The next version of Microsoft Exchange Server, known internally as Exchange 12 (E12), will build on the many improvements Microsoft has made to Exchange Server 2003 since the company first released the product in late 2003. E12 will synchronize with a major update of Microsoft Office Outlook and Windows Mobile, both of which will be optimized for E12.
  
"With E12, we're making major investments in IT professionals, security, and information workers," David Thompson, corporate vice president in charge of the Exchange Server Group, told me this week. "Email is mission critical, and we want to manage the cost and complexity out of the system, provide a secure environment in which administrators can protect corporate assets and comply with regulations and policy, and enable end users to get more from email both at work and away from the office."
  
E12 will boast several major improvements over Exchange 2003. Taking a cue from Windows Server 2003, E12 will use a roles-based architecture that will let you easily configure Exchange machines as edge servers, bridgehead servers, unified messaging servers, client access servers, mailbox servers, or public folder servers. This simplified approach will also consolidate new messaging types--fax, Voice over IP (VOIP), and voicemail--into Exchange. E12 will also include an improved and simplified management console, provide for continuous backups, and expose functionality via Web services interfaces. Each E12 edition will be available in both 32-bit and x64-based 64-bit versions, Thompson said.
  
From a security standpoint, E12 will build on the Intelligent Message Filter (IMF) and antivirus functionality in Exchange 2003 and the Sender ID framework that will first appear in Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2) in late 2005. The product will also add perimeter message hygiene functionality through its edge server features and will provide a secure messaging feature that will essentially establish a secure pipe across the Internet between E12 edge servers. 
  
For end users, Microsoft will develop E12 in tandem with the next version of Microsoft Office Outlook, codenamed Outlook 12, and an upcoming version of the Windows Mobile platform, which powers Pocket PC and smart phone devices. These products will be released simultaneously, or nearly simultaneously, in 2006, providing a much better experience with each product. Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA), which was significantly improved in Exchange 2003, will also be broadly updated, and E12's unified messaging capabilities will make it more of a one-stop shop for messaging needs.
  
From a technical standpoint, E12 will continue to use the Jet database engine and won't use new database technology, as had been previously expected with Kodiak, a set of Exchange technologies that were originally to have been rolled into the next major release of Exchange. Although Thompson didn't get into the details of this decision, the near-constant delays in Windows Future Storage (WinFS) were likely at the heart of the decision. E12 does appear to hit at the core needs of users, however, and answer many of the complaints and problems customers have with the current product.
  
Before E12 ships next year, Microsoft will ship various mobility and antispam enhancements and an improved management interface for public folders in Exchange 2003 SP2. In addition, Exchange customers are advised to check out the many post-release to manufacturing (RTM) Exchange 2003 Web release tools that Microsoft has shipped, including the excellent Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer. Functionality from that product will be rolled into E12 as well, I'm told.