Microsoft has put back the release date for the next version of Exchange, and renamed it from 4.5 to 5.0 to reflect its "increased functionality".
The Exchange Server 5.0 messaging system has just entered widespread beta testing and will be available in February. Version 4.5 was scheduled to come out by the end of this year.
"The increased functionality of the new product warrants it being called a major release," claimed Phil Cross, senior product manager at Microsoft UK. He added that the shipping date had to be put back accordingly to allow the company to incorporate the range of new features. The features focus on closer integration with the Internet and other mail protocols, making the product more open.
"None of the back-end architecture has been changed," stressed Cross, "but there is much greater Internet functionality."
Users will be able to access Exchange Server 5.0 from any standard Web browser. The upgrade will also support the POP3 standard used by many Email clients. This means that organisations do not need to put an Exchange client on every desk to use the Exchange public folder, and should make gradual upgrades to an Exchange mail backbone easier to manage, said Cross.
Support for the NNTP and LDAP protocols and SSL security is also included in the new version. In addition, Exchange will have a cc:mail connector for the first time, and be able to interact with Novell GroupWise and Netscape Collabra.
The product's greater openness reflects Microsoft's recognition that many users live in heterogeneous messaging environments. "Greenfield sites are few and far between when it comes to mail," said Cross. "We have a wealth of customers using a wide variety of systems."
Exchange: a user's view
Kent County Council, one of the UK's first NT users, has begun to roll out a new mail and intranet infrastructure based on Exchange. Within the next two years, the council expects to have 10,000 users on the system, based on six Microsoft Exchange Servers. This will stretch the scalability of Exchange Server but the council's IT manager Tim Gregson is "certain the product will scale up to our requirements".
Three servers, all running version 4.0, will be upgraded to version 5.0 during the roll-out.
The use of Exchange will be extended to field workers equipped with Windows CE handhelds.
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