Wave after wave of technology announcements swept through the Windows IT world in 2007, and many of those developments directly affected Exchange professionals. For those of you who found it tough to keep up with the changes—and those who just like “top X” lists—here are my top eight picks for this year’s most significant messaging developments. Feel free to email me your own top X list!

8. The DST fiasco
It seems a distant memory now, but back in February, Exchange administrators in North America were stressed out with trying to apply the Microsoft daylight saving time (DST) patches to ensure that Exchange servers would use the correct time after this year’s change to an earlier start (and later end) to DST. Admins needed to patch Windows servers and clients as well as Outlook, Outlook Web Access (OWA), and particular Exchange components (e.g., calendaring) to accommodate the change. What should have been a straightforward patching task turned into a complicated mess for some Exchange administrators, and for the last couple weeks in February, the DST fix was probably the number one discussion topic on Exchange forums. Fortunately, admins won’t have to make this change again in the foreseeable future—but let’s hope Microsoft took away some lessons in “communicating better with customers” from this mess.

7. The iPhone
It’s the coolest mobile-device release of this year—and it doesn’t work well with Exchange. But you know that won’t stop your users from wanting one. Was it marketing stupidity to release such a device, or marketing genius? Apple knows that IT folks love new gadgets, and maybe by releasing the phone without key features such as support for Exchange direct push via Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) in version 1, Apple hopes to gauge demand for the iPhone in business environments. If tech pros clamor for Exchange direct push support, Apple knows the corporate market for the iPhone is there.

6. Image-based spam and the rise of botnets
Email messages containing image spam (spam with image attachments) have increased dramatically in the past year, and botnets—which make messages more difficult for spam filters to block—are largely responsible for the increase. If you weren’t using a hosted antispam service such as Postini or Microsoft Exchange Hosted Filtering, you might have noticed a significant increase in spam getting through to your users. Antispam vendors such as Sunbelt Software and Barracuda Networks responded to the threat by offering products specifically for filtering image spam, and Microsoft will regularly update Exchange 2007’s built-in spam filter. Athough botnets won’t go away anytime soon, at least defenses against them are getting better.

5. SaaS and Exchange hosting
The service bureau concept of the 1960s and 70s has morphed into software as a service (SaaS), where companies pay to use an application hosted offsite by the application vendor, rather than own, run, and administer the application onsite. The SaaS model (or Software Plus Services, as Microsoft terms it) seems a natural fit for Exchange, especially for companies with small IT staffs or small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) that are finding it increasingly costly to manage Exchange inhouse. Even Microsoft is offering a hosted Exchange service: Microsoft Exchange Online, which it announced in October. With more choices and better pricing for hosted mail services than ever, SMBs facing the looming upgrade-to-Exchange-2007 question may decide that it’s a better idea to simply let someone else handle their email services.

4. Outlook 2007
At the Windows & Exchange Connections conference in early November, Tony Redmond, the well-known Exchange expert and vice president and CTO for HP Services, praised Microsoft’s new email clients, Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 and OWA 2007. He also said they’ve gone about as far as they can in their feature sets. New features in Outlook, such as its extensive SharePoint integration, new UI features, and improved mobile-device security and management, are impressive. Even so, are we seeing the end of the desktop-client era and the rise of the mobile-connectivity era, as Tony thinks? If that’s the case, Outlook 2007 may mark the end of Microsoft’s focus on email access on the desktop—and that start of a new emphasis on “anywhere” email access.

3. Exchange 2007 SP1
Less than one year after the initial version release, Microsoft provided the first Exchange 2007 service pack, which is arguably more of a feature pack providing significant functionality enhancements rather than a service pack containing minor fixes. Among other improvements, SP1 enhances Exchange Management Console to let administrators perform tasks such as mailbox-management chores and public folder management via the GUI (instead of forcing them to use Exchange Management Shell for these jobs). Since these enhancements address some of Exchange pros’ primary complaints about the original release, it’s reasonable to think they’ll give admins a cheerier outlook on moving to the latest Exchange version.

2. Microsoft’s UC announcements
Almost two years ago, Microsoft merged its Exchange and Real-Time Collaboration groups into a new Unified Communications Group. This year, the reorganization bore fruit in the form of multiple UC product announcements, led by Exchange 2007 with its support for unified messaging (UM). The biggest group of announcements came in October, when Microsoft released its server and client IM/presence products, Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 and Office Communicator 2007; Microsoft Office Live Meeting, the latest version of its Web-conferencing product; and Microsoft RoundTable, a conference phone that uses speech-recognition and a built-in 360-degree camera to provide the feel of a live conference. I’m not convinced that the shift to UC will be “as profound as the shift from typewriters to word processors,” as Bill Gates said at the UC launch keynote. Nevertheless, based on what I’ve seen of how OCS and Communicator can work with Outlook and Exchange UM (see “New Belgium Brews a Potent Unified Communications Combo"), I believe UC is here to say—which means Exchange admins had better get to know presence and VoIP technology, if they don’t already.

1. Exchange Server 2007
Exchange 2007 requires a 64-bit system and forces admins to use a command shell and scripting to do many things they used to do from the GUI. But Exchange 2007 also has UM, server roles, transport rules, disclaimers, a new message-routing approach, messaging records management, and new high-availability features. Love it, hate it, or ignore it—but you’ll likely agree that, for Windows messaging professionals, the release of Exchange 2007 tops the list of this year’s Exchange developments.

And Finally, Farewell
This marks my last month as editor of Exchange & Outlook Pro VIP, as I transition into a new job within Penton Media. My colleague, senior editor Sheila Molnar, will take over as editor in January 2008. Sheila came to Penton recently, having 12 years of experience managing documentation projects for Microsoft. She’s enthused about planning Pro VIP content for the next year and wants to hear from readers about what you’d like to see on the site. Feel free to contact Sheila or assistant editor Brian Winstead, who will be helping Sheila manage the site and our publications’ messaging content.

When I took on this role a year ago, my job was to produce editorial content for an online site to replace the Exchange & Outlook Administrator print newsletter. Some of the newsletter’s longtime subscribers quite reasonably questioned Penton Media’s decision to transition a print publication to the Web. Although the transition hasn’t been easy, I feel confident that we’ve continued to provide you with the same type of high-quality, technical content that the print newsletter offered. For me, an added benefit of publishing on the Web is that it’s given me more contact with readers, which helps me better understand the issues you face as messaging pros. Know that we’ll continue to improve the site to make it as useful as possible and help you get the information you need.

Best wishes for 2008!

—Anne Grubb, Exchange & Outlook Pro VIP Editor