IaaS and PaaS environment in your datacenters. You have incredible capability like a unified application model that gives you a one-click deployment experience for even the most complex, multi-tier applications and then you get that cloud-inspired infrastructure. We're giving you the same software controller that we built for our network, the name is the same, network controller. We're giving you our load balancing. We're giving you all the storage innovation."
Azure Stack represents an evolution of Microsoft's older Cloud OS solution, which also promised to give partners and organizations the ability to build Azure environments in their datacenters, but suffered from low uptake due to its complexity.
Azure Stack shares a common architecture, application model and DevOps tool set with Azure, according to Microsoft. This minimizes the work that developers need to do to make sure their apps work on both Azure and Azure Stack, as well as lets IT pros extend on-premises apps to the cloud without having to drastically change the tools they use for automation or management.
Microsoft has not given a specific date for Azure Stack's release, but because it is linked with the company's 2016 wave of server releases, it will likely become generally available by year's end. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
Spring wave: Released
Next-gen Dynamics CRM, fall of 2016
Microsoft's last major Dynamics CRM release was that of Dynamics CRM 2016 in late November. The company plans to follow that up this year with two major updates, one in the spring and one in the fall.
The "spring wave" of updates will arrive in Q2, Microsoft said in early March. However, this update -- and all the new features and improvements that come with it -- will apply only to Dynamics CRM Online. For on-premises Dynamics CRM customers, feature-parity will arrive with "the next on-premise release of Dynamics CRM in the fall of 2016," according to a spokesperson. So far, Microsoft hasn't said whether this on-premises update will entail a new year in the product name.
In its March announcement, Microsoft described a few of the changes coming with the spring (and later to the fall) update. The update will focus primarily on integrating two of Microsoft's CRM-related acquisitions from 2015 -- FieldOne, which provides cloud-based solutions for field-service personnel, and Adxstudio, whose "portals" technology lets organizations build customer-facing Web sites that connect to their Dynamics CRM account. On the service side (FieldOne), the update will bring new capabilities aimed at helping organizations schedule, assign and execute on-site service appointments. On the customer engagement side (Adxstudio), Microsoft said the spring update will "enable organizations to better connect with customers, partners and employees, and provide these groups with a streamlined way to access information, obtain assistance and perform tasks."
The spring update will also bring improvements to Dynamics CRM's social media-based marketing tool, called Social Engagement. Social Engagement uses machine learning to enable marketers to score their products' performance based on user "sentiment" across social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. With the spring update, Microsoft will add two new machine learning scenarios to the Social Engagement tool -- "adaptive learning" and "automated triage." [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
THIS PAGE: Windows Server 2016 | System Center 2016 | SQL Server 2016
BizTalk Server 2016 | Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV
Windows Server 2016
Anticipated release: September 2016
In early 2015, back when Windows Server 2016 was still known only by its codename of "vNext," Microsoft said that the server OS's architecture would be "deeply refactored" to support cloud scenarios, which certainly sounds like a major development albeit in an abstract sort of way. However, subsequent dispatches from Microsoft have been more explicit about the changes coming to Windows Server 2016 -- and they're big changes.
First, Windows Server 2016, which Microsoft is expected to release in Q3 of this year, will feature Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers. The former debuted in the third Windows Server 2016 technical preview that was released in August, and the latter in the fourth technical preview released in November.
Second, Windows Server 2016 will include a "Nano Server" component, which Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover described as "the most important, most significant change that we've made since Windows NT." As Microsoft explains it, "Nano Server is a deeply refactored version of Windows Server with a small footprint and remotely managed installation, optimized for the cloud and a DevOps workflow. It is designed for fewer patch and update events, faster restarts, better resource utilization and tighter security." According to Microsoft, Nano Server is 20 times smaller than Server Core and, compared to Windows Server, has a virtual hard disk size that's 93 percent smaller, is affected by 92 percent fewer critical bulletins, and requires 80 percent fewer system reboots.
Nano Server saw daylight in May 2015 as part of the second technical preview of Windows Server 2016. At that time, Microsoft said Nano Server was designed for three roles: as the host OS for cloud computing scenarios using Hyper-V, as a platform for deploying cloud-native apps, and as a host for scale-out file server operations. In November, Microsoft expanded those server roles to also include DNS Server and Web Server (IIS) roles. Nano Server doesn't replace Server Core, however; Windows Server 2016 will allow for both options. Organizations can also decide to do a full server installation. "Applications and services will need to be evaluated on a case by case basis to determine the best operating system footprint," Microsoft said.
Third, Microsoft has decided to switch to a per-core licensing approach with Windows Server 2016, a departure from its previous per-processor approach. The repercussions of that change were outlined in a detailed FAQ from Microsoft, which said that the switch aims to "evolve our server licensing to support hybrid cloud." Windows Server 2016 will be licensed in two flavors: Standard Edition (for "low to no virtualization scenarios") and Datacenter Edition (for "unlimited virtualization").
Microsoft describes the license packages this way: "Core licenses will be sold in packs of two licenses. Each processor will need to be licensed with minimum of 8 cores which is 4 two-core packs. Each physical server, including 1 processor servers, will need to be licensed with minimum of 16 cores which is 8 two-core packs. Additional cores can then be licensed in increments of two cores (one two core pack) for gradual increases in core density growth." [BACK TO TOP | BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
System Center 2016
Anticipated release: September 2016
Like the upcoming Windows Server 2016, the next-generation version of Microsoft's datacenter management suite is expected to arrive in Q3 with a new core-based licensing model. According to a Microsoft licensing datasheet, the decision to mimic Windows Server 2016's core-based model is an effort to "provide a consistent licensing metric for managed VMs." For System Center 2016, the licensing will work this way:
The System Center 2016 licensing model for Standard and Datacenter will be the same as 2012 R2 with server and client management licenses. As with System Center 2012 R2, the 2016 editions will be differentiated by virtualization rights only. Licenses are required only for the endpoints being managed. No additional licenses are needed for the management server or SQL Server runtime.
Besides the licensing change, Microsoft has also decided to go ahead and release the System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) component in December 2015, ahead of the larger System Center 2016 suite, to address the needs of organizations managing Windows 10 clients. Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Enterprise Client and Mobility at Microsoft, called that release of SCCM "the most significant and important release of ConfigMgr ever," and pointed to the fact that this Windows 10-optimized version of SCCM is also SaaS-enabled, meaning that organizations will receive regular monthly updates to the product.
The rest of the System Center 2016 suite, which is currently on its fourth technical preview, will arrive later this year. Microsoft is touting System Center 2016's integration with Microsoft Operations Management Suite (OMS) as a key improvement. "Through the integration with OMS, your System Center investments can manage traditional infrastructure, workloads, and modern applications with ease -- regardless of whether you're working with Azure or AWS, or running Windows Server, Linux, VMWare, or OpenStack," according to Microsoft. [BACK TO TOP | BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
SQL Server 2016
So far, Microsoft hasn't given any hints about when it will release its next-generation relational database management solution, which is currently in its third community technology preview (CTP). However, it's a fair bet that the final version of SQL Server 2016 could appear before the end of summer, given that the last three major SQL Server versions -- SQL Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2012 and SQL Server 2014 -- have all followed the pattern of being released to manufacturing (RTM) in March or April and becoming generally available a month or so later.
Changes and improvements coming in SQL Server 2016 include:
- A new feature called Always Encrypted, which protects both at-rest and in-motion data by keeping the encryption keys within the application.
- Integration with the R programming language via the new SQL Server R Services, improving analytics capabilities.
- The new Stretch Database feature, which lets users access more historical data by enabling operational tables to extend between on-premises and the Azure cloud.
- Native support for the JSON language.
- Built-in PolyBase, letting users query relational and non-relational data with T-SQL.
As it has done for many of its flagship products, Microsoft is promising continuous and regular updates to SQL Server 2016 to keep pace with cloud environments. "Our cloud-first product development model means that new features get hardened at scale in the cloud, delivering proven on-premises experience. In addition, we offer a consistent experience across on-premises and cloud with common development and management tools and common T-SQL," said Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Data Group, in a blog post last October announcing CTP 3. [BACK TO TOP | BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
BizTalk Server 2016
Anticipated release: Q4 of 2016
Microsoft expects to roll out the tenth and newest version of its BizTalk integration platform in Q4, after the general availability of SQL Server 2016 and Windows Server 2016, according to a whitepaper the company released in late 2015. BizTalk Server 2016 will be closely tied to the development of Microsoft's other integration products, namely Host Integration Server and Logic Apps on Azure Stack, which are both in varying stages of development. Given these dependencies, there are several dates and moving parts to track when it comes to BizTalk Server 2016:
- Before its Q4 general availability, BizTalk Server 2016 will be released as a CTP in Q2 and as a beta preview in Q3.
- Host Integration Server's release milestones will follow the same ones as BizTalk Server.
- BizTalk Server also has an iPaaS (Microsoft's acronym for integration Platform as a Service) counterpart called Azure BizTalk Services that will become available in April.
- Logic Apps on Azure Stack will be released as a preview in Q3, with RTM expected in Q4.
Microsoft listed the following new features coming to BizTalk Server 2016:
- Alignment with the latest releases of SQL Server, Windows Server, Office and Visual Studio.
- Support for SQL Server 2016's AlwaysOn feature.
- Better integration with API connectors.
- Support for high-availability workloads in Azure IaaS.
Microsoft said it is also planning "numerous enhancements including supporting dynamic ports with ordered delivery, performance and usability improvements to the admin console, support for SAS authentication with our WCF-NetTcpRelay and more." [BACK TO TOP | BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV
Anticipated release: Dynamics GP 2016, May 1
Dynamics NAV "v.Next," second half of 2016
Besides the aforementioned Dynamics AX, two more products in Microsoft's ERP lineup are expected to see daylight in 2016.
Dynamics GP 2016 will debut in the first half of the year, with an "R2" version rolling out in the second half. That's according to this Microsoft slide posted by Microsoft developer Tim Wappat in a September 2015 blog post (see below).
The slide suggests upcoming improvements to Dynamics GP's business intelligence (BI) capabilities, workflows, Web client and "All in One" document viewer, as well as extended device and browser support.
Dynamics NAV could also get a refresh this year, even though Dynamics NAV 2016 was released just a few months ago in October 2015. According to this slide presented by Microsoft during a session at the 2015 Worldwide Partner Conference that was shared by several attendees, Microsoft plans to release "NAV Next +1" and "NAV Next +2" in 2016 and 2017, respectively. However, the company has yet to give any concrete details about either of these Dynamics NAV releases. [BACK TO TOP | BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
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2015 Roadmap archive >>
2015 Product Roadmap Archive
The following products were featured in our 2015 Microsoft Product Roadmap. Click on a product name to jump to that section.
• Windows 10
• Windows 10 Mobile
• Office for Windows 10
• Office 2016
• SharePoint 2016 and Exchange 2016
• Skype for Business
• Dynamics CRM
• Power BI
• Visual Studio 2015
• Windows Server 2016
• System Center 2016
Bits of information about Windows 10 have been circulating since late 2013, although those early reports were met with "no comment" comments from official Microsoft channels. Since releasing the first Windows 10 technical preview build in October, however, Microsoft has been exceedingly open about the upcoming operating system. It was apparent early on that Windows 10 would serve as a course correction, of sorts, from Windows 8, which alienated many traditional keyboard-and-mouse users with its touch-focused interface and lack of a Start menu. Much of the earlier Windows 10 messaging also centered around the enterprise, with Microsoft touting new features such as multifactor authentication, file-level encryption and a dynamic provisioning capability designed to enable system upgrades without the need for re-imaging.
In a press event in mid-January, Microsoft talked up Windows 10 for the wider consumer audience. Announcements at the event included:
- Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for consumer users running Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1. (Excluded from this are users of Windows RT and Enterprise editions of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.)
