Microsoft today launched the public beta for Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 (previously code-named Exchange 14). We've already heard a few tidbits from the Exchange team about what to expect—that Exchange 2010 was designed to provide great scalability either as a hosted service or on-premises application, and that Outlook Web Access (OWA) will give the full, premium experience on Firefox and Safari browsers.

Now you can download the Exchange 2010 beta and begin exploring and testing to see what other new features and changes might entice you to an upgrade. Tony Redmond has provided an excellent overview of many of the technical improvements in Exchange 2010 in "A First Look at Exchange 2010." You'll also find a host of administrator and end-user focused enhancements, such as role-based access, end user self-service options, and a built-in email archiving feature.

Microsoft has a three-pronged mantra to sum up Exchange 2010 that I'd guess you'll be hearing a lot in coming months: Flexible and Reliable; Anywhere Access; and Protection and Compliance. Let's take a look at what Microsoft means, and what they have to offer, with each of these points.

Flexible and Reliable
As already mentioned, Microsoft developed Exchange 2010 from the beginning to play well in the cloud and has tested it through Exchange Labs, giving a testing ground of around 3.5 million mailboxes. But Microsoft isn't abandoning the traditional inhouse server. Instead, the development team has made an effort to provide seamless coexistence, which gives organizations the option of a blended solution: You can have your corporate execs and other sensitive user mailboxes on your on-premises Exchange servers and let other users rely on hosted Exchange servers. This option to customize who in your organization gets what type of mailbox could potentially lead to lower overall costs for your messaging infrastructure.

High availability remains a key component of Exchange 2010, building on the log shipping concept with cluster continuous replication (CCR) and standby continuous replication (SCR) that was introduced in Exchange 2007. Exchange 2010 gives you the ability to replicate as many as 16 copies of each database and provides for simple failover. Overall improved performance also means you can use lower cost storage options so that you might be able to realize a high-availability environment without breaking the bank. You can find out more about Exchange 2010's high availability options in Tony Redmond's article.

The new role-based access for Exchange 2010 lets you set up "specialist users." That means you can give your Help desk workers permissions do to the tasks they need to do, HR people permissions to do what they need to do, and so on. If the user's role changes, their permissions change. End users are getting self-service options for message tracking and creating and maintaining distribution lists—which will take some of the burden off Help desks.

Anywhere Access
As Microsoft has already announced, OWA with Exchange 2010 allows you the full-featured experience in Firefox and Safari as well as Internet Explorer. And you can see a good demo of the new conversations view in Outlook and OWA on the Exchange team blog. Exchange 2007 brought us voicemail in our email Inboxes; Exchange 2010 takes that a step farther by adding a text preview of voice messages in the body of the email—pretty slick, if you ask me.

A feature that many businesses are sure to find useful will be the ability to share free/busy information with external business partners. No longer will those little green or red presence indicators be limited to people within your organization. Also, end users will have their own customizable auto attendant. If you're out of the office, you can set up a menu for callers so that they can choose to be routed to someone else based on why they're calling. In Exchange 2007, this feature is available only at an organizational level.

Keeping with the "anywhere access" theme, the development team intends for all these features to work just as effectively for you whether you're using Outlook, Entourage, OWA, or a mobile device. For instance, you'll be able to use the new conversation view and get voicemail text previews on your smartphone.

Protection and Compliance
The big new feature in this category is undoubtedly the built-in email archive. Too many companies aren't doing enough to protect themselves in this regard; now, if they're using Exchange 2010, they'll have less reason to avoid taking simple precautions. You'll be able to easily apply per message or per folder retention policies with simple drop-down menus in the Outlook interface. Administrators will also have the ability to perform searches across multiple mailboxes—which is likely to be a necessity in the case of an e-discovery request.

Although email archiving might be the big feature for admins, end users are sure to appreciate—and benefit from—an email protection feature called MailTips. These are preset messages that users will see on their Outlook message window that warn them against things such as replying to all when the recipient list is a large distribution list. You'll get notice if a recipient's out of office message is on—before sending the message—and there are rules you can use to warn users that they might be sending sensitive information to external recipients.

The MailTips feature is a good step in helping users keep from making silly mistakes—and I'm sure we've all heard stories, if not made such mistakes ourselves. The system, however, relies on end users paying attention to the tips, and acting according to company guidelines, which we all know doesn't always happen. So don't expect something like this to solve all your problems, of course.

Let the Tests Begin
I should point out that many of these great-sounding features will be available only with Microsoft Office Outlook 2010, which won't be released until sometime after the final version of Exchange 2010. Microsoft is expecting the final Exchange 2010 to "become available in the second half of 2009" while Office 2010 is expected to "enter technical preview in the third quarter of 2009 and become available in the first half of 2010."

However, you can download the Exchange 2010 beta now from Microsoft's website. I had a conversation with Microsoft senior product managers, Jim Lucey and Ian Hameroff and asked them if it should be pronounced "Twenty-Ten" or "Two Thousand and Ten." In keeping with their mantra of flexibility and choice, they said it's up to you.

Check out our other articles on Exchange 2010/Exchange 14, and let us know what features of the new release you want to learn more about so we can get our Exchange experts working on the how-to articles you need.

Related Reading: