Wait to download latest MS Exchange beta, say analysts

A beta release of the next version of Exchange is now available on the Microsoft Web site, but analyst groups say businesses...

A beta release of the next version of Exchange is now available on the Microsoft Web site, but analyst groups say businesses should think carefully before downloading it.

In the current economic climate, justifying a software upgrade is harder than ever. Maurene Caplan Grey, research director at analyst firm Gartner, said enterprises that have recently completed their Exchange 2000 implementation would find it difficult to build a business case for yet another migration.

"We advise enterprises to wait for the first or second service pack before upgrading," she said.

However, Caplan Grey added that an upgrade to Exchange 2003 would not be as complex an upgrade as the previous Exchange 2000 release since Exchange 2000 required a major infrastructure change.

If users are hoping to take advantage of the improvements in performance, an upgrade to this latest version of Exchange might not be enough. "Enterprises should realise that the client-to-server performance gains will require Outlook 11 on the desktop along with Exchange 2003 on the server," said Caplan Grey.

Tony Lock, senior analyst at Bloor Research, said any business considering upgrading should test e-mail migration within Exchange 2003. "E-mail is vital to business and migration is very complex."

Given that businesses use e-mail constantly, planning for a migration can take many months, he said.

Experts agree that Exchange 2000 users are unlikely to see huge benefits from upgrading.

Eric Woods, an analyst at Ovum, said the main focus for Microsoft, is the installed base of Exchange 5.5 users. Mainstream support for this and the NT 4.0 server on which it runs is due to end on 31 December. After this date the server and operating system will only be supported through a premium "extended support" service.

What's new in Microsoft Exchange?

Formerly known as Titanium, Exchange 2003 is the next version of Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server. The 184Mbyte download includes Exchange 2003 Beta 2, Windows .net Server 2003 RC2, Office 11 Beta 1, and a resource CD. The beta software is available free of charge.

  • Better security. The new version supports S/Mime and cookie authentication in Microsoft Outlook Web Access. It will also co-exist with previous versions of Exchange and can run on a Windows 2000 server. So, unlike Exchange 2000, users are not required to update their Windows servers to the latest .net release to run Exchange 2003

  • Improved performance. Microsoft said it has improved the Outlook to Exchange communications link. Enterprises with remote offices and remote users connecting over a slow network link are likely to see significant increases in client-to-server performance with their e-mail

  • Simplified administration. The Active Directory in Windows can now be used to manage both a Windows network environment and Exchange. The Volume Shadow Copy service on Windows .net Server 2003 can be used to make an on-line snapshot and back-up of Exchange's databases.

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