Microsoft delays release of Exchange 2000

Citing a quest for quality, Microsoft last week delayed the release of its Exchange 2000 Server messaging platform, moving the expected availability from an August release to sometime nearer the end of the year.

"For Exchange 2000 [Server], we have set ourselves a quality bar that is much higher than any we've ever had before, for any previous version of Exchange," said Stan Sorensen, group product manager for server applications at Microsoft.

"The truth of the matter is, we're hitting it but we're not surpassing it in a couple of areas. We have a tradition of absolutely hurdling the quality bar that we set, our customers expect it, we expect it, and we're just not satisfied yet."Sorensen said one of the areas Microsoft is focusing on involves logon performance in certain network configurations. Currently, when a particular network configuration is running centrally, it takes a couple of minutes for an Outlook user to log on, he explained; work is being done to make that an instantaneous process instead.

"We just figured a couple of minutes [to log on] isn't good enough," Sorensen said. "We know exactly what to do to fix it; it doesn't require making enormous code touches or anything like that - it's a very straightforward thing, but we want to make sure we get it right, thoroughly test it."Analyst Ian Campbell, vice president of US-based market researcher Nucleus Research, said the reason for the delay is not surprising, since quality assurance (QA) is an oft-cited cause for pushing back release dates.

"Their statement is what you'd expect from anybody," Campbell said. "More and more people are using Exchange - it's a mission-critical application, we know that it can't go down. It started out as a good application, but it always needed some more work," Campbell said. "There aren't a lot of new features in there; what I think it is a revamp of things under the covers that we can't see but that Microsoft really needed to fix. I think there appears to be more going on under the covers of Exchange in changes to the code base than is apparent from the list of features that came out, and this delay shows that they're doing due diligence."Microsoft consulted its JDPs (Joint Development Partners) as well as the next level of customers once it had decided to hold Exchange 2000 back. According to Sorensen, those customers supported the move.

"Across the board [these customers] said, ‘Yeah, I think you guys are making the right decision, this gives us a little extra time to plan, gives us a little extra time to make sure that Windows deployment is rock-solid, so we don't mind,'" Sorensen said. "I have not received one e-mail from a customer that's angry, I haven't had any developers forward me customer mail that has an angry customer. They across the board say, ‘You know, it's a server product, our level of expectation across the board is pretty darn high, and it sounds like you're doing the right thing to hit our level of expectation.'"Campbell said he does not expect the Exchange 2000 pushback to have significant effects on Microsoft's sales figures, since "nobody's going to be really upset at a six to eight week delay." However, the continuing trend of software companies setting release dates that are continually missed is having some effect on customers' mindset when it comes to new product packages.