Year in Review: Microsoft Takes Charge

If 2006 is to be the most important year of product launches for Microsoft, 2005 will be remembered as the year that Redmond took charge of its future and finally mapped out where it was headed after years of indecision.

2005 kicked off with a focus on security around the Microsoft campus. Rumors of a new suite of PC protection tools that eventually became known as Windows OneCare were followed by an inital beta release of Windows AntiSpyware, based on technology Microsoft acquired from Giant Software. A malware removal tool -- to be updated monthly -- was issued shortly thereafter.

Early hints of Microsoft's online intentions were revealed in late January with the launch of MOOL, or Outlook Live, a subscription Web based e-mail and calendar service that synchs up with Outlook 2003. But the effort would be largely forgotten as confrontations with the European Union and Google began to heat up.

As February got underway, Microsoft rolled out Windows Genuine Advantage, a program designed to deter piracy by requiring customers to verify their license as legitimate before downloading updates. The company also made further progress in bulking up its security arsenal with the purchase of antivirus vendor Sybari.

March, while free of any security patches, saw the departure of a top Windows architect who joined the ranks at Google. The goodbye was not cordial; Marc Lucovsky would later testify against Microsoft regarding its alleged intentions to "kill" Google.

That didn't stop Microsoft from unveiling its response to Google's cash cow AdWords program, known as MSN adCenter. The company also won an appeal against Eolas over a patent infringement claim and settled another patent lawsuit with streaming video company Burst.

March also brought the acquisition of Ray Ozzie's Groove Networks. Ozzie was named CTO of Microsoft and Groove's software would become part of the Office 12 platform later in the year. In the mobile business space, Microsoft shook hands with rival Symbian over e-mail synching.

Still, the EU became increasingly unimpressed with Microsoft's response to a March 2004 ruling -- namely a demand that it open the source code to certain portions of Windows. As April approached, Microsoft fulfilled one requirement: the launch of Windows XP N, which stands for "not with media player."

The more-useful 64-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 followed as April welcomed fools and Microsoft geared up for WinHEC 2005. MSN Messenger 7 and MSN Spaces left beta as well, and Microsoft kicked off a new ad campaign to breathe life back into its aging OS.

Not all was positive in Redmond, however. Forgent filed suit over a JPEG patent and Microsoft blundered by dropping support for a gay rights bill, a decision that would later be reversed in an apology by Steve Ballmer. WinHEC began with excitement, but failed to impress.

As the April showers disappited in Seattle, May promised sunnier days ahead. Microsoft introduced Windows Mobile 5.0 and acquired MessageCast to expand MSN Alert capabilities. MSN Desktop Search moved out of beta, while Virtual Earth entered testing and wowed users with its imagery.

June arrived with a startling announcement: Microsoft would open up its Office formats and license them royalty free -- but some remained skeptical. The company closed out the month with a $775 million settlement with IBM over claims Redmond hurt the sales of OS/2.

But as it settled one lawsuit, another cropped up. In mid-July Microsoft sued Google after Kai-Fu Lee left the company to head up the search engine's China research and development center.

In perhaps the most important announcement of the summer, Microsoft finally gave a name to Longhorn: Windows Vista. Company representatives told BetaNews that Microsoft felt the new version of Windows "deserved a name that was more representative of what it specifically brings to customers."

September was a big month for the software giant, which included a massive reorganization that split the company into three new divisions, each headed by its own president. Microsoft's huge Professional Developers Conference took place in Los Angeles and provided the first glimpse of Office 12's revamped user interface and the Windows Sidebar.

In addition, news broke that Massachusetts had decided to standardize on the OpenDocument format and effectively drop Microsoft Office. Court documents then surfaced about Steve Ballmer's apparent tendency to throw chairs, although the allegations were denied by the Microsoft CEO.

But the hot topics of the month became Microsoft's rumored interest in America Online and Redmond's pledge of support for HD DVD over Blu-ray with fellow computer industry heavyweight Intel.

October began quietly and came to a crescendo with news that Microsoft and Yahoo would link their instant messaging networks by the end of 2006. The agreement marked the first time major players in the highly-competitive IM industry have officially partnered up to enable cross-network communication.

Before long, the pieces fell into place with the announcement of Windows Live and Office Live, and Microsoft's strategy for the Web became clear. "This advertising model has emerged as a very important thing," Bill Gates said. The Live initiative was to bring Microsoft technologies together in a way that "just works." And a memo from Gates detailed the changes to come.

Meanwhile, Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 launched, AntiSpyware was renamed Windows Defender and Microsoft promised to make Office Open XML an open standard format. 64-bit was also declared a prerequisite for Exchange 12 and touted as the future direction of Windows Server.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Xbox 360 debuted -- and quickly sold out -- at retailers across the United States.

December brought with it a $32 million fine from South Korea and patent infringement lawsuit from Visto. But Microsoft was at least able to settle its courtroom drama with Google.

After canceling the November build, Microsoft released a December CTP of Windows Vista with features such as BitLocker and SuperFetch, while promising to finish most code by the end of the year. Windows Live Messenger entered beta testing and its invite-only status taunted many, but Microsoft developers promised to open the doors soon.

As the year draws to a close, 2006 is undeniably slated to be Microsoft's biggest year of launches in a decade. From IE7 and Windows Vista to new Windows Live services and Office 12, much is in store for the next twelve months. And although it lost the AOL tug-of-war to Google, Microsoft will surely up the ante in the battle for search supremacy.

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