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01.12.08

What (In)Compatibility Games is Microsoft up to With Exchange 2007?

Posted in Interoperability, Mail, Microsoft, Office Suites, Servers, Standard, Windows at 11:53 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“You should make sure it [DR-DOS] has problems in the future : )”

Jim Allchin, Microsoft (RE: dri/novell/ibm)

Story contributed by an anonymous site reader

Tbout a year ago, we got a new President who came from Brown University, which is an Ivy League institution that has switched to MS Exchange for e-mail. He more or less demanded that we offer Exchange as well. We now offer Exchange for faculty and staff. I had to fight pretty hard to maintain my non-Exchange e-mail account. We also have a CIO who is appropriately skeptical of Microsoft and wants to retain a non-Microsoft e-mail alternative.

“They also don’t know when the functionality broke and there’s no word on when it will be fixed.”That is the background. The crux is that I am now forced to use Exchange calendar if I want to set up a meeting with someone. Since I rarely use the calendar, I just access it via the Web interface using Firefox or Konqueror from my Linux desktop. Until recently, this has worked adequately.

However, they have recently been trying to do an “in-place upgrade” from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2007. Now I find that when I try to schedule a meeting, the part which shows the availability of the attendees looks like gibberish. When I switched to using Windows XP and Internet Explorer under a virtual machine, everything suddenly worked fine. Out Windows admins claim that they did know about this problem until I raised it. They also don’t know when the functionality broke and there’s no word on when it will be fixed.

You might be interested in hearing the travails of someone who is trying to keep Windows at least at arm’s length but who find it challenging.

[Editor’s note: It is a similar situation over here. An Exchange server is very unstable, based on personal experience, but luckily I never use it. I’ve also come across stories about IE-only features in Sharepoint.]

My instinct tells me that this little upgrade problem is intentionally created by Microsoft. I also remember from a previous job that one of my colleagues was very keen to “upgrade” our Linux mail server, which I had set up, to Exchange. Somewhere along the way, I found out that Microsoft recommended disabling the POP and IMAP protocols “for security reasons.” (It’s very “deja vu” in light of the recent revelation of a recent Microsoft patch to Office which disables old file formats, again “for security reasons.”)

“There is also the truism that, if it only supports a recent version of Microsoft software, that would tend to produce more fiscal security for Microsoft.”I suppose that would be more secure … for them. There are the truisms that the fewer network ports you open, the less exposure you have or, the simpler the software, the more reliable and secure it should be. There is also the truism that, if it only supports a recent version of Microsoft software, that would tend to produce more fiscal security for Microsoft.

There are some relevant quotes to add here, e.g.:

Joe Wilcox in 14 June 2006:

“When you speak about interoperability do you mean across different platforms, like Windows and Unix, or among different versions of Windows, like XP and 2000.” He meant among different versions of Windows.”

[Editor’s note: This isn’t a rare situation. Only about a year ago, Microsoft published articles that speak about “cross-platform” where platforms only include Windows, Windows mobile, and XBox. This is yet another case and also an excellent examples where one is creating confusion. It’s almost akin to calling software “open source” when it strictly requires Windows, Sharepoint and other proprietary products merely to be runnable.]

Brad Chase (of Microsoft) once wrote:

We will bind the shell to the Internet Explorer, so that running any other browser is a jolting experience.

[Editor’s note: Yesterday, Slashdot had an item/article about almost the very same issue. Firefox being pushed out of some companies by Internet Explorer-only Web-based software.]

That’s not surprising at all. Exchange itself has two Web interface modes: basic and enhanced. “basic” mode is available under all browsers, but “enhanced” is only available under Internet Explorer. Our Exchange upgrade broke “basic” mode while “enhanced” mode continued to work.

Fortunately, in our environment, we do care about interoperability with browsers like Firefox. We’re a university, not a corporation, so the attitude here is that “we can’t dictate the software our users prefer to use, so we take pains to support reasonably common software.” So this upgrade problem will cause the Windows guys to spend some more time on the upgrade and recall the consultant they retained until the non-Microsoft browsers work again.

The problem is generic enough with ample supporting material.

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