As Evan Morris pointed out in this column a few weeks ago, I'm standing in for Jerry Cochran during these last 2 weeks of his vacation. I work in the same group as Jerry, and one topic about which we've had much discussion recently is the schedule for when Exchange 2000 Server will actually ship. At the beginning of 2000, we heard that Exchange 2000 was due to hit the streets in June. Then we heard July, and now it seems it'll be at least the end of August before we see the Release to Manufacturing (RTM) version of the product.

These delays are no surprise to those of us who work with Microsoft products. A colleague of mine firmly believes that the guys in Redmond work to Microsoft Standard Time instead of Pacific Standard Time. But just because the Redmond folks have decided to delay the product a few weeks doesn't mean it's bad news. In fact, I think this is a gutsy and positive move.

The Release Candidate 2 (RC2) code has been available since the first week in June, and it's in pretty stable form. Many organizations have been performing all sorts of testing and investigation with this code build, and many of the Joint Deployment Program (JDP) partners have actually started to roll out production deployments on a slightly later build of the RC2 software. The Redmond rationale for delaying the product RTM is not the result of any show-stopper problems; it's the effect of striving for the highest quality version of Exchange software ever.

Reaching the final cut of the Exchange 2000 CD-ROM requires a lot of work. After engineers decide on a build that they believe is of production quality, they declare it an escrow build, and they won't modify it again unless they find some major flaws in it. This sacred escrow build has gone through a thorough testing cycle in the engineers' "dog food" lab by this stage, but that's not the end of testing, by any means. After escrow, the software is "baked" in production for several weeks by Microsoft's internal IT department and by JDP partners. This baking period puts the software through all the rigors of real-life production use for tens of thousands of users. If, after all this, no one finds any major flaws in the product, it is signed-off, or "goes gold," and Microsoft hands over the final RTM CD-ROM to manufacturing. After that, you can expect to see Exchange 2000 on the shelves within a month.

Let's face it: With the challenges of getting a solid Windows 2000 infrastructure in place to support Exchange 2000, few organizations, with the exception of some application service providers (ASPs), are knocking on the door of Building 43, asking for the final CD-ROM. Sure, we all want to see the software ship as soon as possible, but with the delivery time frame as it stands, we have more time to comprehensively test different deployment and migration scenarios. Any extra testing that Microsoft performs today to ensure the highest product quality tomorrow is good. I'd rather wait a few extra weeks and install a fully working product than install a less-than-ideal product and have to scurry around applying hotfixes and service packs a few weeks later. In any event, it'll make for great timing at the Exchange 2000 Launch Party at MEC in Dallas in October!