Microsoft launched its much-anticipated and much-delayed Exchange 2000 product line across the US last week at the Microsoft Exchange & Collaboration Solutions 2000 conference in Dallas. Microsoft unveils Bill Gates' .Net vision in Australia this week, which will include the Australasian launch of Exchange 2000.
The underlying theme of the keynote speeches and presentations was that Microsoft is providing a number of products to work across platforms and is taking aim at rival Lotus Development's Notes in the messaging collaboration arena.
In a not-so-subtle jibe at its competitor, Microsoft demonstrated the new workflow capabilities with a faux press event in Cambridge, Massachussetts, the headquarters for Lotus. "They need some excitement in Cambridge," quipped Gordon Mangione, vice president of Microsoft's exchange business unit.
Microsoft spokesmen acknowledged the move toward a more Notes-like replication model that will be available with the Web Storage System next year, and they continually emphasised the cross-platform capabilities of the new Exchange products. Those include the knowledge management tool the Tahoe server, which is accessible through a Web portal, and the Web Store Server, which was part of last week's announcement.
Whether the new Exchange will pry users away from Notes remains to be seen, said Dana Gardner, research director at US-based Aberdeen Group.
The new Exchange products are "putting the major building blocks in place", he said, but configuring those blocks will be costly and complex. "When you get there, you may be happy with what you've got," Gardner said.
The hyped Tahoe server is designed to allow users to search for related documents across databases. It differs from the Lotus knowledge management tool Raven in that it is primarily intended to search for documents, while Raven is intended to help workers track different modes of communication, such as e-mail, instant messages and faxes.
The new products, with the release next year of the Local Web Storage System, allow users to work online and off-line and convert to any Internet-based protocol the user needs. The strategy is in keeping with what Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said earlier this year - the Internet is going to be the primary access point for workers, and applications need to work through a Web browser.
The increased ability of Microsoft products to be flexible and work with non-Microsoft applications is a sign that application service providers and niche software makers are pushing the next big phase of Microsoft products, Gardner said.
Microsoft will even provide some open-source capabilities with some sample applications of "Office 10", which is expected to be released in the first half of next year, though the source code of Office itself will remain proprietary.
Gardner said smaller niche vendors are increasingly able to provide solutions today that Microsoft is promising a year from now, like voice mail from Web applications. In fact, one part of last week's announcement touts Exchange's ability to incorporate third-party unified messaging capabilities.