Exchange 2000's Dangerous Temptation

Warning.Exchange 2000 presents a temptation to Microsoft Corp. for Machiavellianmanipulation.

Thescenario is this: Exchange 2000 builds on the capabilities of Windows 2000 andActive Directory. In other words, both have to be installed before you candeploy Exchange 2000, which will be officially launched at the end ofSeptember.

The problem Microsoft has is that Windows 2000 isn’t flying out of the factory and into the enterprise. Microsoft characterizes Windows 2000 sales as faster than it expected, but it’s still not that fast compared with the company’s current market position with Windows 95/98 or Windows NT.

Then there’s the matter of Active Directory. Anecdotal evidence suggests the majority of Windows 2000 deployments outside Microsoft’s Rapid Deployment Program and Joint Development Program are desktop-only rollouts. Microsoft isn’t clarifying the situation.

In short, Windows 2000 Server isn’t being deployed all that much, thus Active Directory installations are very rare.

Part of the problem with Active Directory rollouts, in addition to the tremendous amount of planning involved, is that there are basically no applications available for sale that fully leverage the capabilities of the new directory service. Exchange 2000 was supposed to be the first -- and it was supposed to emerge closer to Windows 2000's February release. So it’s a Catch-22. Customers haven’t had a compelling reason to go to the Active Directory without Exchange 2000; but now that Exchange 2000 is out, people aren’t on Active Directory yet.

Let’s get back to Microsoft's great temptation. The company could -- and I hope that it doesn't -- subtly scale back support of the immensely popular Exchange 5.5 to not-so-gently nudge the user base to Exchange 2000 and, by default, to Active Directory.

Support always suffers a little bit on an old version of software when a new version comes out. To be fair, companies are justifiably more enthusiastic about the latest and greatest engineering efforts than with patching the problems encountered by users sticking with older software.

But Microsoft has a greater responsibility to those in its Exchange 5.5 customer base for two reasons: Asking customers to upgrade to Active Directory is a colossal request that requires ample time and planning, and Exchange 5.5 is the most important Windows NT-based application in many organizations.

Microsoft set a bad precedent in its Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification program by accelerating the retirement of Windows NT 4.0 certification and exams. A major point of discussion among Microsoft Certified Professionals at the recent MCP TechMentor 2000 conference in San Francisco this month was when to take the quickie Windows 2000 certification test that would let them retain their certifications. The cynical view is that Microsoft is twisting arms among its army of loyal partners to get certified on Windows 2000 to force customers to make Windows 2000 migrations. The broader question is what this portends for the continuation of support for the mass of customers who choose not to go to Windows 2000 for several years.

In the case of Exchange 2000, approach implementation as you would Windows 2000 desktop or server rollouts and Active Directory rollouts. See if you can build a business case for it in your organization. If you can, go for it. If not, demand that Microsoft do the right thing by maintaining full support of Exchange 5.5.