- The Cortana voice-activated personal assistant, previously only available to Windows Phone 8.1 users, will be a built-in feature in Windows 10 PCs and tablets. (A new Windows 10 build with the Cortana feature was rolled out a few days after the event.)
- Windows 10 will have two browsers: Internet Explorer 11 and a browser code-named "Spartan" that features a new rendering engine.
- Windows 10 will support Microsoft's new HoloLens technology, which works with a goggle-like headset that lets users view, manipulate and interact with holographic images as if they were three-dimensional objects.
Also noteworthy was Microsoft's description of Windows 10 as "Windows as a Service." Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Operating Systems at Microsoft, explained that concept in a blog post:
This is more than a one-time upgrade: once a Windows device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will continue to keep it current for the supported lifetime of the device -- at no cost. ... We'll deliver new features when they're ready, not waiting for the next major release. We think of Windows as a Service -- in fact, one could reasonably think of Windows in the next couple of years as one of the largest Internet services on the planet.
And just like any Internet service, the idea of asking "What version are you on?" will cease to make sense -- which is great news for our Windows developers.
Microsoft has repeatedly touted Windows 10 as a "universal" platform that is designed to translate seamlessly across different devices. However, that does not mean that there won't be different SKUs of the operating system that are optimized for a range of screen sizes and device types. In late January, ZDNet columnist Mary Jo Foley reported on the possible different Windows 10 SKUs based on information from her sources. There is the "desktop" version, designed for tablets and PCs, and another "mobile" SKU for smartphones and smaller tablets. The desktop SKU has been in the technical preview stage since last fall, while the mobile SKU is expected to be released as a preview in mid-February, Foley said. (*)
Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of the Operating Systems Group at Microsoft, also said that owners of smaller devices will lack a few Windows 10 features. For instance, new devices smaller than 7 inches will not have the "Continuum" feature, which would let users switch between PC and tablet interfaces, and devices smaller than 8 inches will not have the desktop mode.
The final version of Windows 10 is expected to become generally available in the later part of 2015. [BACK TO 2015 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows 10 Mobile
Anticipated release: December 2015
The first technical preview of Windows 10 for smartphones (the "mobile" SKU described by ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley) is not expected to be released until mid-February. However, Microsoft began setting the stage for interested smartphone users to receive the preview in January, when it released a "Windows Insider" app for Windows Phone 8.1 devices. According to Microsoft's description, the app "provides registered Insiders the ability to receive pre-release OS updates on their phone, directly from Microsoft." It will work like the Windows Insider program that Microsoft kicked off last October for the Windows 10 technical preview.
In a blog post in January, Chris Weber, corporate vice president of sales for the Mobile Devices group at Microsoft, gave a brief description of how Windows 10 will work specifically on Lumia phones:
[W]ith the suite of in-box apps on Lumia, you have the ease of using Mail and Calendar on your phone as you would on your PC. You can easily work on PowerPoint presentations, edit Word documents and appreciate other rich functionality in Office, while you are on the go.
The same seamless integration can also be seen with Maps. Let's say you searched for a place -- maybe a new restaurant that your friends have been talking about -- on your PC. The next time you are out and about, your search will also show up on your phone when you open Maps. With it, you can also access info such as driving directions to that restaurant, reviews and even the ability to reserve a table, all from the same app.
In November, a Tweet on the official Lumia Twitter feed suggested that "all Windows Phone 8 devices" and higher would be upgradeable to Windows 10. In the January blog, however, Weber waffled a bit on this point, saying that Microsoft's goal is "for the majority of the Lumia phones running Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 to join the Windows ecosystem." He cautioned that "[l]ike any upgrade to a new platform, not every phone will upgrade or support all possible Windows 10 features, and certain features and experiences will require more advanced future hardware."
Windows 10 for smartphones is expected to launch later this year, at the same time as Windows 10 for PCs, and come pre-installed on new phones. However, for those upgrading to the operating system, the exact ship date may vary or even be delayed, depending on a user's carrier. [BACK TO 2015 PRODUCT LIST]
Office for Windows 10
Industry watchers have been anticipating the launch of touch-based Office apps for Windows, code-named "Gemini," for well over a year now, but have had to wait while they were first released for Apple iOS and, more recently, Google Android devices.
In late January, Microsoft finally announced a release timeframe for the apps on Windows. "The Office universal apps will be available with the Windows 10 Technical Preview in the coming weeks," said Julia White, general manager of the Office Product Management team, in a blog post dated Jan. 22. (*) General availability is slated for "later this year," possibly to coincide with the release of Windows 10.
The Office apps -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote -- will be an out-of-the-box feature for all new Windows Phones and "small" Windows 10-based tablets, according to Microsoft. For other devices, the apps will be available to download from the Windows Store, though Microsoft has not said whether they will also be free for those devices.
White's blog post describes a few of the features coming to the touch-optimized Office apps:
- The Word app will have a new feature called "Insights for Office," which will let users viewing documents in Read mode access extra "online resources like images, web references and definitions."
- Users of the Excel app will be able to select and format multiple cells at once.
- The new "Ink Tools" feature in PowerPoint will let users annotate their slides in real time.
- Users will be able to sort, flag, archive and read e-mails in the Outlook app using specific touch gestures.
In keeping with Microsoft's vision of universal apps for Windows, the Office apps will share the same code regardless of the size of the device that is running them. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
Official confirmation that the next version of Microsoft's desktop Office suite would be released in the second half of this year came in late January, though Microsoft had reportedly been testing the product internally for several months by then. In September 2014, screenshots believed to be from that internal test version were leaked to The Verge. Based on the images, Office 2016 will include the "Tell Me" assistant from Microsoft's Office Online product. Tell Me is a helper-type feature that appears as a dialog box, similar to the now-defunct "Clippy" but without the anthropomorphism. The screenshots also showed a new black theme and a mostly unchanged ribbon.
According to The Verge, "Other new features include automatic image rotation, allowing Microsoft to use camera metadata to correctly position images in Office documents. ... Microsoft is also improving its Outlook email client with sync options to just download 1 day, 3 days, 7 days, or 14 days of email." ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley offered a few more details about new features coming to Office 2016, including the ability to pan and zoom on Excel charts, "information rights management protection" in Visio, and the ability to share most-recent files (both local and cloud-hosted) in OneDrive.
So far, the changes and additions seem mostly minor, though Microsoft said that the new Office version will have "compelling new experiences" when it becomes available. Incidentally, the company has not mentioned how, or if, it will incorporate its new "Sway" app into Office 2016. Currently in preview, Sway is designed to let Office users create graphical and interactive presentations for the Web.
Also expected to be released this year is the next version of Office for Mac. The Outlook client has been available for Mac users since October 2014, but only Office 365 subscribers have been able to access it. According to Microsoft, a public beta of the next Office for Mac will be released in the first half of 2015, with the finished product expected in the second half.
This will be the first Office for Mac release in over four years (Office for Mac 2011 became available in December 2010). Microsoft attributed the lengthy delay to its focus on cloud-first updates since the launch of Office 365. "Historically we have released a new version of Office for Mac approximately six to eight months after Office for Windows. However, following the release of Office 365 we made the conscious decision to prioritize mobile first and cloud first scenarios for an increasing number of people who are getting things done on-the-go more frequently," the company explained. [BACK TO 2015 PRODUCT LIST]
SharePoint 2016 and Exchange 2016
Exchange 2016: Released
Anticipated release, SharePoint 2016: Q1 2016
Microsoft's ever-increasing focus on Office 365 -- and, by extension, cloud-first feature releases and updates -- has meant that refreshes of the on-premises SharePoint Server and Exchange Server have been pushed to the back burner. The most recent versions of both products (SharePoint 2013 and Exchange 2013) were released in tandem in late 2012. Microsoft has stated that it remains committed to releasing new versions of those on-premises products every two to three years, but that their cloud-based counterparts in Office 365 would be more feature-rich and updated more frequently.
Microsoft revisited that point again last spring when it announced that the next versions of Exchange and SharePoint would not arrive until 2015, near the end of that two-to-three-year refresh schedule. Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of Office Service and Servers at Microsoft, gave the news with the caveat that "[o]ur server releases will include some, but not all" of the features Microsoft is rolling out to Office 365, such as the Delve deep-search feature (previously code-named "Oslo") or the Groups social networking tool.
Speaking at last April's SP24 conference, which was streamed online, Senior Microsoft Product Marketing Manager Bill Baer said that the next SharePoint Server would be released in "late 2015." Presumably, Exchange Server will also ship in that same timeframe. Baer also dispelled rumors that the next on-premises release of SharePoint would be the last. "We understand that our audience can't necessarily make...a wholesale move to the cloud. So we're going to continue to ship SharePoint Server on-premises as long as there is a demand for SharePoint Server on-premises," Baer said in his keynote.
Besides those announcements, Microsoft hasn't officially shared much about the upcoming on-premises server releases -- not even their names (*). It's possible, though, that they will have the "2016" version name to mirror Office 2016. The company is expected to reveal more about the next Exchange and SharePoint releases at the inaugural Microsoft Ignite conference in early May. Ignite effectively combines the old TechEd America conference and other specialized Microsoft events, including SharePoint Conference, Exchange Conference and the Microsoft Management Summit. [BACK TO 2015 PRODUCT LIST]
Skype for Business
The next major release of Lync Server -- and its corresponding Office 365 component Lync Online -- will appear sometime in the first half of this year under the new name "Skype for Business," Microsoft announced last fall.
Since acquiring Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011, Microsoft has been focused on integrating and aligning the consumer-focused VoIP tool's functionality with that of the more enterprise-focused Lync. The first step was introducing Lync-to-Skype connectivity in 2013; that feature enabled users of both products to exchange voice calls and instant messages with each other.
In December 2014, Microsoft took it a step further by delivering the long-awaited video-calling feature to Lync and Skype. As of this writing, though, that video-calling feature is limited to Skype users on Windows or Mac PCs. Microsoft said back in December that it would expand video-calling support for Skype to Apple iOS and Google Android devices "in the coming months," possibly as part of the Skype for Business release. Also coming in Skype for Business will be support for SkypeIDs, improvements to the contact search capabilities in the worldwide Skype directory, one-touch call transferring and more.
Upgrading from the current Lync Server 2013 to Skype for Business will require only a datacenter update and no new hardware, according to Microsoft. For Lync Online users, the change will come as part of a Microsoft update. [BACK TO 2015 PRODUCT LIST]
Spring update: Released
Dynamics CRM 2016: Released
Microsoft plans to refresh its Dynamics CRM solution in the second quarter of 2015 with what it calls a "spring wave" of updates.
For some time now, Microsoft's various Dynamics CRM and ERP solutions have been on a six-month product refresh cycle. The last major update to Dynamics CRM came in December 2014, with the release of Dynamics CRM 2015. That would suggest that the next big update could fall sometime in June this year, although Microsoft has not given a more specific timeframe beyond Q2.
The Dynamics CRM 2015 release was notable for the addition of integration with Cortana, Microsoft's voice-activated digital personal assistant technology. That release was followed in January by a major update to Parature, a component of Dynamics CRM aimed at marketing- and sales-oriented users.
