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Microsoft Sheds a Little Light on Exchange Server 2016

Microsoft on Wednesday disclosed a few details about its next-generation e-mail messaging server product, which it has kept largely under wraps.

Exchange Server 2016 is still being developed by Microsoft. Even the unsurprising version name of Exchange Server "2016" had been unknown until Microsoft's announcement on Wednesday. No public preview of Exchange Server 2016 seems to be available currently. It's likely that Microsoft's private Technology Adoption Program testers will see the bits first, but Microsoft won't say if the bits are available to TAP testers yet.

Microsoft did reiterate on Wednesday that it plans to ship Exchange Server 2016 in the second half of this year. As for what to expect in the new server, the announcement pointed to a few areas: Exchange Server 2016 will have document collaboration improvements, search will be improved across mailboxes and calendars, and the current electronic discovery capability will get performance improvements. Microsoft also plans to make life easier for developers with "new REST-based APIs for Mail, Calendar, and Contacts."

Many updates that Microsoft has added to Office 365 since the release of Exchange Server 2013 could show up in the Exchange Server 2016 product, according to the announcement. Microsoft released Exchange Server 2013 in October 2012, so that's potentially about three years of Office 365 improvements that could get crammed into the new server.

Microsoft has adopted a "cloud first" development approach for its enterprise products, which means that improvements to its server products trail those of its Office 365 services, such as Exchange Online. Supposedly, this approach is an advantage for organizations because new Exchange capabilities arrive well-tested in Microsoft's cloud before they get incorporated into the customer premises-based server products.

Microsoft is promising a "first look at Exchange Server 2016" at its Ignite conference coming up in May. In the meantime, its Office 365 Roadmap page provides a few clues about what might appear in Exchange Server 2016. For instance, here are some Exchange features in Office 365 that have already been launched:

  • MAPI over HTTP to connect Outlook and Exchange (replaces the Outlook Anywhere protocol)
  • Improved ability to control "workload-specific admin roles" for administering Exchange
  • Exchange transport rule improvements to automatically send e-mail notifications when an e-mail message matches a transport rule
  • Improvements to the Clutter e-mail feature, including "admin controls to assign a specific retention tag for the Clutter folder"

Microsoft's Roadmap page also lists a few features that are currently rolling out:

  • The Delve content discovery tool is rolling out, as well as the Boards feature that aggregates content, which are designed to enhance collaboration within organizations
  • Data loss prevention protections for Office documents can be managed using Exchange transport rules
  • Improved spam "backspatter" message checking, which promises to reduce the frequency of e-mails bounced back to recipients because of the use of spoofed e-mail addresses by spammers

Such items may or may not be at the top of IT wish lists when it comes to Exchange Server 2016. IT departments tend to favor a more predictable managed computing environment over accessing new features.

It's also not clear if Office 365 features might start to diverge greatly from those available on server products. That sort of divergence is already seen, in part, with SharePoint Online, where Microsoft is favoring the use of its Yammer enterprise social networking application over the SharePoint Server Newsfeed feature. Yammer is a service hosted by Microsoft. It doesn't run on private servers.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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