.Net push raises Exchange users' ire

Messaging administrators came to Microsoft's MEC 2001 conference last week hoping to learn about Exchange 2000 and instead got a heavy dose of .Net, even though they're still struggling with upgrades to Active Directory and Exchange.

One IT manager from a California food manufacturer said she probably won't come to the event next year, since there was so little useful information for her this time.

Users at the Orange County Convention Center here said they were looking for guidance on their Exchange migrations specifically, on how to move data and manage system functions not general Exchange overviews and pitches for .Net. They also said there wasn't enough information on planning for .Net in Active Directory and Exchange 2000 deployments.

Paul Flessner, senior vice president of Microsoft's .Net Enterprise Server division, downplayed Exchange-related issues in his keynote talk and urged developers to start building applications for .Net. He said developers shouldn't worry about what the now vaguely defined .Net will require, since anything written with Simple Object Access Protocol and XML embedded in it will work with .Net.

The lack of focus on Exchange implementations may leave users with more questions than answers, said Dana Gardner, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston.

"By going from Exchange 5.5 to 2000 and making all the infrastructure and repository changes that that entails, you now know that the next version of Exchange in 2003 to 2004 will require yet another substantial change to another repository one based on SQL. . . . To wait and move once may make more sense," he said.

However, even users frustrated with Microsoft's business strategy said they likely won't change plans to migrate to Exchange 2000, since it would be costly and complicated to switch direction now.

A year after the release of Exchange 2000, the vast majority of Exchange users have yet to migrate to that version, let alone consider the next step, according to Ferris Research Inc. in San Francisco.

In a Ferris Research survey released in March, respondents estimated that by September, 20 percent of Exchange seats would run Exchange 2000, with 80 percent of users on Version 5.5.

"We've learned that Exchange users are keener to migrate to Exchange 2000 than Notes/Domino users have been to migrate to Domino R5," the report said. "Nevertheless, most Exchange sites probably won't be Exchange 2000-based until late 2003."

Many users agreed that Microsoft won't be able to take over the high-end computing functions of Unix systems or complex workflow capabilities of software makers like FileNet Corp. in Costa Mesa, Calif. At best, Microsoft might be able to serve as the connection among those systems, they said.

But, Gardner noted, IBM is already beginning to deliver on what Microsoft hasn't fully developed.

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