*** See note about December 2010 cumulative update for Office 2007 at the end of this post.
The recent release of Exchange 2010 SP1 is good news for the Exchange community because it improves the overall quality of the product and introduces some new features such as block-level replication within the DAG. However, a nagging doubt has increasingly troubled me in that the signs are there that a gap exists between the Exchange and Outlook development teams that should have been closed a long time ago. That gap is represented in the current lack of support for personal archives and retention tags in Outlook 2007.
Microsoft originally shipped Exchange 2010 in November 2009 (Microsoft press announcement for Exchange). Office 2010 then made an appearance in June 2010 (Office 2010 arrives). Outlook 2010 is the premier client for Exchange 2010 because it exposes so many of the new features such as the personal archive, retention and archive tags, MailTips, conversation views, and so on and it’s probably reasonable that Outlook would appear a little later than Exchange. Eight months of a gap seems a tad extreme, especially for customers who wanted to deploy Exchange 2010 early. The evidence to date is that only a reasonably small proportion of the market has deployed Exchange 2010 so far, maybe because they were waiting for Exchange 2010 SP1 to see all the features that should have been in the RTM version but needed some additional time to be fully baked, but also perhaps because they wanted a client that really worked with Exchange 2010. Outlook Web App is good (and it’s a lot better in SP1), but Outlook is the premier client and in particular it’s needed for corporate users who want to be able to work offline.
Deploying a new client when it is available is certainly an answer to the “how do I get to the new functionality” question and the deployment of the client software to all user machines can be factored into an overall plan. But then you run into the issue for many companies that managing a major new release of client software to tens of thousands of desktops is not something that they look forward to. A lot of work is involved to plan and execute the deployment; the help desk has to be ready for the inevitable flood of user queries about new features; user training has to happen (sometimes); and the new software may have potential impacts on add-on software that’s in use. This is why many companies avoid rushed deployments of new releases of Microsoft Office and instead plan the deployment as part of desktop or laptop refreshes, which typically now occur every three to four years.
I assume Microsoft wants customers to migrate to Exchange 2010 from Exchange 2003 (less so from Exchange 2007 at this point) reasonably quickly and I assume that they want customers to use major new features such as personal archives and the other compliance features, if only to stake out a claim to the market that is currently dominated by third-party archiving software such as Symantec Enterprise Vault (a product with a really interesting history going back to Digital Equipment’s ALL-IN-1 product). But Microsoft doesn’t seem to want to provide an upgrade to Outlook 2007 to allow customers who use this client to access the new features. I think it is reasonable to expect that Microsoft would do such a thing (on the other hand, expecting an upgrade for Outlook 2003 at this point would be simply unreasonable), especially as it seems to be in their best interest to do so, but despite rumblings from Redmond (the place, not the person), nothing has appeared so far.
Customers do genuinely wait for the first service pack of Microsoft server products to appear before they will consider deployment. Exchange 2010 SP1 adds weight to that argument with the array of new and finished features that it boasts plus the added time for the engineers to work on and bed in new technology such as the Database Availability Group. While you can certainly connect Outlook 2007 to Exchange 2010 and have a nice time sending email, it’s still a half-functional client when compared to what it could be and that is simply not good enough eight months after the original RTM release.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Exchange 2010 and I like Outlook 2010. I’m simply reflecting the frustration and bewilderment that I hear on a constant basis as to why Microsoft can’t coordinate releases of important client and server software in such a way that it reflects real-world production environments. Being able to deploy new software within Microsoft’s own IT shop is great and I am sure that Microsoft gains enormously from eating their own dogfood; the Exchange Technology Adaption Program is also very good and generates a rich vein of customer feedback (and is run by a group of very committed individuals who do their level best to serve customer needs). But there’s still something missing and the disconnect between Exchange 2010 and Outlook 2007 is regretted. At least, it is by this observer.
Come on Microsoft… it’s time to remove the proverbial digit and ship a version of Outlook 2007 that enables all the functionality that Exchange 2010 reveals to its MAPI clients!
Read more about the choice of clients for Exchange 2010 in my Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out book – available also at Amazon.co.uk and other online booksellers. The book is also available in a Kindle edition.
Update December 14, 2010: Microsoft has released the December 2010 cumulative update for Office 2007 (or the Outlook only hotfix). According to Microsoft, this update enables access to Exchange 2010 archive mailboxes from Outlook 2007 (including delegate access). Some restrictions still apply such as the inability to see archive policies, probably because of the need to add some new user interface that just couldn’t be done in an update. It’s still good to be able to access archive mailboxes from Outlook 2007 even if Outlook 2010 still delivers a much better user experience. Note that a report from fellow MVP Henrik Walther indicated that the required code is in the October 2010 cumulative release for Office 2007, which seems like an odd way to release such an eagerly-awaited feature…