Exchange 2000 plays catch-up to Notes: analyst

Microsoft Corp. has laid its bets. It’s tied its upcoming release of Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server closely to Windows 2000, and depending on who you talk to, the gamble could either pay off big or significantly delay the product’s adoption rates.

Exchange 2000 Server, code-named Platinum, will only run on Windows 2000, meaning companies migrating from Exchange 5.5 will have to undertake another significant implementation first.

“Is it a good idea to tie it, absolutely, it’s a really smart idea,” Kevin Restivo, an analyst at International Data Corp. (Canada) Ltd. in Toronto. “Microsoft operating systems, whether it be’95 or ’98, have proven to be the bulwark of their business. So trying to leverage one of their strongest products is a great strategy to try to improve the market share of Exchange.”

But not everyone agrees.

Joyce Graff, vice-president and research director for electronic mail at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group Inc., thinks tying Exchange 2000 to Windows 2000 may well “prove to be a mistake.”

“They’re hoping that Exchange is going to drive sales of Windows 2000, but for an end user to have to swallow that whole lake all at one time could be a big problem,” she said.

Microsoft knows that it will have to endure some growing pains, said Eric Lockard, the Exchange general manager at Microsoft in Bellevue, Wash..

“Platinum only runs on Windows 2000. From a business perspective, that’s probably a short term negative, because it represents another thing the customer has to put their head around before they can deploy the product. But (it is) a long term positive, because the end results of the unification of the system (and) a single point of administration…in the end provides the best product offering.”

Still, with all of the problems that implementation will entail, Graff thinks the latest version of Exchange will have some much-looked-for features. The Web Store in Exchange 2000 will be partitioned, making it much more manageable. The Web Store acts as an all-purpose file server that can store a variety of files from disparate sources, including, e-mail, documents, audio and video streaming data, and Web pages.

The release of Exchange 2000 “will bring it almost to parity with some of the functions of Lotus Notes, but Lotus Notes still maintains its lead in groupware and a very strong lead in support for remote users. The Lotus remote experience is far superior to the Microsoft remote experience,” Graff said.

Exchange still remains behind Lotus in other ways too, according to Graff.

“There is still no real background synchronization for Outlook. They say that there is, but if you try to do any of a very large number of functions while it’s synchronizing in the background, you will get into trouble, so the best thing to do is walk away and not touch the keyboard,” she said.

Graff warns that IT departments shouldn’t undertake an implementation for at least nine to 12 months after the product is made available. Microsoft released the beta version last month. With any product that has millions of lines of code, there are bound to be a lot of bugs at the beginning that do not surface until they hit the real world, no matter how much testing is done before hand. This is not something unique to Microsoft, Graff stressed – it’s something that all companies are bound to experience.

And Exchange 2000 is a significantly different product from Exchange 5.5. While the time interval between the releases of Exchange 4, 5 and 5.5 were 12 months each, for Exchange 2000 it will be about 30 months.

It integrates with Active Directory to create a single point of administration of all users, groups, permissions and licences. Exchange 2000 will also have instant messaging and presence information capabilities. Users will be able to find out where to contact people they need to get a hold of and send them a message instantaneously, no matter where they are. Users will also be able to stay connected even when they’re away from the office.

“What it really means is that [users] can be connected to information now all the time. They’re not limited by whether or not they have a PC, whether or not they have a hard line into a network infrastructure somewhere,” said Marlene Zimmerling, a marketing manager at Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga. “So it really means that they’re no longer at a disconnect when they’re out on the road.”

Pricing information for Exchange 2000 is not yet available.

Microsoft can be reached at (905) 568-0434.

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