Microsoft Corp.’s leading independent software partners are loyally sticking up for the company despite a delay in shipping latest version of its SQL Server relational database.

But the move may affect some businesses, cautions an official with Softchoice Corp., a leading North American software

reseller based in Toronto.

“”For customers that have a more immediate deployment timeframe around SQL (Sever) there will be an impact,”” said Carla Johnson, Softchoice’s U.S. marketing manager for Microsoft products.

Microsoft had targeted releasing SQL Server 2005 – known in the industry under its code name, Yukon – for late this year, but now says it will be in the first half of next year.

However, end users may get caught if their Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) licenses expire this year. SA licensees get free upgrades and some may have been counting on getting the new database this year before their license ran out. However, with the target date now moved to 2005, they won’t be eligible for an upgrade unless they renew, she said.

Softchoice will work with them to look at the cost between renewing the SA, or letting it go and buying the new version of the database at full price, Johnson said. “”For some customers who look at SA as a vehicle for upgrading there probably will be some who will question whether or not to renew. Hopefully we’ll put it into perspective for them.””

So far, she added, the company hasn’t heard any complaints. She couldn’t estimate how many of customers holding SQL Server SA licenses expire this year.

“”They may have missed the timeline with their current SA,”” she said. “”But whether it makes sense to pay a fraction of the price to renew versus buying new is a big difference.””

“”Some customers may look at other technology out there,”” she added. “”But there are also costs in migrating to a different technology.””

But Darren Massel, SQL Server product manager for Microsoft Canada, pointed out that upgrades aren’t guaranteed for a particular year under the SA plan.

He also said that Software Assurance is about more than free upgrades: It can also cover support, training, extended warranties, employee discounts and Microsoft software deployment tools

Massel said the delay is to ensure the new version of the database “”meets the high quality requirements our customers demand”” through rigorous testing.

To that end a third beta release has been added to the test cycle for the second half of the year. The second beta will be released by the summer.

“”I applaud Microsoft for holding the release back to ensure it is a quality release,”” said Bruce Kenny, senior vice-president of products at Pivotal Corp., a Vancouver-based developer of customer relationship management software on the Windows platform said.

“”Microsoft’s slip has no effect on our plans. In fact you could argue it’s ideal.””

Pivotal had planned to offer support for the new version of the database in the middle of next year for its products, Kenny said.

As for new products, he said Pivotal tries to schedule major releases three to six months after a Microsoft product release, so the delay won’t alter those plans.

Kenny estimated that 90 per cent of the company’s customers use its products with SQL Server.

Spokesmen for Geac Computer Corp. Ltd. of Markham, Ont., an enterprise software developer whose portfolio includes Microsoft-based applications from its recent acquisition of Comshare Inc., also dismissed the delay. Most customers using what’s now known as the Geac Performance Management Suite (which used to be a Comshare product) use SQL Server, said Rod Radojevic, Geac’s director of product marketing.

According to Heather Blatchford, Geac’s alliance manager, the company has been testing early versions of Yukon and known about the delay “”for quite some time and have co-ordinated our development plans around that.”” Typically Geac tries to put out a full product or supporting product within 60 to 90 days of a major Microsoft release, she said. This delay will have a minimal impact, she added.

However, Warren Shiau, IDC Canada’s senior software analyst, said there is the potential for users to be dissatisfied with the delay. But he added he doubts that will happen.

“”Perhaps Microsoft will get some flack, but if their aim is to ensure quality, in the end customers will be better served.””

“”It won’t have a big impact,”” said Igor Lozhkin, principal of Arnica Information Technologies, a Toronto solution provider whose Web portal platform is based on SQL Server. “”I don’t believe anybody’s disappointed”” by the delay.

With the current version of SQL Server very robust, the new promised features aren’t terribly important, he argued. Much more important, to Microsoft, will be its interoperability with future versions of Windows Server.

Massel said Microsoft feels key features in the SQL Server 2005 will include improving its scalability and availability, integration with the company’s .Net framework and enhanced business intelligence functions.

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