Exchange 2013 Preview: A Strange, Stealth Launch, But Take a Look

We've entered a new era, people, through the looking glass, and all that -- in so many interesting ways. It starts with the stealth launch of the Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Preview earlier this week. Microsoft buried this news under the high-profile launch event for the new Microsoft Office suite. The 2013 versions of SharePoint and Lync, which are also now available as Preview editions, both were called out during that event, but Exchange 2013 was entirely absent.

What I find so unusual is how Exchange Server has been relegated to the weeds, in a sense, much like Windows Server 2012 was during the Windows 8 launch a couple weeks ago. Microsoft has definitely chosen to go with a more consumer-focused face at the moment. On the other hand, the low profile given to Exchange during this launch might be Microsoft's attempt to save the excitement for what they'll be presenting at MEC in September. Still, the fact that there hasn't even been a write up on the Exchange Team Blog as yet almost makes it seem like the team members themselves were taken by surprise.

Nonetheless, the Exchange 2013 Preview is now available for you to download and begin testing in your labs. You can alternatively sign on to the Office 365 Preview, which features the new version of Exchange in Exchange Online, as well as the latest for SharePoint Online and Lync Online. You have plenty of options for testing, and plenty of new technologies to test. After all, Microsoft has been promising to align the release of its wave 15 products; now we see that becoming a reality.

Exchange 2013 comes with the usual horde of new features and architectural changes. I won't attempt to run them all down here. However, I did want to call out the resurrection of public folders in a new and "modernized" form. For any organization that has fretted over what to do with existing public folders as Microsoft threatened their elimination over the past couple of Exchange releases, this has certainly got to be welcome news.

Exchange 2013 public folders will be implemented as special mailboxes in the organization. Although public folder content isn't replicated as it was in the old model, because it's based in a mailbox, you can give this content the full availability and protection afforded by database availability groups (DAGs). Microsoft already has documentation and FAQs to help you sort out your deployment of the new public folder model in the Exchange 2013 Preview. As an extra piece of really good news, the new public folders are also being implemented in Exchange Online through the Office 365 Preview. Yes, I'm sure we heard a big cheer go up on that one.

Altogether, this wave of releases has a strong focus on collaboration and the cloud, which was quite evident if you saw the Office launch event. Along those lines, Exchange 2013, as well as Outlook 2013, will feature greater social integration; let's hope your IT departments are ready to handle that!

The bit that still has me a bit confused, however, is why we're calling these releases "Previews." Typically, this would be the beta release stage. Is this just a marketing ploy by Microsoft to avoid using "beta," which sounds too much like a work in progress? As a Twitter follower pointed out to me, beta implies that you're still seeking feedback from the community. We know that Microsoft doesn't actually have these products finished, but are they actively seeking community input on what they've developed so far?

We can hope so. As we've seen in the past, no matter how carefully the development teams test and anticipate various usage scenarios, it's impossible to predict every case that actual users will encounter. The fact that Exchange 2013 has a new version of public folders is all down to community uproar over Microsoft's original plans to abandon them. So, this is no time for Microsoft to stop listening or for the community to stop telling Microsoft what it needs. Test the new stuff, and let's talk about it.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins
Follow Windows IT Pro on Twitter at @windowsitpro

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