Two years ago, Microsoft stuffed a number of collaboration features in Exchange Server with great fanfare. Last week, the company started to tell network executives why it now plans to pluck them out.
At its annual Microsoft Exchange Conference, company executives delivered a clear message that real-time collaboration, most notably instant messaging and conferencing, belongs in the base operating system and not Exchange.
While network executives say they understand Microsoft's strategy, they aren't happy about the hoops they'll have to jump through to make the switch.
In the operating system, real-time collaboration features can be tightly integrated with the security and management infrastructure of the operating system, and made available to a broader range of end users and applications, such as line-of-business and productivity applications, Microsoft says. Also, developers can craft those applications without having to worry about the Exchange platform.
In addition, Microsoft unveiled a project code-named Jupiter - which combines BizTalk 2002, Commerce Server 2002 and Content Management Server 2002 - and is the company's first attempt to trim the bloat from its line of 13 .Net enterprise servers. It was Microsoft's first public nod that its .Net server line has become too complex of an integration story and needs to be downsized.
Taken together, the two developments highlight the company's ongoing attempt to define its convoluted .Net infrastructure, which will be its foundation for the next generation of distributed applications based on Web services technology.
Perhaps the biggest development at the conference was the first real details of a project code-named Greenwich, which will bring instant messaging, presence and conferencing to Windows .Net Server 2003, which is expected to ship early next year. Greenwich is slated to ship sometime before October 2003.
Greenwich is inheriting services that have been cut from the next version of Exchange, code-named Titanium, confirming that Exchange Server is on an evolutionary path away from providing a foundation for real-time collaboration and application development.
"Clearly what Microsoft is focused on is that Exchange is a scalable and secure e-mail platform," says Matt Cain, an analyst with Meta Group Inc. "The notion that this is a collaboration and groupware platform has gone by the wayside."
That's much different than two years ago. Instant messaging and conferencing features, along with the Web Storage System data store and Local Web Storage System to support offline use of applications, were the highlights of the Exchange 2000 platform Microsoft touted for its maturity as a collaboration and application development platform.
Today, all that technology is being moved out of Exchange or killed and replaced with other technology, and Microsoft now is touting administration features, user interface improvements and mobility features for Titanium. Microsoft also is introducing an API called Exchange Server Objects that lets developers use Exchange's messaging transport, calendaring, tasks and contact lists in applications that don't have to run on Exchange. The API is a precursor to the type of programmatic access to Exchange that Microsoft ultimately hopes to deliver with Simple Object Access Protocol-based interfaces.
The emphasis on Exchange's messaging roots is welcome news, according to some users.
"The more rock solid they can get this messaging platform the better," says Gary Stoynoff, product consultant for network software for the Wisconsin/Michigan chapter of the American Automobile Association, which is running Exchange 5.5. "They need to focus on the basics rather than the bells and whistles. Exchange is our core messaging platform."
But Greenwich will mean changes for those who have rolled out Exchange 2000 and its instant messaging and conferencing capabilities.
"Instant messaging and conferencing were our big selling points for Exchange 2000 and now they are taking them out. That bothers me," says Francis Blay, Exchange administrator for RWD Technologies of Columbia, Md., which develops training manuals for car manufacturers and online e-learning technology. "I still have to evaluate what is happening, but Greenwich looks like it will force us to Windows .Net Server if we want to upgrade to Titanium and keep instant messaging."
Anticipating any riffs, Microsoft officials say Exchange 2000 customers will not lose instant messaging capabilities regardless of what they do.
"Exchange 2000 users will get equal functionality going forward. Instant messaging will never be taken away," says Paul Flessner, senior vice president for .Net Enterprise Servers. "I will take care of it myself even if I have to fly in and deliver it to them."
Flessner says the switch from Exchange to Greenwich was made because Microsoft realized instant messaging is a "platform technology that all of our customers should have, not just Exchange customers. Instant messaging is a big play and we want that technology available broadly."
The average instant messaging deployment reaches 16 percent of an organization's users today, according to Osterman Research, which expects that number to grow to 29 percent next year.
Microsoft plans to offer Exchange-to-Greenwich migration details before year-end, according to Don Rule, program manager for Greenwich, including details on Exchange Conferencing Server, which will see a halt in development work. Microsoft also will ship a Windows Messenger 5.0 client shortly after Greenwich that works with Exchange 2000 and Greenwich instant messaging.
Rule also said the benefits of having instant messaging in the operating system is that Microsoft can provide archiving and logging capabilities using SQL Server. He added that support in Greenwich for two standards will allow for interoperability not available with Microsoft's proprietary Rendezvous Protocol for instant messaging that Exchange 2000 uses today. Those standards are the Session Initiation Protocol and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions, an emerging standard for interoperability among disparate instant-messaging systems.
But real-time communication isn't the only place Microsoft is cleaning up its .Net story.
The company's Jupiter project aims to simplify Microsoft's trio of business servers that offer workflow, content management and e-commerce support.
"Jupiter is an attempt to reduce the number of .Net servers and make an attractive price point," says Dana Gardner, an analyst with Aberdeen Group Inc.
Microsoft has 13 .Net servers, and Jupiter's combination of BizTalk 2002, Commerce Server 2002 and Content Management Server 2002 represents a logical pairing for corporations running e-commerce Web sites.
Jupiter initially will extend the business workflow capabilities of BizTalk 2002 and its range of 300 connectors for legacy systems to the content authoring and publishing processes of Content Management Server and the e-commerce process supported by Commerce Server.
Microsoft says it intends to support a recently proposed workflow protocol it developed with IBM and BEA Systems, called Business Process Execution Language for Web Services, and its proposed WS-Security specification to support interoperability.
Jupiter also will tightly integrate with Office on the desktop and Visual Studio .Net on the developer side.
Eventually, Jupiter will become a set of XML-based components offering services such as catalog management and personalization, Microsoft officials said.
"We are taking a broad set of functionality and trying to break down the barriers between them," says Dave Wascha, lead product manager for e-business servers at Microsoft. "People have been asking us how these [servers] work within .Net, and this is the answer."