I recently visited a customer, where the IT manager had second thoughts about an offer he received from his current IT partner and Microsoft.
First I’ll let you in on the specific situation of this company. Because of some poor decision-making in the past the company needed extra licenses for Microsoft Office and some Microsoft Exchange Client Access Licenses. (CAL’s) We all know the drill: Buy Microsoft Office 2003 now, buy it with Software Assurance so your customer will be granted Microsoft Office 2007 when it becomes available and they won’t have to worry about getting support from Microsoft when push comes to shove. We’re talking about 197 licenses here, just so you can get a little idea on the costs involved. However, his current IT partner, a Microsoft Certified Gold Partner and Microsoft made him an offer they said he couldn’t refuse: 60% off and Microsoft Office 2007 licenses!
This sounds like a great offer: Microsoft gives you a piece of software that you can use beyond the year 2013 and has a radical new interface that makes your people do so much more in the same time and share their documents with even more people. As the IT manager you will be the hero of the Office for decades to come and people at your office will have confidence in you as their new CEO. Start looking for that €80.000+ car! Off course this IT manager wasn’t that stupid so he asked what he had to do to get this rebate and the answer was surprisingly simple: Join the Microsoft Office System 2007 Rapid Development Program. What this means is this customer was asked to implement Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Beta 2 (out in a few weeks) as their primary e-mail solution and implement Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2 on workstations for which they wanted to buy the additional Microsoft Office licenses.
I heard about the Rapid Development Program, but I didn’t know any company that actually got it offered or even did these kinds of implementation. Neither did this customer and I’ll tell you why: It simply isn’t worth it.
I’ll look into some of the specific areas of attention to explain this:
Microsoft promised this customer additional support when they would participate in the Rapid Development Program. My guess is Microsoft promises additional support to all participants and it’s just a matter of luck. It might be that Microsoft Office 2007 is just a new Graphical User Interface for underlying code that still exists since Microsoft Office for Windows 95, but it might just be a total bottom up rewrite. (this could explain the years of development)
I think participants of the program get a nice contract from Microsoft support explaining the term ‘best effort’. This means Microsoft might be able to find a solution (or workaround) for your problem fast or they might never find a solution.
Microsoft tells us their beta products are feature complete. What they’re telling us is that all the possible features for the new product are in the beta product. What they’re not telling us is that some features won’t make it into even the most featured versions of the Release to Manufacturing (RTM) versions of the product. For example: In my Beta 1 version of Microsoft Office 12 I found a feature that I can use to save my documents as PDF files. Microsoft recently announced that this specific feature will most likely not be part of the Microsoft Office 2007 product family.
To make it even worse: Most of our customers didn’t purchase Software Assurance and therefore won’t be eligible for most enterprise editions of Microsoft products. This for instance is true for Microsoft Windows Vista where bitlocker will only be part of the Enterprise version.
Microsoft beta products contain debug code, that make it a much less performing product version than Release Candidate (RC) or Release to Manufacturing (RTM) versions of the product. Although Microsoft will give you extra support they just won’t be able to fix serious performance problems you might experience.
Migrating customers from Microsoft Exchange 5.5 Server to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 might be tricky. Although I haven’t come around to testing it yet my guess is that Microsoft won’t be supporting a direct scenario for migration because extended support ended January 10, 2006 (originally December 31, 2005) and Microsoft already offers 33% off when you upgrade your existing Microsoft Exchange 5.5 Server licenses to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. This might mean that the migration team has to manually extract mailboxes to PST files (which are the source of all evil, as we all know) and import them all into our new Exchange database. Bye bye simple migration scenario and bye bye Single Instance Storage.
Upgrading the product (with interim versions)
I don’t know if you ever looked at the way you upgrade your Microsoft beta products to Release Candidate (RC) or Release to Manufacturing (RTM) versions but it usually implies uninstalling the previous product and installing the new version. I’m a very reasonable person but I want to be able to sleep at night: I’m not going to do this by using Group Policy Objects. (GPO’s) and I’m even considering not doing this by using the network. I don’t know if you looked at the installed size of Microsoft Office on your computer, but we’re talking hundreds of megabytes here. Systems Management Services (SMS) Server might be a solution, but your customer will have to invest on licenses. Upgrading your network might even be necessary, but let’s not even go there… Manually upgrading two hundred workstations by uninstalling and installing Microsoft Office seems time consuming to me and not even remotely ‘least administrative effort’.
3rd party tools and add-ons
The main problem with beta products is the features that you still don’t get but still need.Companies like McAfee, Symantec, CA and GFi all make add-on products for Microsoft Exchange Server that extend the functionality by adding antivirus, antispam, backup, disclaimer and regulatory compliance features. These companies can’t offer solutions for Microsoft Exchange 2007 yet! With a bit of luck you can get a beta version or can make a readily available version work by manually editing a thousand registry keys, but can you rely on that?
Microsoft support will be helpful of course. They will tell your customer they can use Microsoft Antigen for Microsoft Exchange and use the next generation Intelligent Message Filter (IMF) with specific settings, but do they also tell you how much these licenses are going to cost you before you find the problem?
Microsoft Office 2007 introduces a new fileformat, based on XML. This allows for more interoperability (when Microsoft gets it to be ISO certified, that is) but might also mean you’ll experience compatibility problems with macro’s that are currently in use. For example for communicating with that IBM AS/400 box no one with mortal wages understands these days.
When it sounds to good to be true, it usually is.
My guess is that my customer will spend as much money on (un)installing Microsoft Office and add-on licenses (for Microsoft products mostly) as they get rebate within the Rapid Development Program. I’m not even including loss of productivity here….
Besides: when you’re not planning on using the workstations and servers after the expiry date of Microsoft Office 2003 (currently December 31, 2013) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 (currently September 30, 2013) who needs new versions of these Microsoft products anyway.