Microsoft more vague about Exchange road map

After removing the 2006 "Kodiak" release of Exchange Server from its product road map earlier this year, Microsoft's plans for the messaging software have gotten even cloudier.

Microsoft in May said it would deliver in 2005 an addition to Exchange called Edge Services, an intelligent message transfer agent for the edge of a company's network that offers security, spam and virus protection. The software maker is now backpedaling on that commitment, which was the only announced release for Exchange beyond 2004.

"We remain very committed to Edge Services," said Kim Akers, a senior director in Microsoft's Exchange Server group, in an interview on Friday. But when asked to confirm the stated ship target of 2005, she said "it is premature to talk about timing."

With no product road map, it is difficult for customers to make licensing decisions and plan upgrades, analysts said. "Microsoft owes it to its customers to specify and deliver more or less on time the products and updates they say are coming," said Peter Pawlak, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.

The onus to provide a road map, according to Pawlak, is on Microsoft because the company sells customers multiyear licensing contracts that include Software Assurance, a maintenance program that also covers software updates.

While Microsoft is making it difficult for corporations to anticipate what is coming down the product pipeline, the company is delivering incremental updates to Exchange, said Teney Takahashi, a market analyst at The Radicati Group.

"I think Microsoft is focused on making these small improvements," he said. "In a perfect world, all of that road map information would be available. Microsoft is taking its time to develop these products right. I think that is more important than offering a road map for five years, though I can understand if corporations are getting frustrated."

Recently, Microsoft released the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer, a tool to help users fix configuration problems. In May Microsoft introduced a spam filter for Exchange Server 2003 called Intelligent Message Filter and earlier this year the vendor released the first Service Pack for Exchange Server 2003.

Philip Colmer, IT manager at ProQuest Information and Learning in Cambridge, England, is happy with the Exchange Server 2003 system he upgraded to at the beginning of the year. Colmer is not looking for another upgrade anytime soon. "I am not too bothered at this point in time that Microsoft has not made any announcements about a new product," he said. "Nevertheless customers traditionally do expect road maps from Microsoft."

A year after releasing Exchange Server 2003, Microsoft is heralding the success of the product at an Exchange users event in Orlando, Florida, this week. However, attendees won't hear much about the future of Exchange as Microsoft is not ready to publicly discuss the Exchange road map, including plans for a new version of Exchange, Akers said.

Microsoft at the Exchange Connections event plans to announce that it sold 55 percent more licenses of Exchange Server 2003 in the first year after its release than it did with predecessor Exchange 2000 Server. Additionally, the vendor has had over 175,000 requests for evaluations of the product and more than 31,000 people have participated in Microsoft's Exchange Server 2003 classes.

Still, Microsoft faces a challenge in getting customers to upgrade their Exchange environments. The Radicati Group expects the number of Exchange Server 2003 seats won't exceed the number of Exchange 5.5 or Exchange 2000 seats until the end of 2005, according to Takahashi.

At the end of 2003, there were 51.8 million Exchange 5.5 users, 40.8 million Exchange 2000 users and 1.4 million Exchange 2003 users, according to The Radicati Group. For the end of 2005 the forecast is for Exchange 2003 to hit 49.4 million users, Exchange 5.5 to be at 31.9 million and Exchange 2000 at 47.8 million, Takahashi said.

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