Bit of an oddity, this. I spotted on All About Microsoft (written by Mary Jo Foley, who’s been covering the company long enough to know more about them than most MS executives, I should imagine) that Exchange Server 2007 doesn’t work on Windows Server 2008 release 2. The question is: why doesn’t it? Not that they haven’t got form for this kind of nonsense, of course.
Beta versions of Internet Information Server 4, Microsoft web/ftp server combination, famously didn’t work well with one of the two major browser competitors. No, it wasn’t Netscape. Internet Explorer 4, I’m looking at you.
Now we know – and have seen testimony in anti-monopoly trials, before anyone thinks of getting on the phone to the libel lawyers – that the Windows team at Microsoft tried to make sure Windows 3 didn’t run on DR-DOS, and that the DOS team tried to make sure Lotus 1-2-3 didn’t run on their product, either. This, of course in a day when Microsoft had much less market share in either type of market than it does now, making the practice less questionable (especially as other people were doing the same sort of thing at the time, when they thought they could get away with it). But when similar issues start to affect the ability of your own products running to run on your own software stack, it looks far less like aggressive policies and much more like incompetence.
Exchange integrates with other Microsoft tools, such as Active Directory, quite competently, making the extra load on administrators a little lower. That said, as an email solution it’s not the best out there – the selling point is the calendar integration with Outlook, which is especially important for larger businesses (those endless meetings over which biscuits to serve at the shareholders’ meetings don’t organise themselves, you know.)
The point is that Microsoft can’t afford slip-ups like this any more. Ten years ago, maybe. But they’re not the only game in town. Open source server alternatives, such as Citadel are catching up – and catching up fast. Perhaps more worrying for Microsoft is web-based email and calendaring systems, Citadel (and Google Apps) taking their share. Outlook won’t be installable on Google Chrome OS, but you bet that Citadel and Google Apps will work just fine – and Outlook Web Access is still mired in being Internet Explorer centric, and though that’s changing, have they done the work to make it work with Google Chrome? Chrome OS? or even Opera Mini?
Exchange Server is at a tipping point. Microsoft need to decide whether this game is still worth the candle. For my money Microsoft Exchange is about to start the slow and sure death of a thousand cuts that Lotus Notes has been undergoing for the last few years. It’ll start slowly, with a few clients changing away, but this time it won’t be lower costs that have caused the problem. Ironically, it will be something that Lotus Notes was traditionally quite strong on, back in the client/server days: a corporate infrastructure dotted with diverse devices, operating systems and technologies. Exchange is starting to look withered, old, and insular – and what should be worrying Microsoft most of all is that with it customers having to choose between up to date server operating systems or up to date email and messaging servers, it no longer looks ready for prime time.