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Microsoft's shifting plan has users frustrated

By , Network World
March 31, 2003 12:12 AM ET

Network World - The only thing clear about Microsoft's ongoing remake of its collaborative software strategy is that large corporations can expect it to require yet another round of expensive infrastructure upgrades.

Everything else about the plan looks like an unmade bed, customers and industry experts say.

"Their collaboration strategy doesn't look clear or cohesive, and it requires rip and replace starting with Windows Server 2003," says Bruce Elgort, manager of MIS strategic business operations for Sharp Microelectronics in Camas, Wash. Elgort is in the process of replacing Microsoft Exchange with IBM/Lotus Domino. "Microsoft had a mail-centric collaborative strategy and maybe they finally realized that was a bad architecture. But I wasn't going to risk my organization on new Microsoft technology."

Only two years ago, Microsoft's collaboration platform and development environment was based on Exchange Server 2000, its Web Store back end and a Web conferencing add-on server. Since then, a series of shifts have made that Exchange-based platform obsolete, even before some 70% of Exchange customers had found a reason to upgrade to it.

Today's collaboration strategy shifts toward Microsoft's historic strengths: the operating system and Office. However, that change requires a major shuffling of the company's products. Parts of Exchange are being moved to Windows Server 2003, Office System 2003 has become the focal client interface for collaboration, Web conferencing support remains unsettled, a new universal data store is in the works, and Exchange now is slated to be an e-mail engine and mobile device gateway.

While pieces of the platform can be used a la carte, the whole of its parts has yet to take shape.

"It's a fairly disjointed message, and I have to believe there is fragmentation within Microsoft," says Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies, referring to the fact that collaboration technologies are spread out over a number of product teams within Microsoft.

"You definitely need a map to keep up," says Robert Mahowald, research manager for collaboration at IDC. "Microsoft has to explain why this stuff has moved out of Exchange and why IT has to set it all up again in a different place. From a product perspective, they are putting things where they need to be, but they have to explain how it all ties together."

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