Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Released in Public Beta

Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, the follow-up to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, includes several new features designed to appeal to both the IT administrator and enterprise user, as Microsoft prepares for hard competition against Google, IBM, Cisco and others moving aggressively into the enterprise-solutions space.

Microsoft released its public beta of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 on April 15. The latest version of Exchange, according to Microsoft, has been "built from the ground up to work on-premises and as an online service."

Exchange 2010 introduces an integrated e-mail archive and a variety of user-facing features, and will be available in the second half of 2009. The public beta is available for download from this site.

The release of Exchange Server 2010 comes at least a quarter ahead of the release of a technical preview for Office 2010, which Microsoft reportedly plans on releasing in 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

Microsoft finds itself in competition against Google and other cloud-based services that have devoted themselves increasingly to providing functionality to the enterprise. Google Apps Premier Edition, which costs $50, allows its business clients to access e-mail, calendar and other solutions from not only their offices but also their mobile devices.

While smaller businesses can rely exclusively on cloud-based solutions such as Google Apps, larger corporations need enterprise-level messaging systems with robust security and connections to other company solutions and applications. It is this market that Microsoft has targeted with the new server release.

Several new improvements to Exchange Server 2010 give IT administrators and users more granular control over their processes.

"If you were to compare Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 to 2010, a lot of the improvements in 2007 were very back-office focused," Chris Voce, an analyst with Forrester, said in an interview. "They helped if my goal was consolidation, but there wasn't a tremendous amount of user-facing improvements; those improvements came through Office. With Exchange Server 2010, there's more of a balance."

Many of the new features seem to anticipate Microsoft's main competition for Exchange 2010 coming from the cloud, where "Microsoft will battle Google, IBM (with LotusLive) and, by the end of the year, Cisco," Matthew Cain, an analyst with Gartner, said in an interview.

With Exchange 2010 in place, Outlook Web Access now features a Conversation view, with a threaded mode for following e-mail conversations. ActiveSync lets companies control how different devices sync with user accounts. The Exchange Control Panel allows for the management of advanced tasks through a Web management interface, and users can utilize increased self-help options to perform tasks such as creating a distribution group within the Webmail client.

Administrators can build complex message rules for their organizations via a simple wizard, and an improved retention policy lets them create and enforce retention policies for specific message types.

In addition, Exchange Server 2010 lets the enterprise build relationships among Exchange servers with new Exchange Federation Features, and users of non-Microsoft Web browsers-Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari-can use Outlook Web Access client with the same degree of functionality as users relying on Microsoft Internet Explorer. From within the Web Access client, users can track messages and check on e-mail delivery status, and receive a text transcript of voicemails attached to messages.