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Microsoft Ships Exchange '12' Beta

Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled a limited release beta of the next major version of its messaging server -- code-named Exchange "12." Among the new features debuting in the beta – a new “role-based” administration model as well as unified messaging.

Beta 1 will go to 1,400 testers globally, including customers, OEMs, independent software vendors and systems integrators, Microsoft officials said. The beta is not feature complete.

A second beta version is tentatively scheduled for mid-2006 with the final release set for late next year or early 2007, says Megan Kidd, Microsoft senior product manager for Exchange.

So what new features make a bow in Exchange 12 Beta 1? One is a role-base management model that enables administrators to only deploy those Exchange 12 components that are necessary on each server.

“There is a general focus on role-based management that has a lot of advantages in terms of setup and ongoing management,” says Jeff Ressler, Microsoft director of product planning for Exchange. Users will be able to click on different roles in the Exchange System Manager console, and implementing a role-based model simplifies administration, Ressler adds.

Another important new feature that will see the light of day in Beta 1 is a unified messaging model that lets users access voice mail, e-mail and faxes all from the “Outlook 12” inbox, using a wide variety of access methods, including voice recognition and text-to-speech translation, according to Ressler.

Microsoft announced in August that it would provide Microsoft Speech Server technology in Exchange at some point but did not say when at that time. (See “Microsoft Speech Technologies Coming to Exchange,” Aug. 2.)

Outlook 12 is due to ship with “Office 12,” the codename for the Windows Vista timeframe release of Office. Microsoft disclosed much of its roadmap for Exchange 12 nearly a year ago. (See "Exchange 12 Directions Revealed,” Jan. 19.)

Last month, Microsoft also disclosed that Exchange 12 will only run on the x64 editions of Windows Server. (See “Exchange '12' to be 64-bit Only,” Nov. 16, 2005.)

For admins that really prefer a command-line interface, Beta 1 includes a scriptable command shell built on the company’s “Monad” scripting shell technology. The scriptable shell in Exchange 12 Beta 1 provides a superset of the commands available in the newly updated Exchange System Manager console, according to Ressler.

Monad itself entered beta testing in September. It is intended as an efficient and secure tool for administrators to automate and control system management tasks on desktops and servers, and consists of command-line tools and utilities as well as a scripting language. (See “'Monad' Beta Widely Available,” Sept. 14.)

In the area of security, Beta 1 includes several new capabilities, including built-in anti-spam capabilities and automated updates for anti-spam filters, as well as attachment filtering.

Exchange is one of Microsoft's most valuable and strategic products. The messaging server was the latest to join the group of Microsoft products that generate at least $1 billion in revenue each year. The others are the Windows desktop, Office, Windows Server and SQL Server.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.