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Exchange Server 2010 Beta Now Available

Microsoft released a public beta version of Exchange Server 2010, the company's newest e-mail server, which is being rolled out a part of the company's renewed focus on the unified communications market.

The beta of Exchange Server 2010, previously code-named "E14," can be downloaded here. Microsoft expects the server to be available as a product "in the second half of 2009."

The company is also touting its "Software plus Services" option for customers. Exchange Server 2010 can be installed at the customer's premises or it can be accessed online as a service provided by Microsoft or its partners. Microsoft claims Exchange Server 2010 will be the first product in a line of new servers that are "built from the ground up" with inherent Software plus Services capability.

Exchange Server 2010 supports a number of convenience features for end users, including a new voicemail text preview. Users can scrap their current phone-based voicemail systems since voicemail is accessible through Microsoft Outlook. You can also now group e-mail messages and ignore certain e-mail threads. Also, you can do instant messaging in Outlook via a right-mouse-button click.

Probably the most convenient feature for travelers and telecommuters is that remote e-mail access is now fully supported using the Firefox and Safari Web browsers, not just Internet Explorer. This capability was enabled because Exchange Server 2010 "integrates Office Outlook Web Access with Office Communicator Web Access," according to Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft's information worker product management, in a released statement. The integration also unifies the e-mail interface, making it similar across the Outlook client, Web browser and mobile phone.

Some new features also double as corporate compliance measures. For instance, a "mailtips" function in Outlook warns users before they send e-mails to groups. However, this feature can also be set to warn users when they try to send e-mail outside the company.

Storage capability has been enhanced with Exchange Server 2010, according to Microsoft's announcement. For instance, personal file storage using .PST files goes away, replaced by an easier-to-search "integrated archive." IT pros can also use cheaper direct-attached storage to archive e-mails. Exchange Server 2010 uses a version of the Microsoft JetDB extensible storage engine that's been improved for "high availability, performance and database mobility," according to a TechNet forum post.

The integrated archive makes it easier query e-mail messages across the entire organization, which helps them better address "legal and e-discovery concerns," according to Microsoft's announcement. Exchange Server 2010 features role-based access control. IT pros can delegate e-mail access privileges to specific users, such as HR personnel, using the roles feature.

Additionally, IT pros can set Windows rights management services polices directly in Exchange Server 2010 for compliance based on each user. User mailboxes can be moved without incurring employee downtime.

Microsoft has already opened a TechNet forum for Exchange 2010, which can be accessed here.

According to the forum, there is no 32-bit production version of the server planned. Microsoft also isn't providing virtual hard disk image to test the beta. IT pros have to run the beta on their own test stations. Also, Exchange Server 2010 won't run on the Windows Server 2008 core, which is a stripped-down version of Windows Server.

Exchange Server 2010 supports migration from Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2007, according to the TechNet forum, which references a Microsoft "Transitioning to Exchange 2010" support document. However, it's not an upgrade. You have to move the database, uninstall the earlier version of Exchange, install Exchange 2010 and then mount the database.

Microsoft is planning other releases associated with its unified communications product family. For instance, Microsoft Office 2010 is expected to be released to manufacturing in the "first half of 2010," with a technical preview happening in the "third quarter of 2009," according to Microsoft's announcement.

That same timeline applies for "Office Web applications, SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010 and Project 2010," according to Capossela.

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