The 10 sexiest Microsoft business teases for 2012

For Microsoft, 2011 was a year when its consumer products got most of the marketing and PR love. But 2012 could be a very different animal.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

This past year, 2011, was one where Microsoft officials played up almost exclusively the company's consumer-focused products and services. Just look at Microsoft's own year in review lists and notice how many of the listings are for consumer products sold at retail. Part of this emphasis was due to Microsoft striving to position itself as a consumer-goods company. And part, I believe, was due to the fact that 2011 was an in-between year for Microsoft, as they had relatively few business-focused products ready to ship.

Despite the shortage, as Corporate Vice President of Communications Frank Shaw himself noted recently on Twitter, enterprise software can be sexy, too. (Scoble 2.0 doesn't think so, but plenty of my readers do.)

In 2012, if the Redmondians stick to their own roadmaps, we should hear a lot more about products of interest to business users. Based on hints from 2011, here's my Top 10 list for business products and technologies to watch for from the 'Soft in the coming year.

1. Windows Server 8: Windows Server 8 has hundreds of new features, just like its client counterpart. But the server features, not too surprisingly, are far more business-focused. PCMag served up a good list of some of the new Windows Server 8 features that could appeal to business customers, with shout-outs on the Hyper-V and PowerShell updates coming with this release. Windows Server 8 includes across-the-board improvements in storage, networking and clustering, too.

2. Windows 8 client: While most of the interest around Windows 8 on the client is (at least so far) focused around the coming tablet experience, Microsoft is touting its coming tiled and touch-centric operating system as ideal for PCs and laptops, too. Business users have a LOT of questions about Windows 8's interface, its security and management components, not to mention exactly how (and if) Microsoft will allow non-Metro apps to run on Windows 8 on ARM (on PCs and/or tablets). In fact, some are already writing off Windows 8's potential appeal to business users. (I'm taking a wait and see what the late February 2012 beta looks like, myself.)

3. Windows Phone 8: The Windows Phone 8 operating system, codenamed "Apollo," has been a deliverable targeted for late  2012 since word of it leaked in December 2010. The (increasingly plausible/probable) rumor is that Microsoft will be switching out the Windows Embedded Compact kernel in Windows Phone for a Windows one -- in the form of MinWin, perhaps -- with Apollo. Will this help Microsoft deliver enterprise capabilities (hello, encryption!) and apps that are sorely lacking with the almost entirely consumer-focused Windows Phone 7 platform? (If so, maybe that will help grow Microsoft's installed base by bringing the  the long-suffering Windows Mobile user base that hasn't already abandoned Microsoft over to the Windows Phone platform.

4. Office 2012 servers: New versions of on-premises Exchange, SharePoint and Lync unified communications servers are all in development as part of Office 15. I continue to hear Microsoft will ship them before the end of calendar 2012. A public beta should be out by mid-year at the latest. Next to nothing has leaked, in terms of new features coming with the next wave of server releases, but it's a safe bet that some of the enhancements in their cloud counterparts that aren't already in the on-prem versions could find their way into the Office 2012 servers.

5. Identity management: Expect to hear more in the coming year about the five pillars of Microsoft's identity-management platform -- specifically Active Directory Services; Active Directory Federation Services; Certificate Services/PKI; Active Directory Rights Management Services and Forefront Identity Manager. These services are at the crux of Microsoft's attempt to make single sign-on key for its private and public cloud offerings.

6. System Center 2012: Microsoft will launch in the first half of 2012 (probably at the Microsoft Management Summit in April) its full suite of 10-plus systems management offerings. Some of these disparate products will be able to manage iPads, iPhones, Android phones and other non-Microsoft devices for the first time. Early word is that Microsoft may attempt to sell all of its System Center 2012 wares as a single, integrated suite and not as a bunch of individual point products. (The Softies aren't confirming this suite concept; it's just what I've heard from my contacts.)

7. SQL Server 2012: Microsoft's next-generation database is due to launch in the early part of 2012. We already know the SKUs -- including a brand-new BI one -- and the pricing (which is moving to more of a per-core model). SQL Server 2012 includes components for providing more high-availability, self-service and analytics functionality.

8. Skype (+ Lync, + Outlook + more):Microsoft's $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype is supposed to result in lots of new Skype apps and integration for many of Microsoft's products, ranging from Hotmail to the Xbox. (The first of the deliverables, a Skype app for Windows Phone still has yet to materialize as promised in calendar 2011.) But there are business-side Skype integrations coming, too, including Skype integration with Lync, Skype integration with Exchange/Outlook and maybe even built-in Skype integration with Windows. It sounds like Microsoft is planning to keep some basic Skype services free and charge for others that may be of more interest to business customers.

9. AzureHadoop (or is it HadoopAzure?): Microsoft made available the preview bits for the Hadoop distribution for Windows Azure in December 2011. The final release is slated for March 2012. (Microsoft and partner Hortonworks are also working on an on-premises Hadoop on Windows Server distribution.)Hadoop on Windows Azure is interesting because it combines Microsoft's big-data plans and products with its cloud platform. The idea Microsoft will be pushing in 2012 is that Hadoop on Azure will give users of Microsoft's analytics tools, including plain-old Excel, a way to make use of the growing number of data sets stored on Windows Azure.

10. ERP in the cloud: Microsoft Dynamics NAV, codenamed ‘NAV 7,’ due in 2012 will be the first cloud-enabled ERP solution from Microsoft. Microsoft officials have said they  plan to move all four of their ERP products to the cloud (meaning hosted on Windows Azure). Dynamics CRM Online also will be moved to Azure at some point, though the Softies have not said when this will happen. For now, CRM Online is Microsoft-hosted, but not Azure-based.

That's my list of 10. What's on yours, Microsoft business users out there?

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