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As January approaches, the time for reminiscing about the year past has come. No, I won’t bore you with the details of family vacations, events, arrivals and passings, but I will tell you about some of the products that left an impression and how those products impacted the channel.

All things Microsoft

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Microsoft’s impact on 2007. Right off the bat, Windows Vista (in all of its various flavors) arrived on the scene and then created a scene! Was it a hit? Was it a miss? Did it matter? Regardless of the answer you arrive at, one thing is certain—Vista had a major impact on the channel.

VARs the world over should thank Microsoft for Vista. The product created a whole new market, the “rip and replace” market, which fueled service revenue and opened people’s eyes to alternative operating systems. Many solution providers spent countless (yet profitable) hours downgrading PCs from Vista to XP. It’s not that Vista is bad; it’s just that the new OS is different enough to make people hesitate. In reality, Vista fixed a lot of the problems XP suffered from, added “visual candy” to the interface and improved overall connectivity, just not enough to make people jump on the wagon.

Another product the channel should thank Microsoft for is Office 2007, but once again, for less than obvious reasons. Office 2007 introduced the “ribbon” interface, loved by some, hated by many. For users new to Office, the ribbon interface proved to be an ideal way to interact with the product, a real plus. The problem here is that those new users are far outnumbered by those who have used Office for years, many of whom hate the ribbon interface. It has gotten so bad that many Office 2007 users are willing to spend money on tools to give them back the menu system they are accustomed to. That situation has created opportunities for VARs in both the sales of add-on products and training. But perhaps the biggest impact here is that solution providers are now offering competing products, such as, that work more like the old version of Microsoft Office. Also, VARs are getting some traction in the SAAS (software as a service) space by offering hosted alternatives to Office, such as Zoho, Google Apps, Writely, ThinkFree and many others.

One product Microsoft delivered in 2007 seems to get everything right—Microsoft WHS (Windows Home Server). Here, we have a product that does everything it is supposed to and does it well. What does this mean for solution providers? Well, someone has to install and maintain this product! Although WHS is marketed as a simple-to-deploy-and-use product, most users will still need some help when it comes to customizing their particular environment.

In terms of features, WHS brings the ability to easily share content, back up systems, provide remote access and act as a digital media hub for the home. While many of those features are available on many other products, Microsoft seems to do the best job of putting all of the capabilities together in a single product. What’s more, WHS may be ideal for the small or home office; the product uses Microsoft’s Windows Live service to serve up media to guest or remote workers, and it makes the process as simple as can be. With WHS, the channel now has a product that could finally fuel the home integration market—a vast, untapped landscape of opportunity.

A Few of My Favorite Things

You can take it with you

For 2007, kudos goes to Toshiba, which has delivered what may very well be the most perfect ultraportable notebook computer to date—the Portege R500, a unit that eliminates most of the compromises found on today’s ultraportables. The R500 is slimmer than one inch (.77 inches) and lighter than 2.5 pounds, yet it still offers a 12.1-inch WXGA display, excellent keyboard, SuperMulti DVD drive, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. Combine those features with more than 3 hours of battery life and a sticker price under $2,000, and you have a real winner. The R500 also has an eye to the future: Toshiba is now offering a 64GB solid state hard drive, which will increase battery life and performance, making the unit an even better choice for the on-the-go pro. The R500 should fuel the top vendors to come out with competing products that offer portability without sacrificing features.

For those willing to carry a few more pounds, Lenovo’s T61p ThinkPad may just fit the bill. An excellent performer that is also well-made, the T61p is a great fit for the power user on the go. Lenovo offers its partners great service, countless options and good margins that help to keep selling notebooks.

The world in your hands

Hands down, the iPhone has to be one of the most significant technology products of 2007. Yes, I know that it’s a consumer product and not a business product, and I also know it’s not a channel product, but the concept behind the device should create lots of opportunity for VARs. The iPhone demonstrates that a handheld Web browser is possible, that unified communications can work, and one device can truly bring all the connectivity one may need together.

What’s interesting for the channel is what the iPhone doesn’t do. It lacks real integration into corporate e-mail systems, it lacks an open standard so it is difficult to add functionality, there is very little customization capability, and it is tied to a single carrier. Add those negatives together along with competing products such as the Palm Treo, BlackBerry Curve and many Windows Mobile-based devices, and opportunity is ripe in this sector.

Taking on the big boys

I have to hand it to SonicWall—its 2007 entry into the world of the enterprise shows that companies once relegated to the SMB (small and midsize business) market can scale up. While the big players are downsizing their products to tackle the SMB market and the SMB product vendors are on the defensive, SonicWall is on the offensive, challenging those big-name vendors right on their own turf. SonicWall’s new E-Class Solutions consist of network security appliances, applications and services that are tailor-made for the enterprise. The product matrix offers feature sets comparable to the big names and at a price that will make many think twice before signing a purchase order with the established players. Add those low prices to a nonintrusive channel program and you have the recipe for success for VARs looking to step into enterprise security and networking technologies.

The world of silicon

2007 saw a lot of talk about CPUs, chip sets and the technology behind those components. While AMD faltered, Intel triumphed with the launch of the Core 2 Extreme QX6850 CPU. That processor brings unmatched performance to servers and high-end workstations, fueling the adoption of virtualization or other high-demand applications, which prove to be very friendly to the channel.

Intel also tackled out-of-band management with its latest iteration of vPro. Intel’s vPro brings remote hardware management capabilities to the channel, which favors the managed services model.

Now, VARs can get involved with remote management, managed services and lights-out (out-of-band) management by simply combining management software with motherboards equipped with vPro technology. VPro will help to transform the desktop PC from a commodity item to a service revenue generator for many VARs, a real win for the channel.

A Few of My Favorite Things

Eliminating the dead zone

Those deploying wireless networks are often challenged to provide adequate and seamless coverage across the enterprise. Solving coverage problems usually consisted of increasing access point density and going through a tedious wireless survey process.

Extricom takes a very different approach when it comes to deploying a wireless network. The company makes wireless networks reliable, resilient easy and fun. Extricom’s technology allows integrators to place Wi-Fi antenna modules around a location and tie them back into a central access point/switch. Unlike a mesh solution, Extricom’s product places the intelligence at the switch and not the antenna, which drastically improves coverage and eliminates lost connections due to access point handoffs. This is a wireless technology that one really needs to see to appreciate, and it should allow VARs to get involved with large-area or campuswide wireless deployments that actually work.

The paper chase

Any technology that can help clear off a desk and eliminate clutter is a must-have in my book. Add automatic organization and easy information retrieval and you have a technology that should be an easy sell into business environments. Visioneer has put together all of the elements to accomplish those goals. The company’s latest scanner and software bundles offer a solution that almost anyone can benefit from. Visioneer’s latest scanners offer jam-free, auto-correcting scanning that leverages searchable PDF technology. What’s more, the bundled software can feed scanned documents right into Microsoft SharePoint. Now there are no more excuses for struggling with the mess that paper documents bring. Visioneer’s products and channel program makes it easy for VARs to get involved with what can become a major business technology.

Casting a perfect image

The market is littered with hundreds of displays and dozens of companies that make them. It has become difficult for a VAR to pick and choose from that overabundance of selection. Well, ViewSonic is making choosing a display much easier with its VX2835wm LCD display. Sure, it’s pricey at more than $800, and it’s big at 28 inches, but you just have to sit in front of this display for a few hours and you will be sold!

The VX2835wm is chock-full of features. The unit offers an ultrafast gray-to-gray video response time of 3 milliseconds, integrated speakers, a plethora of connections and a maximum resolution of 1920-by-1200. What’s more, the VX2835wm includes HDMI support and proves to be an excellent HDTV monitor with 1080i support.

ViewSonic has long been a channel-friendly manufacturer, which makes it that much easier for VARs selling high-end, large-screen LCD monitors. ViewSonic’s Access partner program offers spiffs, rebates, a flooring program and extensive marketing support.

2007 may not go down as one of the most innovative years on record, but a steady stream of new products helped to keep the channel in motion and created opportunities for VARs where none may have existed before. Of course, there are other technologies that made an impact, such as the latest distributions of Linux (Ubuntu 7.10, for example) and dozens of security products, but those were expected and anticipated. It’s the products that sneak up on you that prove to be the most fun.