The next generation of Microsoft Corp’s Exchange email and messaging server has entered into its first beta phase.
The private beta of the popular messaging product, codenamed Exchange 12, is being offered to 1,400 customers and OEM, ISV and systems integrator partners worldwide. But it won’t include all of the features planned in the final commercial release.
Rather it will give users a sneak preview of new features and technologies.
Interestingly, beta versions of both 32- and 64-bit versions of Exchange 12 are being rolled out, despite plans by Microsoft to only release a commercial product that runs on 64-bit servers. The reasoning behind the odd move is that Microsoft wants to give 32-bit Exchange sites a chance to get their hands on the new product as well.
Microsoft promises substantial performance improvements in the 64-bit version of Exchange 12, which it hopes will lure its current 32-bit base over.
From a functional perspective, Exchange 12 has three key design goals in mind aimed at reducing the cost and complexity of deploying and managing Exchange systems — better administrator control, more flexible user access to their inboxes, and beefed up server security and compliance controls.
IT administrators will warm to a new preset server roles function that configures the server to run on different hardware systems during the installation process — for example, setting up Exchange as a network hub server, or for mailbox, edge, unified messaging and client access.
Also included are usability enhancements to the Exchange Systems Manager graphical control module, which has been completely rewritten, including a useful filtering option that lets administrators create custom filters to apply changes such as patches to specific groups of users or domains.
Other new features include a scriptable, task-based command shell language based on Monad (the codename for the next version of the Windows command shell technology used automate and control system management tasks on both desktops and servers) and automatic client detection for simplified Outlook setup.
Exchange 12 also offers users expanded access to inboxes via a built-in unified messaging capability that lets users manage e-mails alongside voice mail and fax messages in a single Exchange inbox. Previously, this capability was only offered via third-party product plug-ins.
A new automated attendant, which lets users dial into their inbox remotely and send text or voice message attachments is also included. And a new scheduling assistant utility streamlines meeting scheduling by helping users to easily book times, rooms and other resources through a richer graphical interface.
Security has also been tightened up via a new API through which third-party antivirus software products can access the server to scan specific message components like headers and bodies. There is also a new attachment filtering tool that lets administrators govern the receipt and download of certain types of attachments.
Developers will also welcome Exchange 12’s improved programmability and data access, courtesy of Exchange Web Services, a new, standards-based API to inbox data that simplifies development and integration into third-party application environments.
Looking further ahead, Microsoft expects the beta 2 version of Exchange 12 to be rolled out in the middle of 2006.
The final version of the product will come with new branding and is slated for general availability sometime in late 2006 or early 2007.