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At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) this week, Microsoft rolled out a new Web services model for device connectivity, plus a large roadmap for more than a dozen new software releases by the end of 2005.

Microsoft partners are greeting all of this news with mixed reactions. Partners say they’re glad that Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) is coming out, for example, but they don’t see the fix as any sort of ultimate panacea for Internet security.

The newly unveiled Devices Profile for Web Services—a specification co-written by Intel Corp., Lexmark International Inc. and Ricoh Co. Ltd.—is aimed at easing the process of connecting printers and other devices over the network. So, too, is Microsoft Corp.’s new Network Connected Device Driver Development Kit (DDK), a related product also introduced at WinHEC.

Do partners predict that these new twists on Web services will be helpful to their businesses? Some do, but others don’t. The answer hinges largely on the individual partner’s business model.

“If this new approach to device connectivity will reduce time and deployment costs, then I’m all in favor of it,” said Zachary Slavin, president of The Slavin Group, a New York-based systems consultancy that works mainly with midsized financial firms.

When installing printers, IT pros still need to go to each desktop individually, Slavin said. “You might install desktop number one with a high-speed, black-and-white printer at IP address number one, and then install a color laser printer at IP address number two,” he said. “If I’ll now be able to make one visit [to the customer site] instead of two, that’ll be great.”

Other partners, though, said they don’t think they’ll stand to gain from the devices profile. “That announcement at WinHEC is geared more to office type of connectivity inside an intranet,” said Matt Grinn, a support engineer at MaximumASP LLC in Louisville, Ky. “We, on the other hand, are hosting Web pages on the Internet for professional developers.”

Microsoft’s more overarching software roadmap was unveiled in a keynote speech by Jim Allchin, vice president of the platforms group at Microsoft. The roadmap calls for release of the following software in 2004: Windows XP SP2; Windows XP Tablet PC; Windows CE 5.0; Smart Phone Pocket PC; Portable Windows Media Center; XP Support for Windows Media Center; and XP 64-bit Edition for 64-bit Extended Systems.

Also this year, Microsoft expects to release Windows Server 2003 64-bit Edition; Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1); and Windows Small Business Server 2003 SP1.

Releases planned for 2005 include Longhorn beta 1 (both client and server editions); Windows Storage Server (code-named Storm); Microsoft Virtual Server 2005; and Windows Small Business Server 1 Update.

Some partners said they are in favor of this plethora of products. “The more products, the better—the more for customers to choose from, and the more for us to sell,” said Neil Pearlstein, vice president of sales at PC Professional Inc., a network integrator in Oakland, Calif.

But others said they perceive some drawbacks. “Our customers are so technically adept that they can handle just about anything,” said MaximumASP’s Grinn. But he admitted that less technically proficient customers might find it tough to keep all of Microsoft’s products straight.

Slavin took a different view. “I am a Microsoft reseller. We’re the ones who have to learn all about the ‘latest and greatest.’ It’s my job as a reseller to evaluate each product and to determine the efficiencies that will be gained by customers. When there are lots of products involved, this can be time-consuming,” he said.

“From the customer’s standpoint, deployment of a new product is an issue, and so are upgrades. Both can be too costly unless a real ROI [return on investment] is going to be achieved.”

One product release that all of the Microsoft partners say they’re looking forward to is XP SP2, which is now supposedly just around the corner. Still, though, partners say they don’t expect that the fix will become a permanent cure for every security ill.

“SP2 will add a lot of security enhancements for curtailing intrusions and viruses,” Pearlstein said. “Anything on the security side is temporary, however, because people will always be creating new incursions.”

“SP2 will bring together a bunch of updates into a single package, for one-stop shopping. On balance, this will be a good thing. Often, though, these new features also have their own bugs,” Grinn said.

“After a security update has been issued, it’s often necessary to install patches later on,” Slavin agreed. “So, we’re not in any rush to deploy the updates. We generally wait about three to six months, in case something rears its head. This gives Microsoft some time to find any security issues and to work out the bugs.”

As a security workaround, as well as to save money for customers, Slavin has been looking into migrating some of his customers to Linux.

“We’ve already implemented several Linux servers. Now, I think I might put in Linux on the desktop for one of my customers, which has about 20 employees,” Slavin said. “A buddy of mine who works in IT is thinking about doing the same thing at his company. It has around 1,700 employees.”

“Microsoft is a worldwide standard, but there are alternatives,” the reseller added. “We are evaluating several Linux distributions. Linux might not be as slick as Windows, but there are fewer security issues. Customers pay no licensing fees for a Linux OS, and solutions such as OpenOffice are far less expensive than Microsoft Office.”