This month, I had so many things to talk about in this column that I procrastinated over beginning to write because I couldn't choose a focus. As a result, I was already a week late as I sat down to finally get something on electronic paper. Then a tree branch falling on our power line caused one of our frequent Seattle-area power failures. That event scared me into just writing up what I have before the power goes out again. So this column is a potpourri of things that have caught my attention over the past month.

Storage Server Follow-Up
My "Hey Microsoft!" column this month, on page 15, is about Windows Storage Server (WSS) 2003 R2. As we were finishing up this issue, I got a call from Shola Aluko, a product manager in the WSS group, asking whether some of my survey respondents might be willing to participate in a weekly 45-minute phone call with Microsoft WSS developers. Shola said this project would offer these readers an opportunity to influence the product. What Microsoft gets out of the deal is direct feedback, but the company also gains customers who are willing to talk to the press about the product and the experience of being closely connected to its developers. Three survey participants in the Northwest accepted Shola's offer, and I'll keep you posted about how this experiment works out.

Monad and Exchange 12
I've been fascinated with Microsoft's new command shell (code-named Monad) since I first heard about it in 2002. When Microsoft recently briefed me on Exchange 12 (E12) beta 1, I was most interested in the fact that E12 will be the first Microsoft product to integrate Monad. E12's redesigned Exchange System Manager (ESM) GUI is an interface for the Exchange Management Shell, which is built on Monad.

Our Exchange technical editor, Paul Robichaux, provided an overview of E12 beta 1 in his commentary for our Exchange and Outlook UPDATE email newsletter (December 22, 2005, InstantDoc ID 48866). Paul also covered Monad in "Getting Started with Monad" (February 9, 2006, InstantDoc ID 49375). Paul told me he's really excited about the new Monad scripting environment for Exchange. He'll be showing it off in his "Cool Exchange Scripting with Monad" session at the upcoming Exchange Connections Spring 2006 shows in Orlando, Florida, and Nice, France. (Learn more about the Florida show at http://www.devconnections.com/ shows/WinSpring2006/default.asp?s=73.) Paul said, "I'm going to cover what Monad is, how it differs from more traditional scripting environments, and how you can use it with Exchange 2000/2003 and E12. I'll present example scripts to illustrate differences between the Exchange 2003 scripting model and Monad. I think Monad will single-handedly convince a lot of administrators that E12 is a worthwhile upgrade."

Microsoft is offering an E12 Community Technology Preview (CTP) to TechNet and MSDN subscribers. Beta 2 will be available to the public sometime in mid-2006, and the product is currently targeted for release to manufacturing at the end of this year or early in 2007.

ISA 2006
Another recent briefing covered Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA) 2006 beta 1. The three main areas of focus for this release are its comprehensive tool set for publishing Exchange Server and SharePoint Portal Services servers, enhancements for streamlined security and connectivity in corporate branch offices, and expanded array of appliance offerings from OEM partners, which will simplify ISA Server deployment.

Senior Product Manager Joel Sloss told me, "If I had to pick just one thing that was the biggest investment, it would be secure application publishing for Exchange and SharePoint, followed very closely by branch office in importance."

I find the ISA appliances very interesting. For a list of ISA 2004 hardware vendors and a chart comparing their offerings, go to http://www.microsoft.com/isaserver/hardware/VendorComparison.mspx.

Readers' Choice: Vote Now!
In addition to connecting readers with one another and with Microsoft, our mission includes connecting you with the third-party vendors that provide products to help you do your job. Our fifth annual Readers' Choice awards issue gives you the opportunity to reward vendors for the products that are most useful to you. Please take a few minutes to go to http://www.windowsitpro.com/readerschoice and vote for your favorite products. The September 2006 issue of Windows IT Pro will feature the products that you tell us are your favorites. Voting ends on May 1.