His employer is a heavy user of Microsoft software and hosts a variety of critical enterprise applications -- from Microsoft, other vendors and custom-developed in house -- in Windows Server 2008 R2 and, to a lesser extent, on Windows Server 2003.
He will also seek details about Office 15, an early-stage initiative that will involve an ambitious upgrade of the Office productivity applications, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as of Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and of Office 365, the cloud suite that includes online versions of these products.
"I want to get ideas about what I need to start pre-planning for and start doing now to be proactive and ready for these products when they hit the ground," said Vander Kooi, whose employer operates an almost 1,900-mile common carrier pipeline system that transports fuel from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest.
Vander Kooi will also look for details about Windows 8, the new version of the Windows operating system for desktop PCs, laptops and tablets.
So far, he is skeptical about the two user interfaces Windows 8 will have: the traditional Windows environment and the new Metro-style interface, which is designed for touch-based screens.
Many Windows 8 testers have complained that in the beta versions of Windows 8, the Metro UI is confusing and difficult to use with a mouse and keyboard in regular non-touch screen PCs, and that toggling between it and the traditional Windows interface is problematic.
Vander Kooi's company gives its employees desktop PCs, laptops and smartphones, but not yet tablets, so he sees little use for the Metro interface among its 250 users. "What they've done is put another layer between me and the stuff I actually want to get to," he said. "It just makes life that much more difficult to do work in the environment I want to do my work in."
Explorer Pipeline recently finished upgrading most of its PCs from Windows XP to Windows 7, but Vander Kooi wouldn't rule out an upgrade to Windows 8 if it were deemed worthwhile, or if it were necessary to take advantage of key new features in Windows Server 2012 and other upcoming upgrades.
In fact, his company will be actively scoping Windows 8 tablets when they start hitting the market, and will consider providing them to some users who could benefit from having such devices, he said. The company also recently acquired about 20 new laptops with touch screens.
However, he thinks Microsoft needs to give IT departments flexibility to configure their Windows 8 interface preferences, so that the Metro UI doesn't become an obstacle to productivity in devices and scenarios in which he finds it clunky, such as with desktop PCs and docked laptops connected to the corporate network and used with external keyboards, monitors and mice.
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