Exchange Road Map Stirs Controversy

Microsoft Corp. next week will discuss a road map for its messaging platform that's making some developers uneasy.

Microsoft Corp. next week will discuss a road map for its messaging platform thats making some developers uneasy.

At the Microsoft Exchange Conference 2001 in Orlando, Fla., company officials will detail how they plan to phase out the current Web data store in Exchange, called WebStore, in favor of a future version of SQL Server.

The Redmond, Wash., developer will also distribute a Exchange 2000 Developers Enablement Kit, which will include sample Exchange Web services code and training materials, designed to speed Web services development by Exchange developers. In addition, Microsoft will announce a new version of its Mobile Information Server.

Microsoft will also trot out partners and customers to tell of their success stories in building Web services.

"Were hoping to get a clear product direction," said Greg Scott, IS manager at Oregon State Universitys College of Business in Corvallis. "A year ago, we made a substantial commitment to invest in WebStore. Now were hearing rumblings that theyre going to make a changeover from WebStore to a new version of SQL thats still two to three years out. That has a bearing on the platform we choose."

Chris Baker, lead product manager for Exchange 2000 at Microsoft, confirmed that WebStore would be phased out in favor of SQL over the next few years, but said Microsoft remained committed to the existing development environment in the near term.

"Were just a year out on the current Exchange platform; it still has plenty of legs left," he said. "The next release is still a couple years out before we switch to an SQL engine under the hood."

Baker said the SQL environment of the future would mean even better integration of Exchange-based collaboration applications with line-of-business applications running on other Microsoft servers, such as Commerce Server and BizTalk.

"SQL can make the .Net story even better," said Baker. "It will make development consistent across the server lines so that its easier to bring together components from the different server products."

Exchange developers can start using the SQL engine today though the next major release of SQL Server, when the product is expected to be a mature Web services development environment, is still a couple of years away.

Lars Munch Johansen, CEO of Microsoft development partner IT Factory Inc., in Boston, said the future Web services development environment in Exchange is likely to be a combination of SQL and the existing WebStore. IT Factory will be announcing Version 2.0 of its Development Center toolkit at the conference, which Johansen said can bridge the gaps between WebStore and SQL by creating common data objects that work with both.

"Theres a significant opportunity in combining the SQL environment with the WebStore system," said Johansen. "Youre putting together the best of two worlds."

Also at MEC 2001, Microsoft will announce Mobile Information Server 2002--Enterprise Edition, the next version of its platform to extend .Net applications to wireless devices. Chief among the enhancements in this version of MIS is full integration with other .Net servers.

The upgrade will also feature Microsoft Server ActiveSync, which does over-the-air server synchronization with Exchange 2000 using mobile devices with Microsofts new Pocket PC 2002, which is scheduled to be launched next week.

Also in MIS 2002--Enterprise Edition will be enhanced security and performance, new administration tools, updated deployment topologies, new language support, and an updated software development kit.

The 2002 version also supports any WAP (wireless application protocol) browser as well as standard HTML, WAP/Wireless Markup Language v1.1 and HDML browsers.

Paul Flessner, senior vice president of Microsofts .Net Enterprise Server Division, will announce in his keynote address a strategic partnership with MobileSys Inc., of Mountain View, Calif. The partnership is aimed at providing enterprises with secure wireless access via MIS 2002--Enterprise Edition and the MobileSys Global data network.

Still, MIS has its skeptics.

"We continue to believe that their strategy, while OK in the consumer market, may represent a higher cost over time for enterprise apps," said Gartner Group Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney, in San Jose, Calif.

"Its one space that Microsoft has a problem grasping or getting their hands around," said Fran Rabuck, practice leader for mobile computing at Alliance Consulting, in Philadelphia, and an eWEEK Corporate Partner.

"Its not driven by [Microsoft] Office, its not driven by operating systems, its not really based on back-end systems. … Its a new frontier, and they have to adapt to that and not expect the rest of the world to adapt to them. If they continue their normal strategy of being Microsoft-centric, Im not sure how successful they will be."