Microsoft serves up beta of upcoming Exchange 2010

A public beta of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 will familiarize users with its features before the final release rolls out next year. Included is an integrated email archive, reducing the need for third-party archive solutions. Also, its email system takes a note from Gmail and offers the option to view threaded conversations.

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) More about Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled a public beta version of Microsoft Exchange 2010.

This next version of Microsoft's email server will ship later this year, Microsoft said.

The new Exchange version is built around a hybrid design that will form the infrastructure for a hosted email service at home or at the office.

"This new version is classic Microsoft. It is a first version of a new architecture that builds in some archiving features with a basic feature set. I expect to see Microsoft push further down this road," Christopher Voce, an analyst with Forrester, told TechNewsWorld.

New Goals

Microsoft appears to be paying closer attention to the changing work styles of its Office suite users. The new version includes features to give end-users similar experiences whether they connect on PC, phone or browser.

Another goal is to help businesses reduce costs. Microsoft is stepping into areas that it previously relied on its partners to provide, suggested Voce.

"One of the new design points by Microsoft attacks the cost of storage. The new Exchange product has a more hosted friendly platform that is a much better fit," he explained.

Key Features

Exchange 2010 is the first part of the next wave of Microsoft Office-related products and the first server in a new generation of Microsoft server technology built from the ground up. Its new design works both on-premises and as an online service, according to Rajesh Jha, corporate vice president of Exchange at Microsoft.

One of the most significant new features in Exchange 2010 is an integrated email archive. Previous Exchange versions lacked ability for companies to archive their e-mail centrally without third-party software. Exchange 2010 will include integrated archiving and multi-mailbox search capabilities at no extra cost.

Improved Interface

"Exchange 2007 was more focused on back-office improvements," Voce said. "Now Exchange 2010 brings much more balanced improvements through new features. It is a major upgrade with a new face to it."

Among the new features is the the ability to view threaded email conversations in a format similar to Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) More about Google Gmail. Microsoft has also added a button to ignore email threads.

Unified messaging features were a hallmark in Exchange 2007. These features are expanded in Exchange 2010 with speech-to-text transcription of voicemail as well as customized voicemail menus.

The MailTips feature shows users a text snippet near the top of a message to prevent sending unwarranted or unnecessary emails. For instance, a warning alerts the sender about how many people are on a distribution list. It also warns if the email is headed for someone outside of the sender's organization or has an out-of-office notification up.

Powershell support gives administrators one set of tools for managing internal users and users on hosted platforms. The tool set includes the ability to bridge the gap between the two.

Site resilience is provided by a geographically dispersed failover cluster that spans more than one physical data center.

Federation technology used in Windows Server provides Exchange 2010 hosted and local users with the same information. This cross-domain support enables features such as sharing free/busy time among calendars of hosted and on-premises users.

Cost Barrier

Storage costs in the past have been very steep, Voce noted. The new Exchange version gives Microsoft some strategies for lowering those costs for its users.

Microsoft also made Exchange 2010 more flexible to deploy and manage. It does this by unifying the platform with the same enterprise-grade capabilities for both on-premises and as-a-service deployment, said Microsoft.

Customers deploying the server have simplified features providing always-on communications and disaster recovery. Exchange 2010 also improves performance running on lower-cost direct-attached storage, enabling organizations to reduce storage costs by up to 85 percent, according to Microsoft.

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