Microsoft's Wave of Office, Server Product Releases Brings Flood of Questions

Amid the Windows 8 buzz, Microsoft has released to manufacturing Office 2013, Exchange, SharePoint and Lync server products. Not surprisingly, there's a heavy emphasis on the cloud. There's also already talk of what might appear in the first service pack releases, which brings into question the whole RTM model.

By Jonathan Hassell
Thu, October 25, 2012

CIO — Microsoft recently, and unexpectedly, released to manufacturing the 2013 wave of almost all of its collaboration and productivity products. Office, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync and its cloud productivity suite Office 365 version 2013 were all released on Oct. 11, 2012, prompting many development team members to finally pronounce publicly that they had been targeting "10/11/12 for 2013" for a long time.

This release wave presents some interesting points to consider and questions to think about. Let's take a look at this wave of products on the heels of the RTM release, and examine some of the issues that are emerging for CIOs and other IT leaders.

Office 2013 Looks a Lot Different Than Its Predecessors

Office 2007 broke with its menu-driven past and introduced the ribbon, and Office 2010 flattened out some but still kept many of the visual cues users have become accustomed to. Office 2013, on the other hand, is Metro-ized, meaning that it is largely colorless and relies a lot on black-on-white text and icons with just small pops of color.

Analysis: Microsoft Office 2013: Best New Features for the Enterprise

The initial experience of getting started when using Office 2013 is somewhat surprising; many users think they mistakenly have a "black and white" mode turned on. In Outlook, for example, the familiar Mail, Calendar, Contacts and Tasks have been moved to a single string of words across the bottom, and most (if not all) of the Ribbon tabs in Office use ALL CAPS—similar to the new release of Visual Studio 2012 does as well.

Only time will tell if users will come to accept this look. Indeed, in the same way Windows 8 grew on me, the new Office might grow on me as well. Keep in mind, though, that your users will absolutely notice the difference upon the upgrade, so it might be wise to think about training and how you might communicate to your users if you are an early-adopter organization.

Are These Products Truly Release Quality?

Put another way, are they "gold master" quality that will let you go months without a necessary update? It's a fair question to ask.

There is a common saying among Exchange administrators: "Exchange ain't done 'till Service Pack 1." Catchy, isn't it? It is, however, a truism that has proven relevant time and again. There are already anecdotal reports that key functionality that clients may be used to using in previous versions is missing in the initial RTM build of Exchange. Those who know are currently under a gag order imposed by Microsoft that will expire in the near term. One such person tells me, "I personally won't be recommending anyone but greenfield installs go to Exchange 2013 RTM…It is missing functionality that you may depend upon." A released product missing important functionality that was present in previous editions that will come in a later update? Really?

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