Reaffirming its commitment to markets across Africa as part of its global activities, Microsoft last announced the availability of Windows Vista, the 2007 Office System and Exchange 2007 for business customers across West, East and Central Africa (WECA) and the Indian Ocean Islands (IOI).

 Vista is the latest version of the company’s Windows operating system for desktop and notebook computers; the 2007 Office System is a complete set of desktop and server software solutions designed to help companies and people work with documents, and communicate and collaborate; and Exchange is the software that drives email, electronic calendars and other messaging tools.

The news marks the beginning of Microsoft’s most significant product launch to date, rivaled only by the joint release of Windows 95 and Office 95 more than a decade ago.

“The modern business environment in Africa demands that people have immediate access to information in a secure and efficient way. These same people are looking for technology to be easy to use, agile and scalable,” said Thomas Hansen, regional general manager for Microsoft in WECA and IOI.

“With the release of Windows Vista, the 2007 Office System and Exchange 2007, we believe we’re meeting and exceeding demands. We’re raising the bar on collaboration, security and integration and giving modern business users the tools they need to work in new ways … and to make existing work processes better.”

Organisations across the region that have a ‘volume license’ agreement with Microsoft – that is, a structured purchasing programme for the company’s software – will have access to the new products from 30 November. Consumers and all other organisations can buy the products from early February next year when they are formally launched to the mass-market worldwide.

Questions have been raised about the technology’s relevance in the region. When asked why customers should consider upgrading when the current versions of Windows and Office work well, Hansen said they offered the kind of innovation that evolving African businesses needed.

“Vista gives users a more intuitive interface, placing functionality where they would logically expect it to be and allowing them to navigate between features quickly. It also allows them to get to information faster, through a desktop-wide search feature and custom tools which reside in the new ‘sidebar’,” said Hansen.

“Office 2007’s new ‘ribbon interface’ predicts what users would like to do and presents them with the relevant options – as it is contextual it changes depending on the application and task at hand.

“Exchange 2007 brings new forms of communication into the mix, extending e-mail and calendaring into the realm of unified messaging – whereby voice, fax messages and all forms of electronic communication are placed right at users’ fingertips.”

Microsoft believes these iterations are the most stable and secure combination of solutions it has ever released. The company expects the new products to increase productivity, be easier to manage and to help reduce costs – and, of course, to provide users with an experience that is enjoyable.