So far, Microsoft has not revealed much about what is coming with the spring update wave. However, a roadmap posted online in September 2014 by a Microsoft partner suggests that the entire Dynamics CRM stack -- including on-premises Dynamics CRM, the cloud-based Dynamics CRM Online, the Dynamics Marketing tool, the Social Listening tool and Parature -- will be getting updates at that time. According to that post (which has since been removed, although ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley retained a screenshot of the roadmap), the code names for the different updates are "Carina" for Dynamics CRM and Dynamics CRM Online, "Corvus" for Social Listening, "Spica" for Dynamics Marketing and "Taurus" for Parature. [BACK TO 2015 PRODUCT LIST]
Microsoft first commercially released its Power BI for Office 365 service a year ago. In December 2014, the company indicated that it was rolling out a number of new features to the service. In late January of this year, the company added that it was changing the product's pricing structure, offering a new, no-cost standalone version (to be called simply Power BI) and significantly cutting the price of the enterprise-grade version (to be called Power BI Pro).
Currently, the new Power BI is available as a free preview to users based in the United States, with expansion to other markets planned "in the future," Microsoft said. New features in the preview include:
- the new Power BI Designer tool, which lets users create and share data visualizations without the need for Excel 2013
- customizable dashboards, where users can view data from both on-premises and the cloud
- built-in connectors to popular third-party SaaS applications, such as Salesforce.com, GitHub and Zendesk, with more connectors to come
- a new connector to SQL Server Analysis Services, enabling users to view on-premises data in the cloud
Microsoft is also planning to release Power BI mobile apps for Apple iPhone and Google Android, as well as universal apps for Windows devices, "later this year." The app is already available in preview for Apple iPad.
Whenever it becomes generally available -- a Microsoft spokesperson said via e-mail in January that it "will exit preview later this year" -- the free version of Power BI will not require users to have an Office 365 subscription or a Microsoft account to access. It will limit data capacity to 1GB per user, implement daily data refreshes and support 10,000 rows of streaming data per hour. The more feature-rich Power BI Pro will cost $9.99 per user per month (a 75 percent price cut that is effective on Feb. 1), have a 10GB-per-user data capacity limit, have hourly scheduled data refreshes and support 1 million rows of streaming data per hour. This Microsoft page lists more details about the two versions. [BACK TO 2015 PRODUCT LIST]
Visual Studio 2015
Microsoft released the first community technology preview (CTP) of its next Visual Studio product, Visual Studio 2015, in June 2014. The company has been following a break-neck pace in its updates since then, releasing subsequent CTPs at a near-monthly basis. CTP 5, the most recent release as of this writing, just became available in late January, two months after the release of a preview version in November.
S. "Soma" Somasegar, corporate vice president of the Developer Division at Microsoft, said upon the release of CTP 1 that the finished Visual Studio 2015 product (at that time, code-named Visual Studio "14") would "most likely be available sometime in 2015." So far, Microsoft has not given a more specific timeframe, but Microsoft solution provider Insight estimates the release to be sometime in Q2 or Q3 of 2015.
Notable new features coming in Visual Studio 2015 are:
- the open source .NET Compiler Platform
- ASP.NET vNext, an update of the ASP.NET platform that is designed for cloud development
- support for C++11 and C++14 languages
In addition, the recently released CTP 5 delivered improvements to the product's diagnostic capabilities, improvements to ASP.NET 5 and the XAML language service, and a new timeline tool that provides users with a "scenario-centric view" of what resources their applications use.
New features and bug fixes available in the preview and CTP 5 are detailed in this Microsoft page. [BACK TO 2015 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows Server 2016
Anticipated release: Q3 2016, with previews throughout 2015
So far, there hasn't been much talk from Microsoft about the next version of its Windows Server product, although the company did release a technical preview in October and plans to issue another one this spring. As for the finished product, however, there will be a bit of a wait: Microsoft does not expect to ship the final version of Windows Server vNext until next year, according to a blog post in late January.
The move to delay Windows Server's next release until 2016 comes as a surprise. Microsoft typically releases its client and server operating systems close together, and with Windows 10 set to launch later this year, many industry watchers expected to see Windows Server vNext around that same timeframe. The blog post in January did not give any insight into Microsoft's reasoning for the delay, but ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley speculated that it has to do with Windows Server 2003 approaching the end of its support lifecycle in July 2015.
"Maybe the Softies don't want to confuse the upgrade message and want to be able to tell those still running Windows Server 2003 -- for which all free Microsoft support, including security patches) ends this July -- that the platform to which they should move is Windows Server 2012 R2," Foley wrote. She added that "[t]here's also the possibility that business users and IT pros have told the company that pushing out another major new Server release just two years after Windows Server 2012 R2 debuted might be too soon." Windows Server 2012 R2 hit general availability in late 2013.
At any rate, Microsoft said that it plans to "release further previews through the remainder of 2015." The TechNet library article for October's technical preview gives an outline of the changes coming to Windows Server. They include:
- improvements to PowerShell 5.0 "that extend its use, improve its usability, and allow you to control and manage Windows-based environments more easily and comprehensively"
- new networking features such as Network Controller and Generic Routing Encapsulation
- new capabilities in Active Directory Federation Services related to authenticating users in Lightweight Directory Access Protocol directories
- improvements to Remote Desktop Services, including support for OpenCL and OpenGL applications
- a new Storage Replica feature "that enables synchronous replication between servers for disaster recovery"
- the ability to upgrade Hyper-V or Scale-out File Server failover clusters with zero downtime
- improvements to the Web Application Proxy related to application publishing and pre-authentication
Another notable addition in the next Windows Server release will be integration with Docker, the open source application development platform.
"This release of Windows Server will include new container isolation technology, and support running both .NET and other application types (Node.js, Java, C++, etc) within these containers. Developers and organizations will be able to use Docker to create distributed, container-based applications for Windows Server that leverage the Docker ecosystem of users, applications and tools. It will also enable a new class of distributed applications built with Docker that use Linux and Windows Server images together," wrote Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of the Cloud and Enterprise Group at Microsoft, in a blog post announcing the integration. "We will support the Docker client natively on Windows. Developers and administrators running Windows will be able to use the same standard Docker client and interface to deploy and manage Docker based solutions with both Linux and Windows Server environments."
In addition, Windows Server container images will be available from Docker Hub, an application repository and collaboration portal. "This will enable developers and administrators to easily share and automate application workflows using both Windows Server and Linux Docker images," Guthrie said. [BACK TO 2015 PRODUCT LIST]
System Center 2016
Anticipated release, System Center: Q3 2016
Anticipated release, SCCM: Released
Initially expected to launch alongside Windows 10 and Windows Server in the later part of this year, the next iteration of the System Center product suite will instead be released sometime in 2016, Microsoft announced in late January.
System Center vNext first hit the technical preview stage last fall, although System Center Configuration Manager was missing from the lineup, its own preview having been delayed for sometime early this year. Writing for Redmond magazine, Microsoft MVP Greg Shields observed that the System Center vNext technical preview was particularly notable for what else it doesn't have: "That early focus on what's not in vNext should be concerning for those who've drank the System Center Kool-Aid. Considering the scope of what won't be around in this next release, smart IT shops might start preparing now for a reasonable amount of management platform retooling," he wrote.
Microsoft's release note lists the following "features removed" from the product:
- App Controller
- Service Manager Cloud Services Process Pack (CSPP)
- management pack authoring with Visio in System Center Operations Manager
- support for all versions of Citrix XenServer and versions 4.1 and 5.1 of VMware vCenter in System Center Virtual Machine Manager
- support for Server App-V
- support for governance, risk and compliance (GRC) process management in System Center Service Manager
Microsoft points to Windows Azure Pack as an alternative to both App Controller and Service Manager CSPP.
While System Center Configuration Manager was not part of the technical preview release, Microsoft said in its January blog that it will ship ahead of the rest of the suite, "in a timeframe that aligns with Windows." The company also promised that System Center Configuration Manager will be optimized for Windows 10. "Windows 10 will be delivered in a way that allows for more choice and flexibility for businesses. Businesses will be able to opt-in to the fast-moving consumer pace, or lock-down mission critical environments that require only security updates and fixes. In alignment with these changes for Windows 10, the next version of Configuration Manager will be more easily updatable to support each of these Windows 10 updates," Microsoft said last fall.
Microsoft said it will share more details about its "vNext" products at the Ignite conference in May. [BACK TO 2015 PRODUCT LIST]
<< Previous page
2014 Roadmap archive >>
2014 Product Roadmap Archive
The following products were featured in our 2014 Microsoft Product Roadmap. Click on a product name to jump to that section.
• Windows 8.1 Update
• Office 2013 SP1
• Exchange Server 2013 SP1
• SharePoint Server 2013 SP1
• Lync Server
• Dynamics CRM 'Leo'
• Dynamics GP 2013 R2
• Dynamics GP 2015
• Dynamics AX 2012 R3
• SQL Server 2014
• SQL Server 2012 SP2
• Windows Server 2012 R2 Update
• Windows Phone 8.1
• Visual Studio 2013 Update 2
• Power BI for Office 365
• Azure RemoteApp ('Mohoro')
• Windows 10
Windows 8.1 Update
Microsoft is working on the first update to Windows 8.1, with rollout expected sometime in the spring, according to a report last year by ZDNet blogger and Redmond magazine columnist Mary Jo Foley.
Update 1's aim is to further unify Microsoft's desktop/tablet and smartphone platforms from a developer and programming perspective, Foley reported more recently in January. The "Update 1" name may be one indication of that already: As Supersite for Windows' Paul Thurrott noted, that's the naming convention Microsoft uses for Windows Phone updates.
Citing unnamed sources, Foley said that Update 1 will be timed to coincide with the release of Windows Phone 8.1, which media reports suggest will be in April. A January blog post by a Microsoft leaker who goes by the name "WZor" claims to narrow the timeframe to March for the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) milestone and April 1 for general availability. Presumably, the April 1 release is designed to coincide with Microsoft's Build conference, which kicks off on April 2.
Several media outlets have noted that the allegedly leaked Update 1 screenshots that accompanied WZor's post do not show any major UI changes or, more importantly, any sign of a Start menu.
Update 1 will be a free download for current Windows 8.1 users, WZor said.
According to Thurrott, Update 1 "might be seen as a combination feature pack and service pack, since it will both add new features and rollup previously delivered updates of various kinds." [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Office 2013 SP1
Microsoft said in November that it is planning to deliver the first service pack for Office 2013 sometime in early 2014.
Besides that, Microsoft hasn't said much about Office 2013 SP1 yet, but indicated that it will improve compatibility with Windows 8.1, as well as add "performance enhancements [and] feature updates."
Foley speculates that Microsoft may roll out touch-based Office apps this year as part of the rumored Office "Gemini" update wave. The first Gemini updates -- which were reportedly aimed at Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote -- were originally expected to have a fall 2013 release, though that didn't pan out. Now, Gemini is expected to arrive in the summer of 2014, though Foley says it may arrive even sooner.
"I'm thinking they [touch-centric Office apps] debut alongside Office 2013 Service Pack 1 or shortly thereafter," she wrote in a January Redmond magazine column.
Also on the horizon, according to Foley, are Office apps for Apple iPad and Google Android tablets. Microsoft has not given a specific timeline for when it will launch these tablet apps; in an October interview, outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer would only confirm that Microsoft is working on a touch-centric Office experience for tablets, but would not say when it would become available.
However, the signs point to Microsoft requiring an Office 365 subscription to use Office apps on Android and iPad tablets, "just as it does with the Office Mobile apps for iPhones and Android phones," according to Foley. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Exchange Server 2013 SP1
The first service pack of Exchange Server 2013 will early 2014 alongside the SP1 releases of Office 2013 and SharePoint Server 2013. SP1 will essentially be the fourth cumulative update (CU4) for Exchange 2013, according to Microsoft. CU3 for Exchange 2013 was rolled out in December.
Microsoft outlined a few of the changes coming in Exchange 2013 SP1 late last year. One of the most notable is support for running on Windows Server 2012 R2.
