Microsoft products worth watching in 2010

It might surprise you to know which Microsoft products are poised to make a big splash in 2010

While Windows 7, Office 2010 and Bing are likely to generate most of the headlines next year, there are other products in the pipeline that are worth watching closely. In an article for our sister publication Redmond magazine, Mary Jo Foley, editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog, made her list of hot-button under-the-radar products to watch in the new year:

Office Web Apps

Based on feedback from early testers, Office 2010 doesn't include a lot of critical new features. The real interest and excitement surrounds Office Web Apps: the Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that Microsoft is touting as adjuncts to its client-based Office suite. The consumer-focused version of Office Web Apps will be free; two other versions, aimed at corporate users, will not. Microsoft is positioning Office Web Apps as an "accretive" technology that will grow with gradual user adoption. The online product also relies heavily on SharePoint. We'll see whether those factors will resonate with users or be deal-breakers.

Live Mesh and Azure

Microsoft is launching the final version of its cloud-based hosting platform, Azure, next month. Live Mesh -- the consumer-focused collaboration and synchronization service that will be one of Microsoft's first Azure-based offerings -- is supposed to be a proof point for the platform. Both Azure and Live Mesh are Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's pet projects. Microsoft has taken a different tack than other cloud vendors like Amazon and Google. Instead of simply providing data center space and resources,

Microsoft is trying to build a cloud platform that's similar to Windows and .NET. The company hopes developers will want and need an OS, a database, collaboration and other building blocks.

System Center

System Center is the latest Microsoft product to cross the billion-dollar threshold. But that's not the only reason it's worth watching. The product's management team is readying the next version of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, a bunch of virtualization and management technologies available to Software Assurance licensees. The System Center unit also is working on new versions of the System Center Server and Client Management suites, and on a new version of System Center Online -- one that goes beyond the current asset-inventory service to add Group Policy-management capabilities. The System Center lineup is key to Microsoft's evolving private-cloud and virtualization offerings, and will be figuring heavily in when and how Microsoft fields products in these ultra-competitive spaces.

"Pink" and Windows Mobile 7

Despite Microsoft's repeated claims that its Windows Mobile business is on track, just about every Microsoft watcher out there knows that the Mobile unit is struggling to stay competitive. Windows Mobile 6.5, due on phones this fall, is just a stopgap solution. What customers, partners and pundits are all waiting for is Windows Mobile 7 (WM7). Originally, Microsoft expected to get the WM7 code to cell phone makers this fall. Now, it sounds as though that won't happen until sometime next year, which will delay the arrival of the first, true iPhone-like Windows Mobile phones until late 2010. Observers expect Redmond to field a Microsoft-branded phone running various premium services, code-named "Pink," as its consumer-targeted WM7 proof point.

J Allard's Next-Generation Tablet

Has anyone else noticed that Microsoft Chief Experience Officer J Allard has been MIA since the Zune rolled out? I keep hearing that Allard is off working on Microsoft's reinvention of the less-than-successful Tablet PC. Rumor has it that the new Tablet will look like a lap-size, multi-touch Surface computer -- and will probably look similar to the Apple Tablet screenshots that have been making the rounds of blog and rumor sites. I'll be curious to see whether Microsoft's Tablet Take Two is running Windows or Windows Compact Edition ... or some hybrid of the two.

Readers, give us your comments below: Which under-the-radar Microsoft technologies will you watch most closely in the coming months?

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