Microsoft has relied on the "better together" concept to sell Windows client and Windows Server as a package. It also has done the same with previous versions of Office and Windows. But on May 12 -- the day Microsoft is launching Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 in New York -- Microsoft will be playing up how Office, SharePoint and SQL Server work better together.
In addition to being the day businesses can get their hands on Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010, today also is the day that volume licensees can get the latest version of Microsoft's database, SQL Server 2008 R2.
"Better together," in Microsoft parlance, means certain features "light up" when two (or more) products are used together. (It also means, in some cases, that certain features won't work unless the "better together" complements are all part of the customer equation.)
SQL Server 2008 R2, Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 are tied even more tightly than other "better together" products around PowerPivot. PowerPivot is a new business-intelligence feature that is built on top of all of these products.
Donald Farmer, Principal Program Manager, SQL Server Business Intelligence, was a key lead in developing and delivering PowerPivot. Farmer, with whom I spoke last week, has spent the last two and a half years working on PowerPivot.
In an unusual move, Microsoft execs agreed to an "exchange program" between the Excel and SharePoint teams, Farmer said. This resulted in about 10 members of the analytics team being "embedded" in the Excel team, he said.
"We actually moved the team into the Excel team. They even moved offices, into their building," Farmer said, and stayed there for the entire product cycle.
At the same time, a number of former Excel team members were recruited into the SQL Server team, Farmer said.
What's the thinking? By making Excel 2010 the front end to PowerPivot, Microsoft is hoping to get users who know Excel but don't consider themselves to be business intelligence experts to use more of SQL Server's business intelligence functionality.
"We have lots of Excel users who felt they really didn't know BI. But essentially, that's what they are doing with Excel" -- slicing and dicing data in new ways, Farmer said. "That's why we said we should use that functionality as much as possible."
Back to the topic of SQL Server 2008 R2, the analysts at Directions on Microsoft said business users should expect to pay more for the R2 release than the SQL Server 2008 version, but noted that they will get a number of new features as part of the update. Volume licensees should expect to see these changes in pricing (before any negotiated discounts):
SQL Server 2008 R2 Standard Edition: Per-processor license goes up 25% SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition: Per-processor license goes up 15% SQL Server 2008 R2 server and CAL (client access license): Prices remain the same (remember, customers can choose per-processor or server-CAL licensing models for SQL Server)
Directions also did a similar analysis for Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 enterprise pricing.
Update (May 13): A couple of related points
* You don't need the latest version of SQL Server to use PowerPivot for Excel. You can use SQL Server 2008 or an Oracle database as the back end, Microsoft officials said during the Office 2010 launch on May 12. You also don't really need SharePoint -- unless you want to take the views you create with PowerPivot and want to publish/share them in a richer and controlled way, company execs acknowledged.
* For more on using Excel as a BI tool, check out Microsoft Regional Director Andrew Brust's recent blog post on that topic, entitled "Responsible BI for Excel, Even for Older Versions."