Since it shipped in 1996 Microsoft Exchange has been slow out of the starting blocks, but Microsoft expects the product to make serious headway with the latest release, version 5.5.
Although incrementally numbered, the latest version features advancements such as the capacity to hold more data and to handle increased numbers of users.
“One of the biggest aims of this release was to remove the database limitations of 5.0,” says Redmond-based Rob Shurtleff, group manager in Microsoft Exchange marketing. “Also we’re now seeing a 300% increase in numbers of users Exchange can handle. Back in Redmond we’re seeing a consolidation of three to four servers on to one server and customers are doing the same.”
The new release also features improved development tools. Does this mean Exchange will become as rich a development environment as its rival Lotus Notes?
“Early in December we invited 90 Lotus gold business partners [developers and value added resellers] to Redmond,” says Shurtleff. “We wanted to explain our technology and get feedback so we showed them how to build applications in Exchange. From the feedback we got two clear messages.
“The first was that they had not understood how rich our feature set and development toolset was. They said the development toolset was broader and deeper than what they were getting from Lotus. But the second message was that we had to make it simpler. They said it was plenty powerful but we had to make it easier. With version 5.5 we have done things to address ease of use — additional wizards, studio tools and tools for hybrid applications.
“We’ve found that until now Exchange users have focused on rolling out the product and now they’re going back to get more value through development tools but email is the first application. That’s where we started and we’re going forward from that point.”
According to Microsoft, Exchange had 7.2 million seats installed worldwide by the end of Q3 1997 and is now selling more than two million seats a quarter. Eighty percent of BackOffice licences deploy Exchange, says Shurtleff, but there is still a high percentage from individual licences.
Lotus still has a larger installed base [20 million users worldwide] but has been available for longer, he points out.
“In 1997 we saw a lot of rollouts and we think 1998 will be the same way. Adopters of Exchange 4.0 were initially corporates who knew they had to get off their legacy systems. Now we’re picking up companies on traditional LAN mail systems who want more functionality and robustness. We’re also looking at taking over Lotus Notes sites and we’ve added Notes connectivity in 5.5. The first step to migrating them is connecting to them.”
Shurtleff’s team is now focused on the next release (code-name Platinum), which is NT 5.0-oriented.
“The goal is complete integration with NT 5.0 directory; however, we expect 5.5 to be a release with very long legs,” says Shurtleff.