Microsoft will introduce a per-user licensing option with the release of Exchange Server 2003 later this year, legitimising the way many companies use existing versions of Exchange.
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The latest licence type will be offered in addition to the per-device licence introduced with Exchange 2000 Server, according to Missy Stern, product manager for Exchange.
The move brings the licensing options for Exchange Server 2003 in line with those of Windows Server 2003, which was announced in April.
Buying Exchange involves buying a version of the e-mail server software plus so-called client access licences (CALs). Pricing for Exchange Server 2003 will be unchanged from Exchange 2000 Server, with Standard Edition priced at $699, Enterprise Edition at $3,999 and CALs at $67.
The new per-user CAL covers Exchange access by a single user from a wide variety of devices, while a device CAL covers Exchange access only on a specific machine but by an unlimited number of users.
In the past, if a single user were to access Exchange from multiple devices, a licence would be required for each device. However, analysts said that many users did not stick to that rule.
"Per-user CALs bring Exchange licensing in line with practice and the rest of Microsoft's products. It is what the market wants," said Mark Levitt, vice president for collaborative computing at research company IDC.
Per-user licensing "makes total sense," said Peter Pawlak, a lead analyst with independent research firm Directions on Microsoft.
"It is important to make sure companies are getting plain licence compliance. I think there was quite a bit of violation. Now once you get a user licence for a particular user it does not matter how they get their mail," Pawlak said.
Another licensing option for Exchange Server 2003 is the $50,000 External Connector licence which allows access to the Exchange Server by an unlimited number of non-employees, Stern said.
Besides adding licensing options, Exchange Server 2003 also allows companies to reduce the number of Exchange servers and save some money. Scalability and remote connectivity have been improved so more mailboxes can be hosted on a single server and remote locations no longer need their own servers.
Microsoft's Mobile Information Server (MIS) has also been rolled into Exchange Server 2003. It was previously sold as an add-on to Exchange 2000 Server. MIS allows users to access Exchange via a mobile phone or Pocket PC handheld computer.
For the user of an Exchange-based mailbox, probably the most noticeable enhancement will be the revamped Outlook Web Access client. Accessing e-mail via the web is almost the same as accessing it from a desktop Outlook client, the analysts said.
Microsoft has finished work on the code of Exchange Server 2003 and the product is on track to be released to volume licensing customers in the third quarter. A retail version is planned for the fourth quarter. Microsoft plans to announce release to manufacturing (RTM) of Exchange 2003 on 30 June.
Microsoft is keen on getting Exchange 5.5 users to upgrade. A host of upgrade tools are included with Exchange Server 2003 to help customers move up, Stern said. The estimates that between 40% and 60% of its Exchange customers still runs Exchange 5.5 on the Windows NT 4.0 platform.
Support for Exchange 5.5 will be available through the end of the year; after that a customer will have to buy extended support if needed, Stern said.
Exchange Server 2003 runs on Windows 2000 Server or Windows Server 2003, so customers running NT 4.0 also have to upgrade their operating environment when moving to a newer e-mail server. Some of the features of Exchange Server 2003, such as eight-node clustering and volume shadow copy services, are not supported when used with Windows 2000.
It makes sense for Exchange 5.5 users to upgrade soon after Exchange Server 2003 comes out, IDC's Levitt said.
"It is a no-brainer to do that within six to nine months. Now is the time that Exchange 5.5 is beginning to show its age and it will eventually no longer be supported," he said.
Exchange 2000 Server was released in October 2000. Around 130 million client licences have been sold so far, Stern said.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service