Using Service Pack 1 as a marker
Microsoft today sent an e-mail today to Technology Adaptation Partner (TAP) testers announcing to release ServicePack 1 for Windows Vista in the second half of 2007 (H2 2007) to collide with the launch of Microsoft Windows Server codename "Longhorn". (rumored to be named Windows Server 2007)
As Mary Jo Foley pointed out there are still a lot of businesses waiting to deploy new software products after it gets its first "overhaul". In Microsoft terms this reads ServicePack 1. On the other hand I got to know a couple of guys recently at a Microsoft Partner that aren't interested in Microsoft products anymore after they reach RTM status. Both attitudes have pros and cons.
"We're waiting for the first overhaul"
Waiting for "the first overhaul" is a sensible thought, when you're concerned about the way the product behaves. When a product functions as the cornerstone in your network the impact of misbehaving products might be huge.
I've had some bad experiences with Cisco's PIX OS 7.0 on an ASA 5510 device in combination with Radius and RSA's Authentication Manager 6.0. At the time this was new technology and it wasn't working as it should: Specifying an IP range for different types of group membership within RSA Authentication Manager was a no-go. Several versions of the PIX OS and RSA Authentication Manager (and even a patch recall by RSA) later it finally worked. Overhauling the products in this case was the solution.
Like many I've had some bad experiences with Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1. Don't get me wrong: I think everyone running Windows Server 2003 should by all means install Service Pack 1! I just also think they should read Knowledge Base articles 898060, 899148 and 899409.
Furthermore the IT business has changed. I guess a lot of administrators for small businesses already have people that use Windows Vista at home (don't ask me where they get it from, I'm as stupefied as you are...) complaining it takes the company a long time to use it too. Your IT manager might be sensitive to these questions, especially when the big boss asks them...
"After RTM it's no fun anymore!"
There is money to be made in the Technology Adaptation Program and the Rapid Development Program:
- Customers can benefit by using the newest technology to address their needs, staying ahead of the technology curve and getting considerable licensing discounts. You'd be surprised how many customers really contemplate on joining the programs, despite the apparent drawbacks.
- Microsoft Partners can benefit by rapidly building knowledge on the new technology, showing their skills to customers and the Microsoft eco system, gaining valuable Microsoft Partnership competencies, improve their reputation and of course sell their services more easily (because of the discounts).
- When a Microsoft Partner participates in one of the programs IT Professionals benefit by learning the new technology and of course gain respect within the community by blogging about it!
In my opinion there's also a risk involved for Microsoft Partners providing access to the Technology Adaptation Program and the Rapid Development Program. They will have to rely on the troubleshooting skills of their technical people to solve or work around even the hardest and most obscure problems. If these people can't "fix" it in a timely fashion the customer might lose his trust in you, walk out on you and damage your reputation, which might eventually get you out of business. If Microsoft can't "fix" it in a timely fashion the customer might even choose non-Microsoft technology next time, which might eventually get Microsoft partners in trouble.
The two guys I've recently got to know told me they're into pre-RTM software only. They're specialized in deployments of these versions and join programs for new versions when a version reaches RTM. They're busy doing 20 Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server (MOSS) 2007 deployments now and are looking to join the programs for codenames "Nitrogen" and "Centro". You can rest assured the TAP program for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is on their shortlist too.
The Microsoft Beta Program, the Connect website and MSDN subscriptions are also great repositories for pre-RTM versions of software. If you can't handle risk use these resources. You might not make any money though...
Your environment might be ready for a product while you're not.
A product might be ready for your environment while you don't know about it.