Jeff Raikes | Office 2007 (almost) ready to open

Interview with Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft Corp.'s business division

Jeff Raikes, Microsoft Division President

Antonio Gonzales/Freeman Companies

Jeff Raikes is bummed, but it's not because Microsoft Office 2007 has slipped more than a lumberjack in a log-rolling contest (in June, Microsoft confirmed the volume shipment date had slipped again'until next year). It's because Raikes hasn't seen many Seattle Mariners baseball games this summer. The president of Microsoft's business division, which oversees Office, Exchange and other high-profile programs, is part-owner of the Mariners, but he's been traveling so much shepherding his new launches, he hasn't made it to the ballpark often. GCN interviewed Raikes last month, when he stopped by Capitol Hill. He talked about open document formats and a new Microsoft videophone. He also had advice for agencies planning a migration to Office 2007'whenever that might be.

GCN: What's the current status of Office 2007?

Raikes: We came out with beta 2 in May and have about 2.5 million users of the beta. That's three to five times larger than the beta program we did for Office 2003. So we're getting good feedback and helping people get familiar with the new capabilities. We feel pretty confident that we're on track for business availability by the end of this calendar year, and general availability in the first quarter of 2007. Of course, the feedback we get on quality and performance ultimately determines that.

GCN: When should agencies considering Office 2007 start their planning?

Raikes: That varies a lot. A number of enterprises under our technology adoption program choose to deploy before the final release. We encourage IT groups to get their hands on the beta, go to the Office online site for information about deployment and migration, work with their Microsoft representatives. We'll have a number of seminars to help them think through the value for their organization, the way to plan the deployment, how to migrate various aspects of their content, how to prepare their employees. The best thing to do is get going with that now.

GCN: You mentioned migrating content. Is there something unique about preparing for Office 2007 that organizations didn't have to deal with before?

Raikes: There are a few things that are important to consider. From a content standpoint, there's been a lot of interest in XML-based document formats. Enterprises will want to decide whether they want to migrate in that direction and how they do it. You can continue to use the binary file format. That's supported in the new product. But we encourage customers to think about moving to XML-based file formats. It not only provides advances in terms of high resilience, but it also provides the ability for them if they choose to use other applications that access the XML schema and take advantage of that content.
So the direction an organization wants to take on document formats is [important]. ... If they want to go to XML, they can do bulk migration of existing documents. The Office 2007 Resource Kit has tools to help with this.

Now's also a good time for IT to think about how they can use the new Office system for application development, for example with SharePoint Server. People are using it for collaboration, management and access to contact. Now you have XML document libraries, and if you're a contracting group you can define a standard set of contracts that can be part of a SharePoint library. They can have workflows associated with them; they can have metadata. So, effective IT organizations will think through the opportunities to improve their business and information processes.

GCN: Regarding file formats, can you help clarify Microsoft's position on supporting the Open Document Format?

Raikes: We've arranged with multiple third parties to provide converters for ODF. So, to the extent that's a political issue inside an organization, we have the plan in place to provide that kind of support.

But if I were advising your readers, I'd step back and say, keep in mind that everyone out there has a large number of Microsoft Office documents, and you really want to facilitate compatibility with what's out there. So, in many respects, the whole supposed controversy misses the point of what matters most, which is that we're supporting the broadest range of what customers are using today in terms of document formats. They have the binary formats, they can use our existing XML, our Open XML, or they can choose [Portable Document Format], which is very important to our government customers. And they could use Open Document Format.

Certainly, we're big believers in XML formats. Part of the challenge with other formats, whether it's ODF or the old WordPerfect formats, is they don't have the innate capability to support a lot of the functionality that people are using today. We're supporting the standards process. We're working with Ecma International, and we look forward to working with ISO. [Editor's note: Sun Microsystems Federal chairman Scott McNealy has a different take on document formats. Read his interview with GCN at GCN.com, GCN.com/649.]

GCN: Can you tell us more about Microsoft Dynamics enterprise resource planning programs and how they fit with government agencies?

Raikes: The real focus for Dynamics ERP has been mid-market and small groups, as well as divisions within larger organizations. We don't see a big value for us to compete with SAP and Oracle at the high end. Those companies and their customers are well established with their systems. But I think it's fair to say the midsize and small enterprises haven't benefited from advances in next-generation ERP. Our customer relationship management product has the same target, yet it's popular because people have been frustrated with the user experience [of other platforms].

GCN: What exactly is Roundtable, and how does it fit into unified communications?

Raikes: We have all these communication silos, and the net result is it's both frustrating and ineffective. There's an opportunity to take advantage of convergence and integrate the software capabilities. For example, Exchange 2007 includes unified messaging, so your voice mail comes to your inbox. You can call in and literally check your e-mail over the phone using text-to-speech capabilities. ...
Five years from now, people won't think of themselves buying [public branch exchanges] anymore. They'll think of adding software to their servers and their network. ... We just announced that Nortel Networks will move to our underlying software and use their voice and networking expertise for unified communications.

You mentioned Roundtable, which is a new device. Today, meetings haven't really benefited from software advances. Videoconferencing is still expensive and hard to use. Roundtable is a device that uses advances in digital video and stereo audio and our software so you can have a low-cost device here in this conference room and plug it into the network and have a rich conferencing experience. We think in five years it will be more common than the conference phone'and no more expensive.

GCN: When can we get one?

Raikes: About a year from now.

GCN: Think the Mariners can come back and win their division?

Raikes: We'll see. I'm probably like a lot of baseball fans. I root for the Mariners and anyone who plays the Yankees.

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