Although in January Microsoft canceled a version of Exchange that was due this year, Exchange 12 is on track for final release in late 2006 or early 2007, following the second, bigger beta test sometime next summer, according to Jeff Ressler, the director of product planning for Exchange.
Exchange 12 is also being put through its paces by a select group of customers and partners under a Technology Adoption Program. Those testers undertake production deployments and provide the company feedback, he said.
Ressler said Exchange 12 will bring with it better and enhanced control and productivity for IT administrators, expanded inbox access for end users, and increased security and compliance for organizations.
"One of the biggest changes in Exchange 12 is that the architecture is based on five server roles, which componentizes or modularizes Exchange and thereby allows an administrator to choose which of those he wants to install per server. Some of these roles, like for unified messaging and edge transport, are optional, while the others, like client access, are mandatory," he told eWEEK.
The purpose of these roles is to help save administrators all the time they would normally spend installing these things and then manually turning some of them off to make things work the way they want, he said, adding, "These roles reflect how most customers already deploy Exchange, they just have to do it manually today."
These roles also play into the daily management and operation of Exchange, for which most administrators currently spend the bulk of their time using the graphical management console known as Exchange System Manager, he said. While the Manager will ship in Exchange 12, it will have a new and rewritten graphical interface.
"Today, even in a relatively modestly sized environment, the navigation inside this console can become pretty tedious and involves a lot of scrolling and right clicking. The new console does not nest very deep; we only go three levels deep in this tree structure, which is based at a high level on those roles.
"Because we have nested the tree, more information is being presented to other parts of the console, and we make better use of the white space, the panes and windows in that console," he said.
Exchange 12 also now supports a filtering capability that allows long-list filtering. The action pane is also exposed, which is like having a persistent right-click menu available to the administrator. "So [if] the administrator has the mailbox selected in the user interface, the action pane—which is one portion of the window—will show them what operations they can do on the mailbox," he said.
For power-user administrator types, Exchange 12 will bring a new component known as the Exchange Management Shell, a command line shell that is based on Windows Monad technology. This is fully scriptable and can be used for real-time management or for scripted operations like provisioning a server, Ressler said.
Clients will also now be able to automatically discover and connect to Exchange through a feature, which is also supported by a feature in Outlook 12, that will automatically detect an Exchange server and create a profile for the user, who will only need to know one e-mail address and be logged into the network securely, he said.
"Outlook will then remain connected to that Exchange Server, even if the administrators move that persons mailbox from one Exchange server to another, meaning the Outlook settings dont have to be changes for them to stay connected to Outlook," he added.
Microsoft officials have previously referred to optimized services that would be delivered in Exchange 12. Ressler said these would be a release of what are currently known as FrontBridge services, which have been optimized to work with some specific new features in Exchange 12. "Beyond that were not saying anything right now," he said.
Earlier this year Microsoft announced that it planned to purchase FrontBridge, a vendor of hosted secure e-mail services, for an undisclosed amount. FrontBridge provides anti-virus, spam filtering and disaster recovery for Exchange, Lotus Domino and other e-mail systems.
Asked whether there were any updates on Microsofts plans to unify the SQL Server and Exchange Server database stores over time, Ressler said the company was still looking at this but that this would not be in Exchange 12.