Microsoft Again Pushes Exchange Collaboration

Microsoft Tuesday said it is building a new generation with its Exchange Server, a generation that includes conferencing, collaboration, mobile support and application development.

At its annual Exchange and Collaboration Solutions Conference the company laid out a vision for Exchange 2000 in front of some 3,000 Exchange administrators gathered at the morning keynote to get a look at the next version of Exchange.

The vision will take the platform from e-mail to an environment that will support the development and deployment of collaborative applications that can be accessed over a network or with a wireless device. Of course, in the early days of Exchange, Microsoft pushed Exchange's collaboration features in a vicious market share battle with Lotus Notes.

The heart of this next generation will come from Exchange 2000's Web Storage System, a distributed repository for unstructured data that can be accessed through a variety of interfaces and protocols. Observers say it finally makes Exchange a platform for building collaborative applications much like Lotus Domino.

The battle with Lotus will be a hallmark of this next generation as evidenced by the addition to Exchange 2000 of replication and application development features that have been mainstays of the Lotus platform.

Microsoft is trying to rally its Exchange installed base, which it claims now stands at 58 million, to its vision of an Internet-based infrastructure that provides software services and data access to users regardless of how they connect to the network.

In that spirit, Exchange is but one piece of Microsoft's emerging Internet platform called .Net. The focus this week will be on defining Exchange's newest enhancements but also articulating its role in the larger .Net framework.

And that means a lot of new pieces around what was once seen as just a messaging platform.

"What Exchange 2000 means is a lot more work for administrators who are used to e-mail and not used to building applications," says Dana Gardner, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group in Boston. "With Exchange 2000 you can consolidate servers, but there is now a lot more pieces around those servers."

But Microsoft thinks it has delivered what IT administrators are asking for.

"Exchange 2000 is about meeting the more demanding needs now facing IT," Russ Stockdale, vice president of the knowledge workers solution group at Microsoft, told a crowd of Exchange administrators during the conference's keynote address this morning. Stockdale said those needs include supporting a mobile workforce, 24-7 availability, outsourcing and real-time computing.

To meet those needs, Microsoft this week started to make the infrastructure available by officially releasing Exchange 2000 and the Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server. Windows 2000, which is the only platform Exchange 2000 runs on, was released in February. But the complexity of deploying the platform and its Active Directory Services is a challenge in and of itself for enterprises and Exchange administrators.

On top of that infrastructure, Microsoft said it will deliver its Mobile Information 2001 Server to support wireless access to Exchange services and Tahoe for document management. Both those servers will ship next year.

In addition, Microsoft unveiled the Local Web Storage System, a client-side file storage system built into the next release of Office, dubbed Office 10. The local storage creates a cache on the client, reducing trips to the server to get data. The feature will allow Microsoft to match Lotus in terms of being able to work with applications offline and then synchronize with Exchange 2000. Lotus calls the feature replication and has been a core of Notes and Domino for years.

Around that platform, Microsoft also announced Office Designer, a visual development tool that will be part of Office 10. The tool, which is similar to Notes Designer, will ship in the first half of next year.

Gordon Mangione, vice president of the Exchange business unit, said all the pieces are answers to customers needs.

"You wanted Exchange to run like a mission critical application, you wanted the Web to be a big thing, you wanted more out of the infrastructure," Mangione told the crowd. "And we totally nailed it."

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