Windows 2003 compatibility issues upset some IT pros

Some IT managers aren't happy. Others are more understanding. But all of those planning to upgrade to Windows Server 2003 will find that many older versions of Microsoft's most popular server applications won't run on the new operating system.

Only SQL Server 2000 with Service Pack 3 can be installed on Windows Server 2003. Users running SQL Server 6.5 or 7.0 will have to upgrade or wait for the SQL release code-named Yukon, which will soon go into beta testing.

Exchange Server users have one choice. The only version that can be installed on the new operating system is Exchange 2003, and it's not due until summer.

"I think Microsoft owes it to their customers to ensure backwards compatibility and interoperability for at least five years," said Derek Gee, vice president and director of system architecture and integration at Ameriquest Mortgage in the US.

"Another reason Microsoft should support some of their older versions is to maintain customer loyalty," said Steve Sommer, CIO at Hughes, Hubbard & Reed. "There are some big customers that cannot afford to upgrade right now."

Many users are sympathetic to Microsoft's claims that extensive security, Web server and Active Directory improvements affect not only the operating system but also any applications that rely on it. They said they understand why some older applications won't be supported on Windows Server 2003.

"If it's really a major upgrade, then Microsoft can't be expected to make substantial improvements to the product while at the same time bringing along all its old baggage," said Rich Eber, development service director at Hawaiian Electric in Honolulu.

But if users find that the core Windows server operating system hasn't changed internally as much as Microsoft has portrayed, "there should be a backlash against this lack of support," Eber said.

Neville Teagarden, CIO at Navigant International, said security has spurred his company to invest time during the past year to get the latest versions of Microsoft software. "My CIO colleagues should be asking themselves whether they can afford the security risks of using older versions of Microsoft products," he said.

Those users who have lagged on upgrades, however, may not be pleased to see that Microsoft won't be supporting older versions of its software on the latest operating system.

"Expecting companies to upgrade everything in their infrastructure to get the features from a single product, in this case Windows 2003, is unrealistic," said Dave Curran, manager of IT at CE Franklin in Calgary, Alberta. "This smells of a pure money grab by Microsoft."

Curran said CE Franklin will delay its upgrade to Windows Server 2003 by at least 12 months because of the application compatibility issue. The oil and gas equipment supplier is still running Exchange 5.5 on Windows NT 4.0, and a simultaneous migration would be "too much for us to undertake in a single upgrade," he said.

Alejandro Bombaci, CIO at Empresas Polar, a consumer goods maker and distributor in Caracas, Venezuela, said his company typically migrates the operating system -- the "enabler layer" -- and then the applications. "Upgrading both at the same time is too risky," he said, although in his case, the upgrades mostly involve non-Microsoft applications.

Most Microsoft server applications will run fine in an environment that has a mix of servers running Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2000, said Barry Goffe, group manager of Microsoft's server platform division. Exchange 2000, for instance, can coexist in a Windows Server 2003 environment, as long as it's installed on a server running Windows 2000 with Service Pack 3.

With about 350 code changes in Windows Server affecting Exchange, Microsoft said it decided that customers would be better served if it focused development on Exchange 2003 rather than on updating old versions, so it could take advantage of improvements in Internet Information Server (IIS) 6.0. Exchange 2000 and 2003 rely heavily on IIS for Internet-based protocol services.

But some users are upset by the decision. For example, Rick Weaver, director of technical architecture at Hilton Hotels, said Hilton is running a mix of Exchange 5.5 and 2000 and does slow migrations "because they are extremely painful."

"It would encourage acceptance of the new operating system if the old apps ran on it," Weaver said.

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