Last week brought several announcements about Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. Contrary to its usual practice, Microsoft didn't bombard the press with releases touting the changes; instead, it quietly briefed a few members of the press. That's a little surprising, given what the company had to say.

First, some good news about Exchange 5.5: The number of customers still using Exchange 5.5 has dropped dramatically thanks to Microsoft's ongoing efforts to help customers upgrade. When I presented at the Get Ready for Exchange and Outlook 2007 Roadshow last week in Portugal, I found that none of the more than 200 people in attendance were running Exchange 5.5, and that surprised me a bit. I've also noticed a slowdown in the number of customers contacting me for information or assistance with their Exchange 5.5 migrations; this slowdown supports Microsoft's claim that it has reduced the number of Exchange 5.5 seats by more than 50 percent over the past year.

Second, you probably already know about the launch of Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services, which I wrote about a few weeks ago ("FrontBridge Gets a Makeover," InstantDoc ID 49910). FrontBridge isn't the only company Microsoft has acquired in the past year; it also bought antivirus company Sybari Software. That acquisition is bearing fruit in the form of the new Microsoft Antigen product line (which you can think of as Sybari Antigen 9.0 if you prefer). Microsoft Antigen is actually a set of products: Antigen for Exchange 2003, Exchange 2000, and Exchange 5.5, as well as a forthcoming version for Exchange 2007 (due around the time beta 2 ships this summer), and Antigen-branded products for protecting SharePoint and Live Communications Server. One of Antigen's strengths has long been its built-in support for multiple scan engines; existing versions of Antigen ship with four available engines. The new versions of Antigen add support for Microsoft's antivirus engine, which is based on technology acquired when Microsoft bought GeCAD Software a couple of years ago--bringing the total of in- box engines supported to five.

Microsoft also announced a significant change in the way Exchange 2007 will be licensed. Right now, you buy CALs for your users who need to access Exchange. The number and type of CALs that you buy varies according to how many concurrent and total users you have, plus a variety of other arcane factors that I'm not qualified to explain. Exchange 2007 is continuing the idea of per-user CALs, but there's a new type of CAL as well. The existing Exchange CAL has been renamed as the Exchange Standard CAL; the new Exchange Enterprise CAL adds licensing for several Exchange 2007-specific features, including - unified messaging (UM)
- advanced compliance, including the use of managed organizational folders to automatically archive email and the ability to create internal rules that control email flow to implement compliance requirements
- Antigen for Exchange licenses
- Exchange Hosted Services Filtering licenses

Microsoft has already said that the Standard CAL price will remain the same as it is for Exchange 2003, which seems eminently fair: If you want the new features, you can buy them. If you don't want them (for example, if you're a small business that doesn't need advanced compliance, or if you've just bought an expensive Cisco UM system and don't want to replace it), then you don't have to pay extra. One interesting wrinkle is that the Enterprise CAL includes both server- and service-based filtering. This makes a lot of sense because external filtering through products such as Exchange Hosted Filtering helps greatly reduce the amount of spam and virus-containing email you get in the first place, while server-based products give you local control and filtering ability.

Of course, the fly in the ointment is that Microsoft hasn't said how much the Enterprise CALs will cost; it's too early in the product cycle for that announcement. However, Microsoft's Dave Thompson, corporate vice president of the Exchange Server Product Group, did say that the Enterprise CAL should represent a "substantial" price break compared to buying the same capabilities separately. We'll have to wait to see what "substantial" means in this context.

Next week, Microsoft should be making a number of Exchange-related announcements at TechEd. Stay tuned to the Windows IT Pro network for the latest details. And if you're in Boston on Monday, feel free to drop by MSG306, my session on Exchange security tips and tricks.