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All that glitters is not Zune

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Fresh from an almost missable US launch of Zune, Microsoft was back on familiar ground Tuesday touting server, security and admin software to reassure shareholders the company's future is bright.

Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president for server and tools opened the company's IT Forum in Barcelona, Spain, by promising a third, and final, beta of Windows Longhorn Server during the first-half of 2007 with full product availability by years' end. Microsoft has promised to distribute Longhorn to a wider audience than the 500,000 who received last May's Beta 2.

Beta 3 is expected to be feature complete, with changes only made for performance and quality control. Longhorn's client peer, Windows Vista, is due for "broad" availability on January 2007.

The Barcelona event took place as Microsoft hosted its annual shareholder meeting in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft promised investors a wave of products during 2007 that will "mark the beginning of a new era in productivity, innovation and creativity for our customers, both at work and at home," and - importantly for them - help drive shareholder value.

Surfing that wave is Zune, the music player Microsoft hopes can erode iPod's market share. Such is the value and prestige attached to Zune, Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer this month took time out from a news love-in with Novell to slip in a plug for the benefit of the consumer press.

With limited ability to share music, a highly Byzantine system for buying tunes, and little price differential against iPod, the media (here, here and here) - if not the buying public - has come out against Zune. Only big music companies are voicing support.

With Microsoft selling the Zune at a loss it will be years before shareholders see any return. That meas Windows Vista and Longhorn Server should remain very important as cash generators for Microsoft's business in 2007 and 2008. Windows Vista was a bottleneck for a raft of consumer and business applications including Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 that are now green lighted for an "official" launch on November 30 with Windows Vista.

With the Windows Vista dam now broken, and Longhorn on the horizon, Microsoft on Tuesday launched its long-awaited command-line shell and scripting language Windows PowerShell to help improve administration of Windows systems. PowerShell will work with Exchange Server 2007, System Center Operations Manager 2007, System Center Data Protection Manager v2 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

Also released was a beta for Microsoft's email security platform, Forefront Client Security, designed to simplify the application of protection against spyware, rootkits, worms and Trojans. Microsoft also announced Forefront Security for Exchange and Forefront Security for SharePoint, based on the Sybari Antigen software, will be available to customers on Microsoft's volume license contracts in December - in line with availability of Windows Vista.

Buttressing the old, meanwhile, a Service Pack 2 release candidate for Windows Server 2003 R2 and Windows XP Professional x64 featuring security updates and performance improvements was also launched. SP2 is due for final availability in the first quarter of 2007.®

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