It's always hard to make generalizations about large organizations, and this is particularly true of Microsoft, where business units often make decisions that seem completely at odds with one another. However, as a whole, Microsoft has recently been much more tight-lipped than usual about forthcoming products. Take Windows 7 as an example; Microsoft did a great job of playing its cards close to the vest until the Professional Developers Conference last November. And you haven't seen much about the next version of Office, either, I bet! Microsoft is still nowhere near as secretive as Apple, but the company is definitely making strides in that direction—which is why you might be surprised to know that Microsoft is well into development of the next release of Exchange Server, code-named Exchange 14.
(Trivia question: Why 14? Well, a few releases ago, the Exchange team decided to synchronize its internal release numbers with the Office team. Both the Exchange and Office teams used 12 for their 2007 products during the development phase, as did the Office Communications Server (OCS) team. Exchange and Office skipped ahead to 14 for the releases now under development; the OCS team used 13 for OCS 2007 R2. No, it didn't make sense to me either.)
Anyway, Exchange 14 was announced this week by the release of a video on the Exchange team blog featuring longtime Exchange program manager KC Lemson, a familiar face in the Exchange community, and Exchange Labs program manager Jim Lucey. The video begins with an explanation of the genesis of Exchange 14: It was designed from the ground up to be equally capable of running as a hosted service or an on-premises solution on your servers. Microsoft is currently using Exchange 14 to host mailboxes for Exchange Labs, which means that there are about 3.5 million mailboxes now running Exchange 14. That's a very impressive number in its own right. For previous versions of Exchange, Microsoft deployed development versions (pre-beta) only for its own internal use and through limited early-access programs for customers. That situation gives a typical pre-release deployment count in the low six digits (say, up to around 150,000 mailboxes), so jumping to 3.5 million is a huge increase.
The video also shows some interesting new Exchange 14 features. The ones that I think will strike the biggest chord with current Exchange administrators are those related to self-service. For example, end users can now edit some of their own details in the Global Address List (GAL). Better yet, they can create and manage their own distribution lists—a most welcome addition given that distribution list management in Exchange 2007 and earlier is still fairly primitive. Outlook Web Access has some interesting-looking changes as well, though the presenters didn't elaborate on them in the video; I expect to see more on these changes in the future.
Of course, perhaps a more interesting topic is what's in Exchange 14 that Microsoft didn't show in the video. What feature would you most like to see added (or removed) in the next release of Exchange? Drop me a line and let me know. Meanwhile, if you haven't seen the video yet, you can check it out below.