Microsoft announced the immediate and unexpected release of a public beta version of Exchange Server 2010, its next-generation messaging and communications server. The company notes that Exchange 2010 is part of the Office 2010 (formerly code-named Office 14) wave of products. But unlike most of the other Office 2010 products, which are due in 2010, Exchange 2010 will ship by the end of this year.

"Exchange 2010 ushers in the next generation of Microsoft unified communications software as the first server designed from inception to work both on-premises and as an online service," says Microsoft Corporate Vice President Rajesh Jha. "This release raises the bar with new archiving and end-user innovations that will help companies save money and employees save time."

Exchange 2010 will bring a number of enhancements over its predecessor, Exchange 2007. These will include a deployment choice of on-premise installs, Microsoft hosted service, or a mixture of the two; support for low-cost direct-attach storage; and new email archiving functionality. For end users, Exchange 2010 will offer MailTips, for preventing the sending of erroneous email; text-based voicemail previews; an email "mute" button that will remove the user from unnecessary email conversations; a new conversation view; and other enhancements. Some of these features will also require the Outlook 2010 client application.

In addition to announcing the Exchange 2010 beta, Microsoft revealed that the Office 2010 wave of products will also include Microsoft Office 2010, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, Microsoft Visio 2010, and Microsoft Project 2010. These latter products will ship in "technical preview" form in the third quarter of 2009 and in final form in the first half of 2010. The Office 2010 technical preview will be available to the public, the company says.

For an in-depth look at Exchange 2010, see Tony Redmond's "A First Look at Exchange 2010". For more information about Exchange 2010 and the public beta download, visit the Microsoft web site.