Microsoft took the covers off the first pieces of the next version of its e-mail software on Wednesday, releasing test versions of Exchange Server 2010 and Outlook Web Access.
The company plans to release Exchange Server 2010 in the second half of this year. The rest of Office is due in the first half of 2010, with limited test releases beginning the third quarter of this year. Outlook 2010 will come as part of the rest of the Office suite, though it's unclear when the next version of Outlook Mobile will be available.
Until this version of Exchange, companies seeking to archive their e-mail centrally have had to rely on third-party software. That costly proposition has hurt adoption, and according to Osterman Research, only 28% of companies currently have central e-mail archives. Exchange 2010 will include integrated archiving and multi-mailbox search capabilities at no extra cost, making it easier for companies to, for example, comply with e-discovery requirements. But Microsoft will have to be careful not to alienate third-party archiving vendors such as Symantec and Quest.
Exchange 2010 will power a number of new features, including the ability to view e-mail conversations in threaded form a la Gmail, and a button to ignore e-mail threads. Exchange 2007 introduced some unified messaging features, and Exchange 2010 will build on that with speech-to-text transcription of voice mails as well as customized voice-mail menus.
Outlook Web Access -- and likely the other versions of Outlook, though Microsoft wouldn't confirm -- will include an instant messaging client compatible with Microsoft Office Communications Server and Live Messenger. Microsoft will offer APIs to allow other third-party IM clients to work in Outlook Web Access.
A feature called MailTips will be "like having X-ray vision into your e-mail before you send it," Julia White, Microsoft's director of Exchange product management, said in an interview. Before e-mails are sent, a bit of text near the top of the e-mail client will give senders additional information to prevent them from sending unwarranted or unnecessary e-mails, warning them about how many people are on a distribution list, that the e-mail is headed for someone outside of the sender's organization, and whether someone has an out-of-office notification up.
Other new user features in Exchange 2010 and Outlook Web Access include easier calendar sharing, an infinite scroll instead of page-by-page views of e-mails in Outlook Web Access, and the ability to send text messages to and from Outlook, Outlook Web Access, and Outlook Mobile.