Exchange 2000 Users Laud New Capabilities

But say they're leery of installing the apps

Dallas

Amid a Las Vegas-style display of laser lights and pyrotechnics, Microsoft Corp. officials worked hard to get current and prospective customers pumped up for the company's new line of messaging and collaborative software at the Microsoft Exchange and Collaboration 2000 conference here last week.

Users attending the conference said they were excited about the possibilities Exchange 2000 promises but said they were wary of the complex task of implementation. Some of those users - joint development partners who have begun the process - took part in a panel discussion and said the benefits are worth the effort.

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Exchange Moves Toward the Middle

When Microsoft unveiled Exchange 2000 last week, the company demonstrated cross-platform capabilities not previously seen in products from the software maker, analysts said.

This flexibility signals that Microsoft is responding to market forces and opening its messaging and collaboration platform for use with third-party applications, as well as by application service providers (ASP), analysts said.

The Exchange 2000 line is being released to the public this week, setting the stage for the expected release in the first half of next year of the next Office product and the much-hyped knowledge-management tool Tahoe. All are based on the new Web Storage System (WSS) technology, which will push applications toward a Web-browser interface and will allow users and developers to create and send documents across multiple platforms.

The replication abilities of WSS make Exchange more competitive with Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes, said Dana Gardner, research director at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston. Notes, meanwhile, is getting faster at replicating, he said, which shows that Lotus is watching Microsoft.

The market, not June's antitrust ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, spawned the new flexibility, Gardner said. And ASPs will increasingly be able to demand flexibility from software makers, he said.

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Exchange 2000 has the potential to boost electronic business initiatives by serving as a development platform for corporate Web sites, said Vicki Fredrick, U.S.-based director of the Exchange migration at Aventis, a pharmaceutical conglomerate based in Strasbourg, France.

Aventis began to implement a beta of Exchange 2000 earlier this year as a Microsoft joint development partner. Fredrick said that once installed, Exchange 2000 will streamline administration by speeding application distribution and message processing. But the effort, still incomplete, involves a lot of work, she said. "You guys have got a learning curve ahead of you," Fredrick told a group of prospective developers at the conference.

Complex Process

A Microsoft spokesman acknowledged that installation will be a complex process but noted that the company delayed the launch of Exchange 2000 from June in part to expand efforts to make the process more manageable.

"I'm looking forward to the upgrade, but I'm also anxious about it," said Sean Smith, the Exchange administrator at Emery Worldwide in Portland, Ore. Because Exchange 2000 is made up of more discrete components than its predecessor, Smith said he will be able to "pass off more of the little stuff" to administrators at Emery's offices, instead of requiring them to download huge attachments.

While he and other administrators may not be 100% ready to start moving to Exchange 2000, Smith said, "How else are you going to learn?"

The panelists offered some suggestions to prospective users. For starters, they said, users need to recognize that Exchange 2000 is built on top of Microsoft's Active Directory, so companies without Active Directory will need to upgrade to that first.

"Know your existing environment," added Tom McCormick, the Exchange administrator at Marathon Oil Co. in Houston, another Microsoft joint development partner. Administrators will have unpleasant surprises if they don't know what they are migrating to in the new system, he said.

Companies that are considering hardware upgrades may find the installation of Exchange 2000 a good impetus, panelists and other users agreed. But Dan Guttman, Exchange administrator at The MTVi Group Inc., the online arm of New York-based MTV Networks, said he didn't have to upgrade his server to implement the new version.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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