SP1 will also include support for Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) for Outlook Web App (OWA), Outlook and Exchange ActiveSync. Microsoft notes that this S/MIME support will be limited to Internet Explorer 9 or higher, at least at the outset. Microsoft is "looking at the best way to bring this support to other platforms in the future -- but nothing we can share now," the company said.
Beyond SP1's release, Microsoft said it is already working on the next version of Exchange, and that the timing of future Exchange versions will likely follow the usual two- to-three-year release cadence.
Despite Microsoft's ongoing focus on its cloud-based Office 365 suite, the company "has no plans to stop delivering on-premises releases of Exchange," according to Exchange Corporate Vice President Perry Clarke in November. However, new features will likely become available on Office 365 first, Clarke indicated.
"Our development strategy continues to focus on Office 365 as the initial platform where we roll out new features. This approach allows us to introduce and test new features at scale before including relevant functionality into on-premises updates," Clarke said. "The benefits of the strategy can be seen in Exchange 2013, where features such as Managed Availability are directly based on work done to automate and improve our datacenter operations. If you want clues about what's coming in the next version of Exchange Server, keep an eye on what's happening in Office 365." [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
SharePoint Server 2013 SP1
Like Exchange 2013, SharePoint 2013 was unsupported for running on Windows Server 2012 R2. That support will become available when SharePoint 2013 SP1 arrives in early 2014.
SP1 will be a "major update to SharePoint, establishing a new baseline for support, and provides customers the latest in improvements to performance, stability, and security," according to Bill Baer, a senior product manager for SharePoint, in November. Baer also offered assurances that Microsoft will continue to roll out on-premises versions of SharePoint in the future, according to its two- to-three-year release cadence.
Microsoft of late has been very open about its intention to deepen the integration between SharePoint and Yammer, the enterprise social networking company it acquired in 2012 for over $1 billion. Presumably, that integration will become even more apparent with SharePoint 2013 SP1.
Microsoft will likely reveal more about what's coming in SharePoint 2013 SP1 during its annual SharePoint conference, which takes place in early March this year. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Anticipated release: First half of 2015
The next version of Lync Server -- presumably Lync Server 2014, though Microsoft has not confirmed that name yet -- is slated for release in the second quarter of the year, Microsoft said in February 2013.
Integration with Skype has been a prominent facet of Microsoft's plans for Lync since it acquired the VoIP giant in 2011. Last year, Microsoft launched the Lync-to-Skype connectivity feature, enabling instant messaging and audio calls between users of the two products. However, this feature does not yet support video connections; according to Rob Helm, managing vice president at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based independent consultancy, this support for video calls may arrive "by mid-2014."
Helm also speculates that Microsoft may be planning a "merged" Lync-Skype client "that would enable Microsoft and its customers to support both Lync and Skype services with a single client, at least for basic communications services like those covered by the free Lync Basic and Skype clients today."
According to Microsoft, 2014 will bring several features and changes to Lync, including quarterly updates to Lync Online, support for structured meetings and native interoperability with third-party video teleconferencing systems.
The company also said in early 2013 that it is planning to deliver enterprise voice capabilities to Lync Online sometime this year, perhaps in the summer. Microsoft has since axed Lync Online's "hybrid voice" feature as a way of getting enterprise voice, citing lack of interest. However, the company indicated that it has partnered with AT&T, BT and Verizon as service providers for delivering enterprise voice capabilities for organizations. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows Server 2012 R2 Update
To coincide with the availability of Windows 8.1 Update 1, Microsoft in February said it will release a corresponding update to Windows Server 2012 R2 sometime this spring.
Microsoft characterized this forthcoming update as "minor," aimed at delivering bug fixes and UI changes. The update will also include previous update rollups and security patches. Microsoft said its aim is to enable users to access the update without requiring re-certification. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Dynamics CRM 'Leo'
Microsoft's Dynamics CRM product line hit a couple of milestones last year, including the launches of the on-premises Dynamics CRM 2013 and the Microsoft-hosted Dynamics CRM Online Fall '13, as well as the release of Dynamics CRM apps for tablets and smartphones.
Dynamics CRM 2013 features a more improved graphical user interface than its predecessor, as well as enhanced social networking and collaboration capabilities through integration with Microsoft's Skype, Lync and Yammer technologies.
Microsoft so far has said little about its plans for the next major version of Dynamics CRM. However, the company indicated earlier this year that it intends to add cloud-based customer service features into Dynamics CRM using technology acquired from Parature, which Microsoft purchased in January.
In a Dynamics CRM 2013 product preview guide (.PDF) released in September, Microsoft said it is already working on two new Dynamics CRM versions code-named "Leo" and "Vega." Directions on Microsoft's Helm speculates that Leo will be the next major release and that it will arrive in mid-2014.
"Leo will probably deliver out-of-the-box integration with the Parature service, but there could be other customer service improvements, as well," according to Helm. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Dynamics GP 2013 R2
Microsoft said in February that it plans to release the R2 version of its Dynamics GP 2013 enterprise resource planning product (ERP) sometime in the first half of 2014.
Dynamics GP 2013 was last updated in September with SP2. The forthcoming R2 release will bring improvements to functionality, as well as to the product's workflow and identity management capabilities. It will also introduce the product's "first companion apps," according to Microsoft. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Dynamics GP 2015
Microsoft is planning to release two key versions of its Dynamics GP product this year. The first will be the aforementioned Dynamics GP 2013 R2 release, expected sometime in the first half of 2014. The second will be Dynamics GP 2015, which will arrive in the second half of the year.
Microsoft said in February that Dynamics GP 2015 will bring "more functionality, more workflow, more apps and a Service Based Architecture that will be the foundation for the further development of Dynamics GP over the next five years."
The company also said it is moving to a six-month update cycle for Dynamics GP in order to "enhance our new business proposition and bring incremental value to [Business Ready Enhancement Plan] customers on a much more regular basis." [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Dynamics AX 2012 R3
The R3 version of Microsoft's Dynamics AX 2012 ERP product will arrive in April, roughly 16 months after the launch of R2.
Besides an on-premises solution, Microsoft indicated at last November's Convergence EMEA conference that Dynamics NAV 2012 R3 will also be available as a Windows Azure-hosted solution sold through partners. The hosting capability is enabled by Windows Azure Infrastructure Services, which became generally available last spring. Two other Dynamics ERP solutions are available as Windows Azure-hosted services from partners: Dynamics NAV 2013 R2 and Dynamics GP 2013.
Dynamics AX 2012 R3 will feature, among other things, new tools to help organizations interact with customers via mobile devices and social networks, new management capabilities for transportation and warehouse functions, and support for single-instance deployments.
The release will also coincide with an update to Dynamics for Retail, previously Dynamics AX for Retail, Microsoft announced in January. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
SQL Server 2014
Microsoft first announced the next version of its relational database management product, SQL Server 2014, during last June's TechEd conference and made it available as a public preview soon after. At the time, the company said that SQL Server 2014's general availability will closely follow the launches of Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2.
Those two products eventually saw daylight in October, so Microsoft now seems poised to release SQL Server 2014 in the early part of this year. SQL Server 2014 may arrive as early as the first quarter of 2014, according to a December presentation by Paul DeGroot, a founder of Pica Communications and a senior consultant for Sacramento, Calif.-based Software Licensing Advisors.
Currently, SQL Server 2014 is in the Community Technology Preview 2 (CTP2) stage. Released last fall, CTP2 is due to expire at the end of March.
Among the improvements Microsoft is bringing to SQL Server 2014 is integration with Windows Azure for backup and recovery, as well as scalability. The product will also include Microsoft's in-memory online transactional processing (OLTP) technology, previously code-named "Hekaton." [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
SQL Server 2012 SP2
SQL Server 2012 will receive its second service pack update "later this year," Microsoft said in mid-February, though other details have been scant so far.
As RCP's Kurt Mackie noted, SP1 for the product was released in November 2012, during Microsoft's annual PASS Summit event. This year's PASS event is scheduled to kick off on Nov. 4, so it's possible that Microsoft will release SP2 sometime during that week. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows Phone 8.1
Windows Phone 8's third update rolled out last fall, delivering, among other things, support for larger screens and 1080p HD displays. However, the expected Windows Phone 8.1 update should expand that support to even larger devices, if press reports bear out.
Unconfirmed reports have suggested Microsoft has been internally testing Windows Phone 8.1 since at least the second half of 2013. Microsoft hasn't officially disclosed any information about Windows Phone 8.1, but unnamed sources told The Verge in December that the update will debut in April, to coincide with Microsoft's Build 2014 conference. A Tweet in early January by an alleged former Redmond employee suggests Microsoft is currently testing "Milestone 3" of the update.
Whenever Windows Phone 8.1 is released, it should be backward-compatible with Windows Phone 8, according to a Computerworld report in January, citing a Microsoft official. That means Windows Phone 8 users will be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8.1, unlike Windows Phone 7 users who were unable to access Windows Phone 8.
Windows Phone 8.1 will reportedly feature Microsoft's code-named "Cortana" voice assistant technology, which is similar to Apple iPhone's "Siri." Microsoft has been working on a voice assistant for several years now, according to ZDNet's Foley, who expects Windows Phone 8.1 to arrive "before mid-2014."
Other Windows Phone 8.1 features, according to The Verge, include VPN support, a swipe-accessible notification center, and integration between the People Hub and social networking apps like Facebook and Twitter.
In an October report citing unnamed sources, SuperSite for Windows' Thurrott indicated that Windows Phone 8.1 will bring support for 7- to 10-inch "phablet"-sized devices. Additionally, Thurrott said Windows Phone 8.1 will feature universal binaries to enable developers to create apps that work on both Windows RT and Windows Phone 8.1. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Visual Studio 2013 Update 2
Microsoft has been making a concerted effort to pick up the release cadence for many of its products, but the change has been especially obvious in Visual Studio. Visual Studio 2013 was launched in October, roughly a year after the release of Visual Studio 2012. Since Visual Studio 2005, there typically has been a two- to three-year gap between Visual Studio releases, so Visual Studio 2013 coming so soon after its predecessor represented a break in pattern.
Less than two months after Visual Studio 2013's release, Microsoft issued the first release candidate (RC) of Update 1. This first update is expected to only deliver "key bug fixes," according to Microsoft. However, the company plans to release Visual Studio 2013's "first significant 'feature Update'" sometime in the first half of 2014, according to a December blog post by Microsoft Technical Fellow Brian Harry.
Microsoft also debuted Visual Studio Online, described as a "set of finished developer services that run on Windows Azure, and extends the capabilities of Visual Studio," in late 2013. Previously called Team Foundation Service, Visual Studio Online is still technically in the "commercial preview" phase, according to Microsoft, while the company finalizes its billing system. General availability for Visual Studio Online is expected sometime in 2014.
Several Visual Studio Online components are in varying preview stages, as well. They include "Monaco," a browser-based development tool for building Windows Azure sites, which is available as a preview. Also, "Application Insights," a service for monitoring data on application usage and health, is available in limited preview. Both features were updated in December as part of Visual Studio Online's first sprint deployment. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Power BI for Office 365
Power BI for Office 365, Microsoft's self-service data analysis and visualization solution, is set to become generally available in the early part of this year, a Microsoft spokesperson indicated January.
First announced at last summer's Worldwide Partner Conference, Power BI is currently available as a free preview, though Microsoft recently posted pricing details for when the product does reach general availability.
Power BI essentially lets users analyze and visualize data in graphic form through a combination of Excel, Excel add-ins and Office 365. Microsoft has already updated the preview several times -- among other changes, a September update added 2-D mapping and geography-based color coding to the Power Map component, while a December update enhanced the search capabilities of the Power Query feature. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Azure RemoteApp ('Mohoro')
Official information on Microsoft's rumored Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solution code-named "Mohoro" is still sparse, but ZDNet's Foley reported in mid-2013 that the solution should be ready for release in the second half of this year. As of last May, Mohoro was still in the early stages of development, according to press reports.
