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To make the right tech decisions, you need the best information you can get your hands on. Mary Jo Foley offers a quarter-by-quarter forecast of what you can expect from Microsoft in the year to come.
Some teams at Microsoft are fairly transparent about their roadmaps, but most still are not. This goes for teams selling business software and services, not just those selling consumer offerings -- which justifiably can and should be kept private as long as possible to enhance their "big reveal" potential.
This reticence creates challenges for many business users attempting to craft upgrade and deployment plans. I know this personally, as I receive many pleas for predictive help. In that spirit, here's my best attempt at providing guidance on what to expect from Microsoft in the coming year+ on the business front. Some of this information comes from Microsoft officials and blog posts. Some comes from sources of mine who I trust and who've requested anonymity. I call out which information is "official" and which is not.
I've organized this roadmap by calendar quarters, not by Microsoft's fiscal quarters, which are different. Products and services are not listed in any particular order for each quarter. And just about everything in Q4 2014 is fuzzy at this point. Expect more clarity as the year rolls along.
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SQL Server 2014:
Microsoft's next major release of SQL Server originally was expected to
coincide with the release of Windows Server 2012 R2, which was in October 2013.
But Microsoft execs acknowledged in mid-2013 that SQL Server 2014 would be released "shortly after" the rest of the"Blue" servers.
Dynamics CRM "Mira" and Dynamics AX 2012 R3: One of the Microsoft teams that does a good job of keeping customers apprised of what's next is the Dynamics CRM/ERP unit. On the CRM front, Microsoft officials have said to expect a CRM update codenamed Mira in Q1. The focus of that update will be on the MarketingPilot marketing-automation technology Microsoft purchased back in October 2012 (and presumably its integration). Dynamics AX 2012 R3 is the next big update to Microsoft's Dynamics AX ERP product. With this release, users can opt to run Dynamics AX in a virtual machine on Windows Azure, an option purchasable via select Microsoft partners.
Windows Phone 8.1 ("Blue") and Windows 8.1 Update 1: According to my contacts, Microsoft is targeting the spring of 2014 to deliver its next big Windows Phone release, which is codenamed Blue and expected to go by the final name of Windows Phone 8.1. The Windows Phone Blue update, according to leaks last year, will include a built-in notification center, Microsoft's "Cortana" voice assistant (similar to Apple's Siri), and a number of other features. My contacts also have said Microsoft's goal is to release around the same time an update to Windows 8.1, which will bring Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 into closer alignment from a user interface and API standpoint. Microsoft hasn't commented publicly on either of these expected releases.
Enterprise Pack for Windows Phone: Last July, Microsoft execs said the company planned to roll out an enterprise pack for Windows Phone 8 in 2014 that will add VPN, encryption, and other business-focused functions to the Windows Phone platform. It's not clear right now whether this will be integrated into this Windows Phone 8.1 release or delivered as a separate add-on.
New Surface devices:
Microsoft is expected to start offering both an ARM-based Surface 2 with LTE/4G
and some kind of roughly 8-inch "Surface Mini" tablet in the first part of the year.
Microsoft confirmed the "early 2014" arrival of an LTE-based Surface 2 several months ago. The Surface Mini still has not been
publicly confirmed by Microsoft, though rumors about its pending arrival have
been swirling for a year-plus. It's not clear whether the Surface Mini will be
ARM or Intel Bay Trail-based (or whether there is one of each in the pipeline).
Microsoft's "Gemini" touch-first Office apps: At long last, Microsoft is expected to deliver touch-first, Metro-style versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (plus a second version of Metro-style OneNote) -- its Gemini wave -- some time around summer 2014. These will be available and updatable via the Windows Store. I'm not sure when/if a public customer preview of these apps will be available; if Microsoft releases such an animal, I'd think Q2 2014 might be a logical target.
Microsoft's Office apps for iPad and Android tablets: Microsoft officials have basically confirmed that some kind of Office for iPad and Android offerings are in the works. The rumor is these may require an Office 365 subscription of some sort, similar to the way the Office Mobile apps for iPhone and Android phones do. I've heard that Microsoft will wait until a few months after it fields its own Gemini apps before it launches the touch-centric iPad/Android tablet versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and updated OneNote.
Office 2013 SP1 (for client and server): Microsoft committed in late November to providing a first service pack for Office 2013, as well as Exchange 2013, Lync 2013, and SharePoint 2013. As of this writing, there's no official word on what will be included in SP1. But the target release date is "early 2014," which my sources are suggesting might be early Q2. It's worth noting that Microsoft is expected to continue to update its Office 365 cloud versions of its Office client and server apps a lot more frequently -- quarterly at worst and closer to monthly at best.
Dynamics CRM "Leo": Leo is the codename of the next "major" update to Microsoft CRM. "Orion," or Dynamics CRM 2013, was the most recent major one. Microsoft has yet to publicly comment on what's in Leo or its follow-on, codenamed "Vega." Leo is a 2014 deliverable, the Softies have confirmed. Rumor has it that a big focus will be on customer-support functionality.
Q4 2014 and beyond
Customer preview of Windows "Threshold" for PCs/devices and Windows Phones: The follow-on to Microsoft's Blue wave is Threshold. As was true with Blue, there will be phone, PC/device, and Xbox operating system updates that are part of this wave that roll out over time. Spring 2015 is the target date for the Windows and Windows Phone Threshold releases, my sources have said. With these releases, Microsoft's goal is to offer users a single Windows/Windows Phone Store, even more similar UIs, fewer SKUs, and a more common API/developer story. I'm expecting Microsoft to deliver some kind of customer preview (public and/or private) before the end of 2014 of at least the Windows Threshold release. Microsoft officials have not commented publicly on anything to do with Threshold.
Windows Server 9 customer preview: If Microsoft continues to build Windows client and server in lockstep, I'd expect a customer preview of the next major version of Windows Server to coincide with Windows Threshold's preview. Because of the way Microsoft reorganized in July 2013, Windows client and Windows Server are now in two different groups at the company. (Server sits with Windows Azure now.) Microsoft officials have said nothing at all publicly about what's next for Windows Server.
Office 2015 customer preview: Microsoft officials have said there will be another version (and probably more) of Microsoft's locally installable Office client and server products. The Office team isn't on a near-annual release schedule; my contacts believe it to be closer to a two-year schedule. If that's the case, perhaps we'll see a public beta/preview of the next Office client/server software before the end of 2014.
"Mohoro" desktop-as-a-service beta: Microsoft is developing a desktop virtualization service, codenamed Mohoro, as I reported last May. (Microsoft never confirmed my report, which came from my sources.) I continue to hear the Windows Azure-hosted Mohoro -- which would allow customers to run the Windows desktop plus their apps remotely -- is moving ahead. The timing of a beta (whether public or private) is speculation on my part.
Customer preview of Forefront Identity Manager 2015: In late December, Microsoft confirmed that there will be new on-premise and cloud versions of its Forefront Identity Manager product coming in the first half of 2015. No word on specific features of this identity/security product so far. But I'd expect a private preview of this to be available to select testers before 2014 is out.