Microsoft offers first beta of Exchange 12

Microsoft will release the first beta of the next version of Exchange, code-named Exchange 12, Wednesday.

Microsoft Wednesday released the first beta of the next version of its Exchange messaging server, code-named Exchange 12, in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

The first beta of Exchange 12 will be released in both versions -- even though the final product will only run on 64-bit servers -- because Microsoft wanted to give customers still running Exchange on 32-bit servers access to it, said Megan Kidd, senior product manager for the Exchange Group at Microsoft.

When testing early versions of products, users are more interested in seeing new features than they are in testing the performance improvements a leap from 32-bit to 64-bit would provide, she said, to explain why Microsoft would release a 32-bit beta for a product whose final release will be 64-bit only.

Beta 1 of Exchange 12 is a private one that will be released to a mix of 1,400 customers and partners worldwide, Kidd said. It will not include all of the features planned for the commercial release, but will offer a preview of new technologies that are the results of the product's three major design goals. Those goals are to give IT administrators more control, allow users to have more access to their inbox and provide increased security for Exchange servers, she said.

Features that display planned IT administration enhancements include the addition of preset server roles that an administrator can choose to help simplify the configuration of the server on hardware. For example, an administrator can choose the role of "hub server" and Exchange will automatically set itself up to handle e-mail traffic in and out of the network, she said.

Other possible role options for automatic set-up for the server are: mailbox, edge, unified messaging and client access. An administrator can pick more than one of these roles for Exchange 12 during the installation process, Kidd added.

The beta also shows off new usability features of an update to Exchange System Manager, the control module of Exchange, she said. Those features include a new filtering option that will allow administrators to customize filters so they can apply changes such as patches to a specific group of users.

To provide more inbox access to users, Exchange 12 will have unified messaging capability built directly into the product, another feature demonstrated in Beta 1, Kidd said. Previously, this feature -- which enables users to access not only e-mails, but also voice mail and fax messages through Exchange -- was available only through third-party products, she said.

As part of the new unified messaging feature, an automated attendant enables users to call in to access their e-mail remotely and send a text or voice message attachment back to the person who originated the message, Kidd said. Exchange users can also have their calendar appointments read to them through the service.

Exchange 12 security enhancements featured in Beta 1 include a new API (application programming interface) that will allow third-party antivirus vendors to scan e-mails by different parts, such as message header and body, to more easily identify the location of viruses, Kidd said. Additionally, the beta shows off a new attachment-filtering feature of Exchange 12 that lets administrators set rules to prohibit certain types of attachments to either leave or enter the network, she said.

Microsoft expects Beta 2 of Exchange 12 to be available sometime in mid-2006 depending on the feedback from the first beta. The final version of the product, which will be branded with its actual name before release, is expected to be generally available in early-to-mid 2007, Kidd said.

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