Mohoro has been described as a Windows Azure-hosted version of RemoteApp Manager, Microsoft's solution that enables a user to access a program hosted in a remote PC as if it were running on that user's own desktop.
Foley noted that Mohoro could give Windows RT users an easy way to access legacy Windows applications. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
Anticipated release: Second half of 2015
"Threshold" is the internal code name for an update wave Microsoft is rumored to be developing for Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox One. According to Supersite for Windows' Thurrott, Threshold will have an April 2015 release, though he says Microsoft will officially announce the product about a year earlier, at this year's Build conference.
"A couple of my contacts have confirmed that Microsoft Executive Vice President Terry Myerson recently mentioned the Threshold codename in an internal email about plans for his unified operating-system engineering group," ZDNet's Foley reported in December. "If all goes according to early plans, Threshold will include updates to all three OS platforms (Xbox One, Windows and Windows Phone) that will advance them in a way to share even more common elements."
According to Foley, Threshold will have three SKUs. From an article by RCP's Kurt Mackie, the SKUs Foley described are:
- "Modern Consumer SKU: A frequently updated WinRT operating system supporting 'modern' or Windows Store Apps on ARM-based machines, as well as possibly Intel-based ones, but not focused on Win32 'legacy' apps.
- "Traditional Consumer SKU: A frequently updated operating system optimized to support the use of a keyboard and mouse combination.
- "Traditional Enterprise SKU: A traditional desktop OS capable of running Windows Store Apps that isn't frequently updated through the Windows Store and that will only be offered to organizations opting for volume licensing."
Thurrott speculated last December that Microsoft will release Threshold after Windows Phone 8.1's rumored April rollout, and that the company will unify the Windows Phone and Windows RT platforms sometime afterward. Meanwhile, The Verge has reported that Microsoft is considering offering free versions of Windows Phone and Windows RT to its hardware partners as part of the Threshold wave.
Thurrott, who has said that Threshold will officially be called "Windows 9" and have three pre-release milestones, reported on two features that will be part of the update, based on information from unnamed sources: the return of the Start menu, and the ability to run Windows Store apps (or what Microsoft used to call "Metro" apps) inside windows on the desktop. [BACK TO 2014 PRODUCT LIST]
<< 2015 Roadmap Archive
2013 Roadmap Archive >>
2013 Product Roadmap Archive
The following products were featured in our 2013 Microsoft Product Roadmap. Click on a product name to jump to that section.
• Windows 8.1
• Office 2013
• Office 365
• SharePoint 2010 SP2
• SharePoint 2013
• Exchange Server 2010 SP3
• Exchange Server 2013
• Windows Phone 8.1
• Lync Server 2013
• Windows Embedded 8
• BizTalk Server 2013
• Dynamics CRM 2013
• Dynamics ERP
• Visual Studio 2012 Update 2
• Discontinued Products
Microsoft launched its newest OS in late 2012 in two distinct flavors (Windows 8 for x86/x64 devices and Windows RT for ARM-based devices) and with two distinct UIs (the more-familiar Desktop mode and the new tile-based UI). While the Desktop mode supports traditional keyboard-and-mouse computing, Windows 8 was primarily designed for touch-based systems.
With Microsoft staking its mobile-device fortunes on Windows 8, Directions on Microsoft predicts the company will speed up its release cycle for the OS to better compete with the two tablet stalwarts -- Apple iOS and Google Android. To that end, the firm speculated that R2 versions for both Windows 8 and Windows RT will appear sometime in 2013.
"A faster release pace, with fewer features in each release and a strong emphasis on the new tablet application platform and user interface, could help Microsoft quickly work out the kinks in its tablet platform and close the initial lead of its competitors," the firm said in its report.
Longtime Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley offers a more specific time frame: A major Windows 8 update may appear this summer or fall in the form of "Windows Blue," she reported recently. Originally rumored to be a free or low-cost interim release, Blue will in fact be a "wave" of closely timed updates to multiple products, Foley reported in early February, citing "one very accurate tipster."
The Blue update will span Windows, Windows Phone, Windows Server, and Windows Services like Hotmail and SkyDrive, according to Foley's report. To speed up the update process, Microsoft may opt to push Blue to users via the Windows Store rather than release it to manufacturers, she wrote. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
All versions of the next-generation Microsoft productivity suite, previously code-named "Office 15," are scheduled to become available to consumers in March (Web site Neowin.net pegs the date at March 31 based on a secondhand conversation with a Microsoft support employee). However, Microsoft volume license customers and TechNet and MSDN subscribers have been able to access some Office 2013 versions of the suite since late last year, while Windows RT devices have been shipping with free preview versions of Office Home & Student 2013 RT since launch. Additionally, two editions -- Office Professional 2013 and Office Home & Business 2013 -- were released at the end of January to small businesses.
Native Office 2013 apps for Android and iOS have also been rumored for a March release, according to Web site TheVerge.com, citing a Microsoft product manager's statement to a Czech Web site last October. However, Microsoft has called that Czech report "inaccurate."
Office 2013 is more cloud-enabled than previous versions -- users will have access to the Microsoft cloud-based SkyDrive storage service, for example -- and also features a touch-centric Ribbon UI. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
Released for Open Volume Licensing 2/27
On the Office 365 end, the suite will become available to the Open Volume Licensing program on March 1, according to a blog post earlier this year from Microsoft Sales Excellence Program Manager Eric Ligman. The Office 365 Open licensing program -- which would let Microsoft partners directly bill their customers for use of the suite as well as bundle it with other services -- was first announced at last summer's Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.
Consumer versions of Office 365 -- Office 365 Home Premium and Office 365 University -- hit general availability at the end of January. Also available at that time were traditional perpetual-license suites, including Office Home & Student 2013, Office Home & Business 2013 and Office Professional 2013. Versions for businesses -- Office 365 Enterprise, Office 365 Small Business and Office 365 Midsize Business -- were expected at press time to become available for purchase on the Web on Feb. 27.
Besides a new tile-based UI, Microsoft updated Office 365 with a new subscription-based pricing plan for consumers, a shift from the traditional perpetual-licensing model. "Instead of buying a copy of Office once every four years or so for a single PC or Mac, small businesses and consumers will be able to buy it once a year for five PCs or Macs," explained RCP's Kurt Mackie. "Incentives under the subscription model include the ability to run Office on up to five PCs or Macs -- or any combination of the two, according to a Microsoft spokesperson; increased Microsoft SkyDrive online storage; and the assurance of having the most up-to-date Office software."
A senior Microsoft PR manager within the Office Division said the company plans to update Office 365 more frequently than it has in the past. "We'll be releasing [Office 365] updates at a much more regular basis," the PR manager said. "Much more frequently -- multiple times per year." [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
SharePoint 2010 SP2
Microsoft rolled out the first service pack for SharePoint 2010 back in June 2011, adding browser support and support for the then-code-named SQL Server "Denali" (now SQL Server 2012). Since then, there has been near-radio silence on the next SharePoint service pack, but in January Microsoft reportedly invited select testers to test-drive the SharePoint 2010 SP2 beta, according to WinBeta.org.
Directions on Microsoft expects the SharePoint 2010 SP2 to arrive sometime in the second quarter, according to its report. It will be a "catch-up" release, designed to enable SharePoint 2010 to run on Windows Server 2012. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
Like Office 2013, SharePoint 2013 has been available to Microsoft volume licensees and TechNet and MSDN subscribers since late 2012, with general availability expected in March. Microsoft has touted the new version's social networking hooks -- via technology the company acquired from last year's $1.2 billion Yammer purchase -- as a major selling point.
"With the new SharePoint release, customers can connect Yammer via Yammer Web parts and Yammer's new Enterprise Graph feature. Launched [in September 2012], Yammer Enterprise Graph connects data, people and conversations across business applications," explained RCP Executive Editor Jeffrey Schwartz, reporting from the keynote presentation during last fall's SharePoint Conference.
In addition to the social networking features, the new SharePoint will provide storage and synchronization via SkyDrive Pro, which will replace the old SharePoint Workspaces feature. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
Exchange Server 2010 SP3
Microsoft plans to release the third service pack for Exchange Server 2010 sometime during the first half of 2013, more than a year after issuing Exchange Server 2010 SP2. As with SharePoint 2010 SP2, Directions on Microsoft calls this update for Exchange Server 2010 a catch-up release. Microsoft has indicated that Exchange Server 2010 SP3 will enable the product to run on Windows Server 2012, as well as enable migration to and coexistence with Exchange Server 2013.
The third service pack is already being tested by select participants, according to Microsoft MVP J. Peter Bruzzese last September. Additionally, Bruzzese indicated that Exchange Server 2010 SP3 will be the last update for Exchange Server 2010. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
Exchange Server 2013
Like Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013, Exchange Server 2013 has been available to Microsoft volume licensees and TechNet and MSDN subscribers since late 2012, with general availability expected in March.
Microsoft has outlined a few of the new features in the forthcoming version. Exchange Server 2013 will feature improved usability, including centralized role-based access control, out-of-the-box malware protection, and compliance and e-discovery capabilities. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows Phone 8.1
Anticipated release: 2014
The next incremental update to the flagship Microsoft smartphone OS is rumored to be called "Apollo Plus" (a throwback to the pre-release code name for Windows Phone 8, "Apollo"), according to a report from TheVerge.com last November citing unnamed sources. At the time, TheVerge.com said Microsoft planned to preview the update during the Mobile World Congress event, which took place in Barcelona, Spain, at end of February. Keep in mind, though, if the aforementioned Windows-wide Blue rumors are correct, the final version of the update may not be released until summer or fall.
New features to expect with the update include Virtual Private Network (VPN) support, improvements to audio and a fix to ensure always-on Wi-Fi, according to TheVerge.com.
An earlier incremental update called "Portico" was pushed out to Windows Phone 8 users starting late last year, the first for the mobile OS. That update included improvements to messaging and browsing, according to Microsoft. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
Lync Server 2013
Microsoft issued the release-to-manufacturing version of Lync 2013 in October 2012. Company spokespersons have indicated that the Lync 2013 product will be available sometime in the first half of 2013. The new Lync 2013 client has a tile-based UI and will work on an iPhone, iPad or Android device, along with Windows devices. Lync 2013 will get federation with Skype, the voice-over-IP telephony service that Microsoft acquired in May 2011.
The new Lync server also will have more social networking integration, and, by using identity technology, will support Facebook or LinkedIn. For instance, it will be more user friendly with Microsoft Office. There will be quick-link icons in the Lync client for quickly starting an IM session or phone call.
Just how Microsoft's Yammer acquisition will fit with Lync social networking capabilities hasn't been publicly clarified as yet by the company. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows Embedded 8
The next versions of the Microsoft OS for specialized mobile devices -- including, for example, point-of-sale (POS) systems for retailers -- are all expected to become generally available in the first half of 2013, Microsoft said in January. This follows the company's announcement in November that Windows Embedded 8 Standard and Windows Embedded 8 Pro would both become available in March (the former was released as a preview version in the fall of 2012).
Another product, Windows Embedded 8 Industry (a replacement for the older Windows Embedded POSReady), was made available in January as a release preview.
Meanwhile, Windows Embedded Compact 2013, based on the Windows CE kernel, will reach general availability in the second quarter, according to the November Microsoft roadmap. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
BizTalk Server 2013
The final release of BizTalk Server 2013, the next version of the Microsoft integration and connectivity server, will arrive in the first quarter, Microsoft announced in January. The beta was issued in November, amid expectations that the final version would appear in late April. According to the product's release notes, BizTalk Server 2013 will be available both on-premises as a server or as a cloud-based product via Windows Azure. The on-premises version will include connectors to link BizTalk Server applications to the cloud.
