Contextual collaboration and the future of Exchange

For the first time in 8 years, I didn't speak at Microsoft TechEd, which took place last week. (I was disappointed, especially because this year's event was in one of my favorite cities: New Orleans.) There were several reasons why I didn't attend, including the fact that I'm just returning from paternity leave. However, I think that the most significant reason was TechEd's change of focus, which I've written about before.

Starting last year, Microsoft began to shift the emphasis of its spring event to development, trimming out most infrastructure content. Microsoft is shifting this infrastructure content to its fall event: the Microsoft Enterprise Conference (MEC—formerly known as the Microsoft Exchange Conference). This strategy—with its resulting tighter focus, clearer content, and simplified marketing for each event—is probably the right thing for Microsoft and its customers. For developers in particular, a Microsoft event with a specialized development focus is long overdue.

Although the change means a large reduction in the number of Exchange Server and Windows deployment sessions available at TechEd, this year's event still included plenty of Exchange content. In fact, the Exchange folks tried to make a huge splash with the announcement of the Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server XML Web Services Toolkit for Microsoft .NET (what a mouthful). What's all the hype about? You might consider this new toolkit as more "fluff" around the .NET-ization of Exchange. However, the kit includes some pieces that are worth looking at if you're thinking about migrating your existing Exchange applications to Microsoft .NET or want an overview of how to develop XML Web services that leverage Exchange 2000's data and services. The kit includes samples of XML Web services for calendaring/scheduling, contacts, and workflow; the Exchange Software Development Kit (SDK) March 2002, which includes a sample tracking application developed in Visual Studio .NET; demo applications of business scenarios that leverage Exchange 2000 Web services; white papers; videos of developer presentations from major conferences; and a .NET developer self-paced training course.

The whole idea and dream behind Microsoft .NET and the larger concept of Web services is "contextual collaboration." (For a great explanation of this new buzzword, see Sue Mosher's Exchange & Outlook UPDATE, Outlook Edition article "Contextual Collaboration" ( http://www.exchangeadmin.com , InstantDoc ID 24860.) Contextual collaboration is about consuming services and data as part of "meta applications"—business solutions that leverage technology, services, and data across the organization. With products such as Exchange, enterprises have developed and deployed technological service islands: monolithic, self-contained business solutions that are based on one platform (e.g., Exchange). To get greater return on investment (ROI) and lower total cost of ownership (TCO), we need the ability to unlock these islands and expose them as services and data that other applications or solutions can consume—services that we can access through HTTP and data that's formatted as XML, packaged by Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), described by Web Services Description Language (WSDL), and discovered by DISCO (a Microsoft Web services discovery and publication protocol) and Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI).

For Exchange 2000, the key service and data components that can be exposed in this manner include calendaring, contacts, messaging, and workflow. You can use HTTP-DAV to access these services directly when you build applications with Visual Studio .NET, or you can wrap your existing Collaboration Data Objects for Exchange 2000 Server (CDOEX) applications as Web services. This new breed of consumable services lets Exchange services and data become part of a larger business solution.

If you've been waiting to get your Exchange applications on the Microsoft .NET or Web services bandwagons, or if you're an enterprise architect trying to figure out how to leverage Exchange services and data in your line of business (LOB) or meta applications, the Exchange 2000 XML Web Services Toolkit is a great place to start. You can order the kit online at http://microsoft.order-2.com/exenable ; for further information, visit http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/techinfo/development/2000/enablekit.asp