Microsoft gives Exchange 5.5 users free year of support

Microsoft on Monday gave in to the drawn-out migration timetables of its Exchange 5.5 customers and said it would offer a free year of extended support on the messaging server.

Microsoft hopes the year of free support - which includes hot fixes, security hot fixes and pay-per-incident support - will give users extra time to migrate and guarantee they move to Exchange 2000 or Exchange 2003, which is set to ship Oct. 21.

The company also hopes it will keep customers from jumping to rival platforms. Microsoft would like to keep its more than 100 million Exchange users around for the "Kodiak" version that figures prominently in its .Net platform strategy. Kodiak isn't expected to ship until 2006.

Last November, Microsoft announced that mainstream support of Exchange 5.5 would end on Dec. 31, 2003. The change, part of modifications across the board in Microsoft's product support programs, also gave customers the option of paying for an additional two years of mainstream support, called extended support.

The company is now waiving the first year of the fee, which varies depending on the number of hot fixes a customer requests. Extended support ends for good on Dec. 31, 2005, and no form of support will be available after that date.

Microsoft has been trying to nudge customers off the aging Exchange 5.5 platform, which was first shipped in February 1998, ever since it shipped Exchange 2000 in November 2000. And with the impending launch of Exchange 2003, the company would like to accelerate the migration process.

Customers have been reluctant to move to Exchange 2000 or 2003 because they must also migrate to Active Directory. The option of moving to either Exchange 2000 or 2003 has further slowed migration decisions.

Roughly 40 percent to 60 percent of Exchange customers are still on the 5.5 platform.

The reluctance of those customers to move has set off a feeding frenzy by rivals, including IBM/Lotus, Novell Inc. and second-tier messaging vendors such as Gordano Ltd., Ipswitch Inc., Mirapoint Inc., Rockliffe Systems Inc., Sendmail Inc. and Stalker Software Inc.

"We don't think many customers are leaving the (Exchange) fold," says Missy Stern, product manager for Exchange. "We are confident that customers will go to Exchange 2003."

The Exchange 2003 platform includes a set of deployment tools, migration wizards and documentation to walk 5.5 users through the migration process. Stern said the free year of extended support would provide customers more time to migrate and the flexibility to do it on their own timetables and budget cycles.

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