As RCP's Mackie wrote at the time of the beta release: "The beta adds support for Windows Server 2012, SQL Server 2012 and Visual Studio 2012, as well as 'new IBM systems,' according to the Microsoft blog post announcement. Microsoft is promising transaction integration with solutions from Oracle, SAP and Microsoft (Dynamics and SharePoint)." [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
Dynamics CRM 2013
The most recent service update to the Microsoft customer relationship management (CRM) suite began rolling out to users in December, part of a series of Dynamics releases to come at the end of the year. Around that same time, Microsoft also revealed that it's working on a Windows 8 Dynamics CRM app, with a target release date in the middle of the year. The app would "deliver a unique experience for managing sales processes by providing customers with seamless and intuitive access to key information," Microsoft said in November.
Microsoft also said it would deliver on its promise to provide mobile support for Dynamics CRM in a forthcoming update. A spokesperson for the company said in December that Microsoft would reveal more about its Dynamics CRM mobile plans during the Convergence conference taking place in March in New Orleans. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
Released for Windows Azure-hosted versions 6/18
Microsoft refreshed several of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) products in the last quarter of 2012 -- namely, Dynamics NAV 2013, Dynamics AX 2012 R2 and Dynamics GP 2013. However, notably absent from each release was a corresponding Windows Azure-hosted version. Microsoft had announced back in early 2011 that it planned to deliver its Dynamics products as Windows Azure-hosted services, starting with Dynamics ERP.
In a December interview with Foley, Errol Schoenfish, director of product management at Microsoft, said that Windows Azure-hosted versions of Dynamics NAV and Dynamics GP will arrive in mid-2013. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
Visual Studio 2012 Update 2
The second community technology preview (CTP) of Visual Studio 2012 Update 2 was released at the end of January, just two months after the final release of Update 1. The updates, which are taking the place of service packs for Visual Studio, mark major feature additions and improvements. Update 1 in large part was designed to support development for the new Windows 8 OS. So far, Update 2 looks to be focused on application lifecycle management (ALM) improvements.
Microsoft so far hasn't given any indication as to when the final Update 2 will be released. However, Foley noted that, like other products in the Microsoft portfolio this year, Visual Studio 2012 will see a more accelerated product release cycle. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
End of the Road
Microsoft is discontinuing these products in 2013.
Windows Live Messenger: March 15, 2013 is the last day for the long-running Microsoft IM service. Microsoft announced in November that it will transition the millions of Messenger users -- except for those in mainland China -- to Skype, which it acquired in 2011 for $8.5 billion.
Expression Suite: Microsoft Expression Design 4 and Expression Web 4 developer tools are the last versions of their lines, Microsoft said in December. The tools are available only as free downloads. [BACK TO 2013 PRODUCT LIST]
<< 2014 Roadmap Archive
2012 Roadmap Archive >>
2012 Product Roadmap Archive
The following products were featured in our 2012 Microsoft Product Roadmap. Click on a product name to jump to that section:
• Windows 8
• Windows Server 2012
• System Center 2012
• SQL Server 2012
• Internet Explorer 10
• Office 2013
• Exchange 2013
• Visual Studio 2012
• Kinect for Windows
• Windows Phone "Tango" and 8
• Dynamics ERP Online
• Office 365
• Windows Azure
• SharePoint 2013
"Windows 8," the code name for Microsoft's next-generation desktop OS that's currently available as a "developer preview," had a banner year in 2011, even though it isn't expected to be released to hardware manufacturers until the third quarter of 2012, at the earliest.
Throughout the fall of 2011, Microsoft stoked the public's appetite for the new OS through its "Building Windows 8" blog series, where members of the Windows 8 development team described the OS in dribs and drabs. Early that year, at the January Computer Electronics Show, Microsoft had revealed that Windows 8 would support ARM hardware, as well as x86 system-on-chip designs. At last summer's Computex and D9 shows, Microsoft treated attendees to Windows 8 demos, but the developer preview version released during the Microsoft BUILD conference in September was many people's first close-up look at the OS (see our January feature, "The Hardware Behind Windows 8"). During BUILD, Microsoft touted Windows 8 as a "reimagining" of traditional Windows OSes.
The Windows 8 touch-centric, tile-based UI is, indeed, a drastic departure from the file-based interfaces of past Windows desktop OSes, reflecting the company's focus on developing a single OS for both tablets and PCs. Many of Microsoft's partners have expressed excitement over the radical new look of Windows 8, and the new UI's similarity to the Microsoft Windows Phone smartphone platform could give the company the advantage of a unified ecosystem with appeal to both consumers and enterprise users.
However, the success of Windows 8 in the tablet market isn't close to being a lock. For instance, while Gartner Inc. projects gangbuster growth for the overall tablet market through 2015, it expects Windows tablets to comprise less than 11 percent of the worldwide tablet market that year -- making it a distant third to the more deeply entrenched Apple iPad and Google Android tablets. Furthermore, a study by Forrester Research Inc. suggests that Microsoft's late entry into the tablet market has cost it the interest of consumers already. IDC piled on with a report late last year that projected, "Windows 8 will be largely irrelevant to the users of traditional PCs, and we expect effectively no upgrade activity from Windows 7 to Windows 8 in that form factor."
Some of the questions surrounding Windows 8 might be answered in late February, when Microsoft said it plans to release Windows 8 as a beta. The timing of the beta release coincides with the launch of the Windows App Store, a marketplace for developers to sell Metro-style Windows 8 apps. Microsoft says participation in the app store will cost individual developers $49 per year and companies $99 per year. Microsoft will take a 30 percent cut from apps that generate less than $25,000 in revenue, and 20 percent for apps that generate more than $25,000. [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows Server 2012
Microsoft first showed off one feature of its next-generation server, code-named "Windows Server 8," during the 2011 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Los Angeles last July. However, the server's first public discussion happened in the sidelines, not at the WPC keynote. A screenshot was presented during a Day 2 WPC session titled, "Realizing Your Opportunity in the Cloud."
Microsoft provided more details about Windows Server 8 cloud hooks during the BUILD conference a few months later, where it released a developer preview version for MSDN subscribers. Satya Nadella, president of the Microsoft Server & Tools Business, called it "the most cloud-optimized OS" in Microsoft's stable since Windows Azure. As Jeffrey Snover, lead architect for Windows Server, later elaborated in a TechNet blog post: "In the past, Windows Server was a great OS for a server and its devices. Windows Server 8 is a great OS for lots of servers and all the devices connecting them whether they are physical or virtual, on-premise or off-premise." [Emphases Snover's. --Ed.]
Windows Server 8 supports direct-attached storage (even "just-a-bunch-of-disks" [JBOD] collections) as well as external storage networks. The standards-based Storage Management Initiative (SMI-S) and the new Microsoft Storage Management API (SMAPI) protocols are both supported in Windows Server 8. Microsoft is putting a heavy emphasis on running the Server Core version of Windows Server 8, with management via Windows PowerShell because it better supports automating tasks. However, Windows Server 8 will also toggle back to a trimmed-down traditional GUI.
The forthcoming server will also include improvements to the live migration feature, which was first introduced in Windows Server 2008 R2. Live migration lets users move virtual machines (VMs) from one computer to another with limited service interruption. Likewise, improvements to the Server Message Block 2.2 (SMB 2.2) protocol were designed to better ensure availability.
Microsoft hasn't given any details about the Windows Server 8 release timeline, but it shares a common code base with Windows 8. Consequently, it's possible that the release schedule for the two OSes might be close or perhaps a few months apart. [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
System Center 2012
Last March, Microsoft unveiled the next iteration of its System Center product family. At the time, Microsoft said that final versions of most of the System Center 2012 products should be available by the end of 2011. However, as of this writing, the products are still in various test versions. According to Foley, in a conference last September, Nadella publicly pushed back the expected release date for System Center 2012 to the "early part of calendar 2012."
The following System Center 2012 components are available as release candidates (RCs):
- Configuration Manager
- Endpoint Protection (previously called "Forefront Endpoint Protection 2012")
- Virtual Machine Manager
- Operations Manager
The following System Center 2012 products are currently in the beta stage
- App Controller
- Service Manager
- Data Protection Manager
Microsoft detailed several improvements to some of the System Center products, which are aimed at helping organizations manage the various hardware and software running in their datacenters. For starters, Data Protection Manager features better integration with SharePoint, support for de-duplication, and centralized backup and protection capabilities.
For Operations Manager, the product now integrates with AVIcode technology, acquired by Microsoft in 2010, which monitors the performance of .NET applications. The new version also features an improved dashboard and pooled management servers. Additionally, Microsoft reduced the product's reliance on higher-end hardware, helping decrease total cost of ownership.
Orchestrator is an enterprise runbook automation solution based on technology that Microsoft acquired with its 2009 purchase of Opalis Software. The new solution now includes a runbook designer to help with automating IT procedures, such as coordinating outside services.
Virtual Machine Manager got its fair share of enhancements, as well. In addition to working with Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware vSphere 4.1, the product now supports Citrix XenServer. Virtual Machine Manager also features what Microsoft calls "dynamic optimization," which lets users assign workloads to VMs on an as-needed basis. [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
SQL Server 2012
The next-generation Microsoft relational database management system officially dropped the "Denali" code name late last year. SQL Server 2012, as it's now known, is currently available as an RC. It's expected to become generally available during the first half of 2012 in three versions: Enterprise, Business Intelligence and Standard.
Microsoft has lately touted a feature in SQL Server 2012 called "Always On," which is the Microsoft branding for disaster recovery and high-availability (HA) features in SQL Server. Always On "allows customers to experience multiple, readable secondaries for distributed scale of reporting and backup workloads and support for FileTable and FILESTREAM, which brings first-class HA to complex data types," according to Microsoft. Another new feature is the ability to create so-called "availability groups," or groups of databases to which users can assign failovers to move.
Other new features include enhancements to the browser-based business intelligence graphing feature called Power View and improved private-cloud multitenancy management capabilities.
Also late last year, Microsoft outlined the SQL Server 2012 licensing plan, which, in typical Microsoft fashion, is somewhat convoluted. As RCP's Kurt Mackie wrote, "The new SQL Server 2012 licensing model is based on an organization's computing power, number of users and use of virtualization. Beyond that, the devil lurks in the details."
The biggest licensing change is the switch from counting processors to counting cores, with four cores per processor being the minimum licensing basis. Organizations running SQL Server 2012 with virtualization can either license VMs based on core licenses, or they can do so based on server plus CALs. Only organizations running the Enterprise edition with Software Assurance are eligible for the maximum possible virtualization (that is, a limitless number of VMs). [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Internet Explorer 10
The next version of the Microsoft Web browser is currently on its fourth platform preview version (the third platform preview was included in the Windows 8 developer preview released at BUILD). Following Microsoft's tendency to tie its browser releases with desktop OS releases, the final version of Internet Explorer 10 is expected to ship with Windows 8, sometime between the third quarter of 2012 and early 2013.
Internet Explorer 10 is designed to run on both Windows 8 and its predecessor, Windows 7. However, it appears that Windows Vista will not support it, which could be due to Windows Vista being scheduled to lose "mainstream support" this coming April.
Building on the HTML5 capabilities in Internet Explorer 9, which was released as a final version in early 2011, the latest platform preview for Internet Explorer 10 includes support for text captions in HTML5-encoded video streams, a feature Microsoft calls "track captioning." This latest version also features improved rendering speeds.
