Last week, Microsoft Corporate Vice President David Thompson, who's in charge of the Exchange marketing and development effort, hit the road to present Microsoft's new Exchange roadmap. Some of the new roadmap's landmarks are old news to Exchange & Outlook UPDATE readers, but you might not have heard about others--particularly the plan and feature set for the next Exchange release. (This release is currently code-named Exchange 12, which makes me suspect that Exchange and the next Microsoft Office release--—Office 12--will have significantly improved integration.)
You might already have heard that Exchange Server Edge Services is no longer a product. But the good news is that Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2), which is coming later this year, will include some welcome changes. Exchange 2003 SP2 will contain some Edge Services functionality, and Microsoft will include other features in Exchange 12. The Exchange 2003 SP2 changes include support for Microsoft's Sender ID antispam protocol (for more information about Sender ID, see the Exchange & Outlook UPDATE article "Sender ID: Back from the Grave," InstantDoc ID 44353), improved public folder management, and a better interface. Although I don't know exactly what form these improvements will take, any improvement will be welcome for the many Exchange administrators who find managing large numbers of public folders to be frustratingly cumbersome.
Thompson also announced that the Exchange team will continue its series of Web Releases of auxiliary tools, including a new version of the Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer (for more information about the tool, see the Exchange & Outlook Administrator article "The Exchange Best Practices Analyzer," InstantDoc ID 44793) that integrates with tools that analyze public folder use and with Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005, a tool that helps you properly size Exchange Server storage.
What about Exchange 12? Thompson outlined Microsoft's three broad areas of focus for the product:
- Reducing cost and complexity--The promised improvements include enhanced scripting and a new version of Exchange System Manager (ESM), both based on Microsoft's new Monad scripting technology (for more information about Monad, see http://www.microsoft.com/technet/community/chats/trans/windowsnet/wnet_120704.mspx). Even though I'm a big scripting fan, I'm more excited about what Thompson calls "continuous backup" (the expression makes me think that over-the-wire replication is coming, which implies a sea change for backup and recovery processes). I'll continue to report about this subject as details emerge. In a related piece of news, Microsoft plans to release Web services APIs for access to Exchange objects and data, which will enable a huge range of customizations and applications that are currently difficult to develop.
- Securing, protecting, and providing compliance--The Exchange 12 improvements center on providing better message hygiene and security, along with an infrastructure for determining whether inbound and outbound messages are in compliance with an organization's messaging policies. There's no word about how, or whether, these improvements will make it easier to meet the many compliance regulations that businesses face.
- Improving productivity for information workers--Thompson's promises are a bit vague when it comes to this area. We can expect a better mobile device experience, although how much of it will be driven by improvements in the next Windows Mobile release is unclear. There's nothing vague about the promise of Outlook Web Access (OWA) improvements, however, although OWA is already a pretty good day-to-day client. The big surprise is that Exchange 12 will provide support for unified messaging. Cisco Systems and other vendors already sell voicemail products that use the Exchange store, so I'm not sure exactly what added value Exchange will deliver in this area, although integration with Live Communications Server 2005 could deliver some cool capabilities.
For the long term, the language in Thompson's briefing provides an interesting glimpse of the future. He calls Exchange the "integrated communications backbone", which I think is a good indication of Exchange's standing. We'll have to see whether Microsoft can deliver these promised improvements as planned; we'll get an early indication when Exchange 2003 SP2 ships later this year.