Business users from a range of UK organisations have welcomed the launch of Microsoft Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007.
Several senior IT professionals who have beta-tested the applications spoke at Thursday's launch event, and said they were impressed by some of the new features. Some observers, though, have urged caution.
Among the users who had come out in support were some predictable faces, such as Capgemini and the London Borough of Newham. Others were less so, such as EasyJet. The London Stock Exchange and QinetiQ have also been testing Microsoft's new offerings.
For Newham, Thursday's announcement was not just about Vista. The council is currently running out a service based around Microsoft’s 2007 Office system, Windows Mobile 5.0 with Direct Push technology for email, Office SharePoint Services 2007 and Vista. It is aimed at helping the council to better understand the working practices within the borough and the processes that underpin them. Effective use of flexible working is one part of that; a better understanding of the productivity issues involved in flexible working is another.
According to Geoff Connell, head of ICT at Newham, the council has found many different ways to improve productivity. "For instance we found that up to 50 percent of a manager's day-to-day work can involve chasing people for information, meaning decision making is impaired and other tasks are overlooked," he said.
Much of this came from finding out which corporate resource people needed to access remotely and then providing them with the access and the information. Many private- and public-sector organisations are looking at ways to make better and more effective use of mobile technology. As such, the scheme at Newham is not new, nor was it a ringing endorsement of Vista and the associated software used in what is not yet a business-critical application.
But Connell did point out that there were some noticeable and easy economises to be gained by using Vista. "Just by improving the way we apply software and security updates, we can now shut down PCs overnight and make considerable savings," he said. "We also envisage further savings of around 15 kilowatt hours using the sleep mode and other power-saving functions in Vista. I'd say we could be looking at savings of about £250,000 per year in Newham."
During the launch, Microsoft executives demonstrated that Vista's search could be used to find co-workers with expertise on a particular project, check if they are online and then contact them over instant messaging.
Mark Walker, global product director for infrastructure management at CapGemini, told the event that staff who had beta-tested Microsoft's new products had reduced their email volume by 25 percent.
"Being able to contact people immediately through instant messaging speeds up business decisions, and reduces email traffic and therefore archiving," Walker said.
But some questioned how much can be learned from beta testing and how close these users could get to trying duplicating a real, live environment.
Richard Edwards, senior research analyst at the Butler Group, was one dissenting voice. "I wonder how much real testing these guys have been able to do, with the exception of EasyJet, perhaps," he said at the launch event, "They cannot afford to waste time and money just trying things out." EasyJet's endorsement was one of two, along with the London Stock Exchange, that was shown on video rather than presented in person, but it carried weight despite this.
The budget airline is locked in a difficult competition with the major carriers on one side and fellow budget airline Ryanair on the other. While attempting to fend off Ryanair, it is trying to grow its market share among business travellers. As the video made clear, the company is not just testing Vista but using it to underpin its efforts to take market share among business travellers away from British Airways, while appealing to business users of the budget airlines.
"We see Windows Vista as being critical to maintaining a leading edge in that," the EasyJet spokesman said.