Two PR disasters for the Exchange team in a week. Not good

Anyone who attended the recent Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) in Florida would agree that Microsoft did an excellent job of energizing the installed base with a mixture of news about new products (Exchange 2013 and the other elements of Office 15), engineering engagement, and good old-fashioned marketing. In short, MEC was a PR victory. Since then the PR has been spotty. Good news about Exchange 2013 reaching RTM, some disappointment that the bits necessary to deploy alongside Exchange 2010 wouldn’t be available until early 2013. But nothing that caused major problems. Until now.

This week the Exchange team managed to shoot themselves in the foot. Not once. Twice.

First, they posted a note on the well-loved EHLO blog to inform everyone that Microsoft had taken the decision to update all of the TechNet URLs that refer to Exchange to point to Exchange 2013. This remarkable service to mankind was motivated purely and simply through a desire to serve, and not at all in an indecent haste to stuff Exchange 2013 information down the throats of all who come seeking for knowledge.

Microsoft uses “versionless” URLs to point to Exchange material and they have changed the URLs in the past as Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 appeared, so this could simply be a case of business as normal – and you can easily understand how this would be a good thing to do at the right time.

The timing was horrible. It’s not sensible to make the switch to give priority to information about software that hardly anyone can deploy, even if they wanted to. In addition, the phrasing of the communication was all wrong. It came across as all about Microsoft internal processes rather than the way a good PR person might have communicated the news – as making it easier for people to find information about all versions of Exchange by explaining how Microsoft organizes the information, etc. etc. The first point about not being the right time to switch still holds, but at least people might not have been so ticked off about the change, as evident by the 40-plus negative comments on the EHLO blog and the incandescent tweeting that erupted afterwards.

Microsoft says that they have heard the reaction and are trying to figure out what to do. When you have a disaster, it’s best to realize the fact as quickly as possible and then reverse course. Maybe Microsoft will listen to the community as they said that they would at MEC. Maybe not, in which case I guess we’ll all become avid consumers of Exchange 2013 TechNet content. Feel free to tell Microsoft how much you enjoy this prospect by commenting on EHLO.

And then PR disaster happened when the latest roll-up update for Exchange 2010 SP2 (RU5) appeared. It might just have escaped the attention of those who issue these updates, but the quality record around Exchange 2010 updates has not been fantastic. Several updates have had to be rereleased to fix bugs or apply new digital signatures. In light of this, would it not be sensible to assume that Microsoft’s QA and testing team would have put RU5 through every conceivable test (and Microsoft has a huge automated test framework for Exchange)? Let’s assume that testing was onerous and thorough. So why then did RU5 appear with a bug in the Database Availability Group that was quickly encountered when people installed the code? We don’t know the answer to the question as Microsoft is still checking out the problem. However, they have acknowledged that a bug exists.

The RU5 bug proves once again that you should never rush a roll-up update into production, even if it contains a fix to a problem for which you have been waiting. Always take the time to test the update in your own environment. Failure to do so is just silly and a danger to your job continuation program.

Two PR problems in a week allied to other issues with Exchange Online. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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