Internet Explorer 10 will be touch-enabled on Windows 8. When running on the Windows 8 classic "desktop" interface, Internet Explorer 10 will support Silverlight 5, the latest and possibly last version of the Microsoft framework for developing rich Internet applications. However, Microsoft said that Internet Explorer 10 on the new Metro interface in Windows 8 will not support browser plug-ins, including Silverlight. [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Anticipated release date: Q1 2013
Microsoft has been talking about the next iteration of its flagship office productivity suite, code-named "Office 15," since late 2009. In late 2010, Gurdeep Singh Pall, then-corporate vice president of the Microsoft Office Lync and Speech Group and currently the corporate vice president of the Information Platform and Experience Group, told RCP in a Q&A:
"The next major wave for us is the Office 15 wave, which will have the next version of Exchange, the next version of SharePoint, the next version of Office apps and the next version of Lync. The expectation now is, what are the scenarios that can cut across all these different workloads and provide even deeper value for the customers. So that is a big piece of 15."
Microsoft hasn't dropped any explicit hints about when a final version of Office 15 will be released, but the Web site WinRumors.com, citing "sources familiar with the company's plans," reported in November that Microsoft was planning to release an Office 15 beta in late January.
Furthermore, there are several suggestions that the next version of Office will be optimized for the Windows 8 Metro interface. In March and April of last year, leaked images allegedly of Office 15 showed a Metro-styled Outlook interface. More directly, in September, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told financial analysts at the BUILD conference that "you ought to expect that we're rethinking and working hard on what it would mean to do Office Metro style" in response to a question about Office on Windows 8.
Besides the new look and feel, Office 15 will reportedly include at least one other major change: a new application, code-named "Moorea." Based on yet more allegedly leaked Office 15 images last April, Mary Jo Foley, the longtime Microsoft watcher and columnist for RCP sister magazine, Redmond, wrote, "Moorea looks and feels a lot like the Office Labs 'Canvas for OneNote' app that Microsoft was testing a while back. Canvas for OneNote allows users to navigate, edit and display their OneNote notebooks in new ways." [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Microsoft has revealed few concrete details about the product code-named "Exchange 15." With regard to timing, Singh Pall asserted that the next version of Exchange will coincide with the Office 15 release.
Kevin Allison, general manager of Exchange Customer Experience at Microsoft, suggested that Exchange 15 will follow the Exchange 2010 focus of giving users more control and freeing up administrators to perform more critical tasks.
"I think you'll see the same thing relative to 15," Allison told Windows IT Pro 's B.K. Winstead during an interview at the Microsoft Exchange Connections conference last November. Allison also said that having to develop both the on-premises Exchange server product and the hosted Exchange Online service that's part of Office 365 presents a "challenge" to the usual Microsoft product release cycle. It could result in major product versions being released faster.
Although Microsoft hasn't disclosed a timeline, Winstead speculated that a public beta of Exchange 15 could become available mid-2012, with a final release coming close to the year's end. [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Visual Studio 2012
According to a blog by Jason Zander, Visual Studio corporate vice president, "this release adds support for Windows 8 and HTML5, enabling you to target platforms across devices, services and the cloud."
The Visual Studio 11 developer preview is set to expire on June 30, 2012. Microsoft has not revealed when future test versions or a final version will be made available. [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Kinect for Windows
Kinect, the Xbox gaming console add-on for motion-tracking and voice control, reached a landmark in March last year when it became the fastest-selling consumer electronics product in history, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
In November, on the heels of releasing the second beta of the Kinect software development kit (SDK), Microsoft announced that it will launch the Kinect for Windows commercial program for developers during the early part of 2012. Microsoft also later confirmed that it's working on Windows-specific Kinect hardware. During his Consumer Electronics Show keynote on Jan. 9, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced that the availability date for Kinect for Windows would be Feb. 1.
The Windows-specific hardware is designed to accurately motion-track objects as close as 50 centimeters away. Additionally, a new "Near Mode" feature will open the door to applications designed for close-up scenarios.
"Currently, we have more than 200 companies taking part in our pilot program," wrote Kinect for Windows General Manager Craig Eisler in an MSDN blog post. "Putting the power of Kinect + Windows into the hands of business leaders and technical visionaries will give them the tools they need to develop novel solutions for everything from training employees to visualizing data, from configuring a car to managing an assembly line." [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows Phone 'Tango' and 8
Windows Phone 8: Released
Last year was a rough one for the Microsoft Windows Phone platform, which went from an already-low market share to an even lower one. The "Mango" update, released in October, was generally an improvement, but Microsoft still closed 2011 languishing at or near the bottom of the smartphone market standings.
This past December, an allegedly leaked Windows Phone roadmap that was posted on the site WMPoweruser.com suggests that there are two Windows Phone updates coming down the pipeline this year. The first, code-named "Tango," appears to be scheduled for Q2 2012 and is targeted at lower-cost devices. The second update, code-named "Apollo" and scheduled for Q4, appears to be more substantial and is aimed at higher end devices.
Microsoft has remained mum about both updates. At any rate, there have been rumblings of an update named Tango since last summer and of a late-2012 Apollo update since December 2010. [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Dynamics ERP Online
Dynamics NAV 2013: Released
Dynamics AX 2012 R2: Released
Anticipated Dynamics GP 2013: Released
Microsoft kicked off last year's Convergence conference in April with an announcement that, to many, seemed a long time coming: The company's entire Dynamics portfolio will eventually become available as cloud-based services running on Windows Azure. The ERP products will follow the example of Dynamics CRM Online, which in the 2011 edition shipped slightly ahead of its twin on-premises version.
The first of the ERP products to launch with a cloud version will be Dynamics NAV, code-named "NAV 7." Microsoft said last year that Windows Azure-based NAV will be released in September or October 2012 and that it will "ship with a Web browser capability -- users (whether they're running NAV on-premises or in the cloud) will be able to access the product with nothing more than Internet Explorer 9 on their desktop."
Microsoft also announced that the forthcoming version 7 of Dynamics AX will follow in the footsteps of CRM Online in that the cloud-based version will be released before the on-premises version. Microsoft hasn't given a timeline for this release, but some estimates put it at 2014. [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Anticipated update schedule: "Almost weekly"
Office 365, the Microsoft cloud-based productivity suite, launched only last summer, succeeding the earlier Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite offerings. Meanwhile, the company has been rolling out Office 365 updates almost continuously since September. In a January post on the Office 365 blog, Loryan Strant, an Office 365 Most Valuable Professional, noted that "we're now seeing updates and new features being implemented almost on a weekly basis." Microsoft hasn't given any indications about when the next major update will be, although Strant did, adding, "There's also a few other improvements in the works and beta programs which I'm prohibited from disclosing."
The first major update rollout to Office 365 was released just this past November. Notable changes included the addition of Business Connectivity Services (BCS) in SharePoint Online, support for Windows Phone 7.5 in SharePoint Online, support for Lync for Mac and the Mac OS X Lion, and the ability for administrators to reset their passwords by e-mail or SMS text message.
Last month, Microsoft announced that it's expanding the capabilities of the Office 365 entry-level "Kiosk" edition, which Jesper Osgaard, senior partner technology advisor at Microsoft, said in a blog post is aimed at "'deskless' workers, shift workers or retail store employees who use shared PCs." Exchange Online for Kiosk edition now has 1GB of storage instead of 500MB and is enabled with Exchange ActiveSync for smartphones. Additionally, Microsoft is now allowing "Exchange Online Archiving (EOA) ... to be offered as an add-on to any Exchange Online plan, including Kiosk and Exchange Plan 1," Osgaard wrote. [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Rumored CTP release: Spring 2012
Microsoft has been a little guarded concerning its Windows Azure cloud computing platform plans for this year. Nevertheless, according to Foley, "The emphasis going into 2012 seems to be on convincing users that they don't have to create Azure cloud apps from scratch (which has been Microsoft's message up to this point). Instead, Microsoft is making it so users can more easily bring existing apps to the cloud and/or bridge their on-premises apps with Azure apps."
A few updates to Windows Azure were described by Microsoft in late in 2011. Microsoft said it had cut data transfer costs, boosted open source interoperability and added a SQL Azure federation feature.
Possibly, Microsoft might roll out a CTP of Windows Azure in spring 2012 that will allow Windows Azure customers to run Linux, but that's based on an as-yet-unconfirmed report. Such a move would potentially pit Windows Azure more directly against other major cloud providers, such as Rackspace and Amazon Web Services, which already let customers run Linux servers. [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Anticipated Release Date: Q1 2013
The current iteration of Microsoft's collaboration platform, SharePoint 2010, is nearly two years old as of this writing. While Microsoft boasts 65 million licenses sold for SharePoint 2010, the product has been criticized for its complexity and user interface, among other things (see "What's Wrong with SharePoint?").
Microsoft is set to address some of these criticisms with the new version of SharePoint, code-named "SharePoint 15," which -- like Microsoft's other "15" products, "Office 15" and "Exchange 15" -- is expected to be released by year's end. Currently, SharePoint 15 is available as a technical preview to select users, with a public beta slated for this summer.
Though Microsoft has been tight-lipped about what changes to expect with SharePoint 15, reports indicate that the new version will include support for multitenant installations and a brand-new SharePoint Apps Marketplace. Additionally, Foley has said that Microsoft is developing an education-specific app for SharePoint 15 called "Office for Education 15."
"Because it is based on SharePoint, the app has a heavy collaboration focus," Foley wrote in a March blog post. "It is designed to allow users to share documents, build Web sites for specific classes and groups and create repositories of associated resources. Documents in these repositories can be rights-protected and can be searched for and checked out within the app." [BACK TO 2012 PRODUCT LIST]
Kurt Mackie contributed to the 2012 Microsoft Product Roadmap.
<< 2013 Roadmap Archive
2011 Roadmap Archive >>
2011 Product Roadmap Archive
The following products were featured in our 2011 Microsoft Product Roadmap. Click on a product name to jump to that section:
• Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2011
• Windows Home Server
• Windows Intune
• Dynamics CRM 11
• Dynamics SL 2011
• Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012
• Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010 R2
• Windows MultiPoint Server 2011
• Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials
• Internet Explorer 9
• Silverlight 5
• Visual Studio LightSwitch
Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2011
The 64-bit software, formerly known by its code name, Windows SBS "7," was initially made available as a "public preview" back in July. Now the code is being imaged by Microsoft's server hardware partners, which will include Acer Inc., Dell Inc., Fujitsu Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co. and others, according to a Microsoft blog post in December. When released, Windows SBS 2011 Standard will offer management, backup and restore capabilities, network and client security, plus remote access to e-mail, calendar and contacts data for organizations with up to 75 users.
Microsoft also announced in December that the Windows SBS 2011 Premium Add-on software was released to manufacturing (RTM). The Premium Add-on is a supplement available for both Windows SBS 2011 Standard and Windows SBS 2011 Essentials (formerly code-named "Aurora"). It adds "support for SQL Server-based LOB [line-of-business] applications and access to Window Server 2008 R2 technologies," according to a Microsoft description, as well as remote desktop services and virtualization through Hyper-V.
The December RTM announcement did not specify when these two server products would be available on hardware. However, Microsoft earlier suggested that Windows SBS 2011 Standard would be available in February 2011 through systems builders and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
The retail price for the SBS 2011 Standard product is expected to be $1,096 plus Client Access License (CAL) costs of about $72. The retail price for the Premium Add-on product is expect to be $1,604 plus CAL costs of about $92.
Windows SBS used to be part of a two-part offering with Windows Essential Business Server (EBS). However, in April, Microsoft killed off EBS, which was designed to support midsize organizations of 75 to 300 users. On June 30, Microsoft ended the availability and development of the EBS product. [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows Home Server
Microsoft back in August released a "preview build" of Windows Home Server (WHS) code-named "Vail" to test participants. Since then, HP disclosed it would not release a server based on WHS. HP was regarded as a leading WHS partner, and its withdrawal from the roster appeared to be a major blow to the product's prospects.
