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Microsoft Corp. is working hard to make sure the latest version of its e-mail, calendaring and messaging server, Exchange 12, appeals to both enterprise IT administrators and end users.

The first beta of the product, released earlier this month, offers enhanced administrative controls as well as a unified messaging feature that will deliver fax, voice mail, e-mail and speech recognition.

Due for release in late 2006 or early 2007, Exchange 12 follows Microsoft’s push to make its products more componentized and role-based. As such, it will be based on five server roles, including unified messaging, edge transport and client access, according to Jeff Ressler, director of product planning for Exchange, in Redmond, Wash.

The modularization of Exchange 12 will simplify installation for IT administrators by allowing them to choose which of these roles to install on which server.

Exchange 12 will also have a rewritten graphical management console, known as Exchange System Manager, which makes better use of the white space, panes and windows in that console, Ressler said.

For power-user administrators, Exchange 12 will have 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 such as provisioning a server, Ressler said.

Microsoft is still looking at plans to unify the SQL Server and Exchange Server database stores, but this will not happen in Exchange 12, which is based on the Extensible Storage Engine, a derivative of the Jet database store, Ressler said.

Click here to read more about unified messaging in Exchange 12.

“A lot of the original advantages that we were going to get from going to a SQL-type store we already have in Exchange now,” Ressler said. “While this was very attractive five years ago, the bar has been set higher today as we will have 64-bit in Exchange 12, we will have better failover and disaster recovery, and we have a Web services API.”

Julie Hanna Farris, founder and chief strategy officer of Scalix Corp., an Exchange competitor based in San Mateo, Calif., noted that features and functions are only one aspect of what makes a messaging platform superior. “The fact remains that the underlying architecture of Exchange suffers from more than its fair share of reliability and security problems,” Farris said. “The fundamental cause of these issues has not been addressed in Exchange 12.”

The Outlook 12 client also will bring big changes for users, including a unified messaging feature that will deliver fax, voice mail and e-mail. Users will then be able to send and receive messages with a fax or voice attachment that can be opened or played from Outlook, Outlook Web Access or a mobile device.

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