Exchange Server 2007 is the next release of Microsoft's venerable groupware solution, and there is a quite a bit of buzz in the industry about what this release brings to the table.
Aside from obvious management and administrative improvements, and new Windows PowerShell-based access to the product, Microsoft introduced the idea of unified messaging and aims to transform the way organizations handle a flood of messages in a number of formats. There are also new VoIP-based requirements for the new features. Let's take a look at exactly what's new and what's needed to take advantage of this new release.
Exchange Server 2007 integrates the concept of "unified messaging" throughout all of the corners of the product -- a way of thinking about the Exchange mailbox as a central place to interact with the different aspects of a user's life. Exchange Server 2007 wants every piece of personal information or data to cross its path so it can help the user manage it, wherever and whenever.
Seamless access to e-mail, voice mail, faxes, calendar items, your to-do list, from essentially any device -- including a phone -- is part of the idea. Exchange also wants to blur the line between what format a piece of data is in. No longer should it matter, according to Microsoft, whether you have information contained in a voicemail message, a fax, or an e-mail--- they are all actionable items, able to be consumed and stored in the most convenient format for the user.
So how is unified messaging implemented in practice, at least in this release? It appears namely in two areas: Outlook Voice Access and new wireless capabilities and support.
Outlook Voice Access
Perhaps the most important feature from the user's perspective is Outlook Voice Access, a wonderful addition to Exchange Server 2007 that essentially connects the data in a user's Exchange mailbox with speech capabilities embedded within the server product (the speech capabilities rely on an included, "lite" version of Microsoft Speech Server). A user can dial the Exchange gateway number, enter credentials and then be connected with his or her calendar and messages in the Inbox. Outlook Voice Access will read e-mail and fax messages, calendar details, contact information and the like over the phone.
But it's not a one-way solution -- Outlook Voice Access responds to verbal commands, like an automated attendant with secretary-type powers. So if your flight is delayed, for example, and the person you're meeting on the other end needs to know you will be two hours late, you can tell Outlook Voice Access over the phone to reschedule your meeting for two hours later.
You can also call in and clear your schedule for a specific block of time, or an entire day, and Exchange will let your meeting participants know of your absence, including with a voice recording explaining things, if you wish. You can also perform common mailbox management functions, like replying to and deleting messages, over the phone from anywhere.