The "preview build" of WHS Vail provides backup and storage capabilities for home and small business users, but it omits many other useful server features, such as out-of-the-box printer support and terminal server support for remote access.
In November, Microsoft announced that it was removing the "drive extender" feature from WHS, which lets users easily pool multiple hard drives into a single volume without having to resort to RAID approach, which isn't supported in WHS Vail. The removal of support for drive extender by Microsoft caused an uproar among WHS users.
"Microsoft continues to work on delivering 'Vail' to our customers," Microsoft said in a blog post. "We are working very closely with our partners such as Acer, Tranquil and many systems builders to bring the best solution to market."
Microsoft did explain its decision to remove drive extender. A blog post hints that Microsoft's OEM partners may offer some sort of "storage management and protection solutions" offerings, presumably instead of drive extender. The blog states that "target product availability is still H1 2011, and we expect to deliver a new beta without drive extender for Windows Home Server Code Name 'Vail' early in the New Year." [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows Intune is a cloud-based version of the desktop-management capabilities customers could previously get by deploying Microsoft System Center technologies. Rather than hosting a System Center server on-premises and managing desktops from the server, administrators using Windows Intune load a client onto the desktops.
Administrators can access via a browser the management software and tools in the cloud and manage and secure those desktops through the cloud. In addition to the product features, the monthly subscription will include upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise for every covered desktop and an option to buy the otherwise hard-to-get Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP).
When the first limited beta of Windows Intune arrived in April of last year, Microsoft described it almost exclusively as a midmarket IT-focused offering, with a slightly lower-end core audience than the System Center suite of products reaches. Core capabilities of Windows Intune include the ability to centrally manage the deployment of updates and service packs to PCs, manage protection of PCs through the Microsoft Malware Protection Engine, receive alerts that help administrators proactively monitor PCs, provide remote assistance, track hardware and software inventory, and set security policies.
For users familiar with other Microsoft product families, Windows Intune combines a Web-based management console with the desktop malware protection and reporting of the Microsoft Forefront Protection Suite and the update management and hardware/software/licensing inventory capabilities of Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 or System Center Essentials.
Among the 1,000 participants in the first beta were some managed services providers (MSPs) who provided feedback about what the tool needed if it was going to make the jump from being focused on the needs of midmarket IT departments to functioning as an MSP management tool. The result is the Multi-Account Console, which allows an MSP to see all their customers from one screen. [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Dynamics CRM 11
As we reported last fall, Microsoft is doubling down its effort to get channel partners to sell more of its Dynamics CRM software. CRM 2011 packs several key new features and promises improved margins for those selling the online version. It remains to be seen whether this will be the release that lets Microsoft beat Salesforce.com Inc. at its own game.
Dynamics CRM 2011, code-named "CRM-5," looks to erase many common competitive objections. It will have support for improved data visualizations, real-time dashboards and cloud development. Perhaps its most important new feature is an online marketplace that will let partners and customers find, download and implement custom and packaged extensions for Dynamics CRM.
"Partners will be able to build, package and upload their solutions, [and] customers can discover, download and deploy these solutions both on-premises and in the cloud," Brad Wilson, general manager, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, said during an interview at last summer's Worldwide Partner Conference.
Microsoft is making a strong push for partners and customers to give Dynamics CRM Online a try. To incent partners to push customers to Dynamics CRM Online, the company is offering a 40 percent margin for the first year for each seat it sells.
In fact, in an atypical move, Microsoft is releasing the online version first and is set to release the premises-based software later this quarter. The goal is for the two versions to work hand-in-hand, allowing those in the field to take advantage of the Web-based features and those in offices to use the premises-based version.
Because it supports the Microsoft .NET Framework 4 and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), Dynamics CRM 2011 will be appealing to those who want to integrate it with existing .NET Framework-based apps and the rest of the Microsoft software portfolio. [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Dynamics SL 2011
Microsoft Dynamics SL 2011 will be marketed toward midsize organizations. It's designed to support project accounting, order management and inventory-control functions.
The product will feature a customizable, role-tailored user experience that shows what's important to each specific user. Role-specific dashboards also can be created. Information can be searched using "50 predesigned search options," which Microsoft describes as its "quick query" capability.
The search-history capability in the product works much like the function seen in a Web browser. Users can click to see past screens they've visited and then jump to them. Print-screen images can be made and shared with others. Data can be exported to Excel for analysis using that program. Microsoft added a multiple login capability that allows users to work with different entities and then compare the data between them. [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012
For this new release of the Microsoft enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, Microsoft is promising it will have an improved architecture and better support for developers and partners through improved integration with other Microsoft software, as well as a model-driven, layered architecture that offers better controls and less coding.
In addition to making things simpler for developers via modeling, Microsoft has a tighter integration between Dynamics AX 2012 and other Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, SQL Server 2008 R2 and Visual Studio 2010. This integration reduces the need to use middleware with Dynamics AX 2012, according to Microsoft.
"Dynamics AX  has a model-driven-layer architecture that will accelerate the application development process for our partners, enabling them to write more quickly, to do less coding and to deliver the solution more quickly," said Crispin Read, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics ERP, in an interview. "[Developers] are modifying models versus writing code -- that's a big new capability, a very significant capability," he said.
Read noted that ISVs will be able to use this modeling capability to better extend their products to additional markets. He claimed that the new model-driven, layered architecture approach was "unusual" in the ERP software industry. Traditional ERP software products tended to drift more toward "spaghetti code" when it came to product upgrades and expansions, he claimed.
Earlier versions of Dynamics AX have been based on a layered architecture, but they haven't included this modeling capability. The modeling is based on a SQL Server-based model store, Read explained. [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010 R2
This incremental product release will have three main feature improvements. Microsoft claims that these improvements have already saved Dynamics GP 2010 customers money by improving business processes and reducing the need for customizations.
Microsoft plans to improve the UI for accessing "role-specific information" in Dynamics GP 2010 R2. The workflow approval process will be enhanced as well. Finally, there will be improved informational flow to "fact boxes" and "action shortcuts," which provide information about people during instant messaging chat sessions.
The latter improvement appears to be associated with Lync, the Microsoft UC product. According to a Microsoft blog post, users of Dynamics GP 2010 R2 will be able to create "sales orders, purchase orders or sales invoices directly from Microsoft Lync." [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows MultiPoint Server 2011
Geared for classrooms, labs and libraries, Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 will be available through Microsoft volume licensing channels in March and will be offered by various OEMs in the second quarter of this year.
A number of features were baked into the release candidate, including support for thin clients over LANs, management of multiple "pods" through a single console, split-screen capability at terminals and a domain-join feature for Active Directory integration. The Premium edition of the product will enable domain joins; Microsoft also will offer a Standard edition without that capability.
Windows MultiPoint 2011 creates a shared computing environment in which one PC connects with up to 20 dumb terminals, each consisting of a screen, keyboard and mouse. The Standard edition supports 10 stations, while the Premium edition supports 20 stations, according to Microsoft. The system can be set up quickly using a video port, USB 2.0 hub or new multifunction USB devices.
The system has an automatic-discovery capability that's capable of linking up with other MultiPoint servers. Microsoft partners will have user-experience customization opportunities to build on top of the product. Existing Windows 7 Group Policies will work with Windows MultiPoint Server. [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials
The new network attached storage software, previously code-named "Breckenridge," provides centralized file storage and backup capabilities on an appliance for small businesses. Joel Garcia, Microsoft senior product manager for Windows Servers, gave some more details, including its official name, in a blog posted from Tech-Ed Berlin back in November.
"Windows Storage Server Essentials is specifically developed to address the storage needs for small businesses up to 25 users without the need for specialized IT skills," wrote Garcia. "Configuring Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials is easy: remove from box, connect to network, power up and access the device from a browser to configure it."
The Storage Server Essentials is designed to handle server and PC backups, as well as centralized storage for data sharing, including remote Web access. The company is also positioning Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials as complementary to Windows Small Business Server 2008 and Windows Small Business Server 2011. [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Internet Explorer 9
Microsoft launched the Internet Explorer 9 beta in September. Internet Explorer 9 is the company's next-generation Web browser, based on HTML5 and other World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developing standards.
The launch of the Internet Explorer 9 beta comes as Microsoft vies to retain its supremacy in the browser market over upstarts such as the Google Chrome browser, as well as the longtime open source contender Firefox from Mozilla.
One of the key operational features of this new browser is hardware-accelerated HTML5, which helps Internet Explorer 9 unlock "90 percent of a PC's computing power," Microsoft claims. Company officials contrasted that figure with the standard "10 percent" of computing power tapped by earlier iterations of Internet Explorer and other rival browsers on average.
The HTML5 spec is still developing as part of a standards-making process, but it promises native video and graphics processing in the browser. It will allow Web developers to create experiences that previously required plug-in extensions, such as Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight. In that vein, ahead of the Internet Explorer 9 launch, questions were raised as to whether Internet Explorer 9 and HTML5 make Silverlight redundant.
"What happens is that the game gets raised for plug-ins such as Silverlight and Flash," said Brian Hall, general manager of Windows Live and Internet Explorer, speaking at the September launch event. "We've been working closely with our Silverlight team on how this gets integrated and what this all means and they're excited about the possibilities, but it's definitely a new game with higher stakes."
Those higher stakes may include a lightning-fast video capability, global positioning system services via the browser, and dragging and dropping items into a browser session from a desktop on a Windows 7 OS. There also may be built-in-browser applications that work offline.
"We feel like the Web sites themselves are the show and the browser is the theater," Hall said. "And that's the approach we're going to take going forward competitively. And with our own in-house development, we will continue to keep pushing the envelope." [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
There was considerable confusion late last year about whether or not Microsoft was still committed to Silverlight, the company's rich Internet application (RIA) development and runtime environment. But despite Microsoft's unwavering commitment to HTML5, Silverlight is very much alive and well, and a beta of the fifth release will appear in the coming months.
Microsoft revealed plans for Silverlight 5 in December and indicated a second half delivery date. Don't be surprised if the first beta is released at the annual MIX conference in April. "Silverlight 5 adds significant new features and capabilities, and enables developers to create premium media experiences and deliver rich applications across browsers, desktops and devices," said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Developer Division, in a blog post.
Silverlight, of course, has emerged as the preferred development environment for Windows Phone 7. In his blog post, Guthrie pointed to a number of new features including support for GPU-accelerated video decode, which he said significantly reduces CPU load for HD video, meaning low-powered netbooks will be able to play back 1080p HD content.
A feature called Trickplay will allow variable speed playback of media content on client devices with automatic audio pitch correction, he noted, and Silverlight 5 will offer improved power awareness. It will also offer improved text rendering and printing, among numerous other features. [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Visual Studio LightSwitch
Visual Studio LightSwitch is a Visual Studio-based, wizard-driven .NET application development environment targeted at business users. Microsoft announced LightSwitch at VSLive! in August and released the beta later that month.
LightSwitch aims to close the gap between full-feature .NET application development and the ad hoc applications and solutions built with Excel, Access and SharePoint. With its wizard-driven interface, LightSwitch provides a code-free app building experience designed to appeal to business power users.
One of the characteristics of LightSwitch is its focus on business utility. LightSwitch presents business-savvy native data types like e-mail, phone numbers and money, providing automated validation and in-field formatting of these types.
LightSwitch allows developers to defer deployment decisions, so that an application can be targeted for Windows, Windows Server, Windows Azure or a browser platform at the end of the process, rather than having to be shaped from the start for a specific platform. [BACK TO 2011 PRODUCT LIST]
Scott Bekker, Michael Desmond, Jabulani Leffall and Chris Paoli contributed to the 2011 Microsoft Product Roadmap.
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