I’m a big fan of Microsoft Exchange and have been since the days of Exchange 5.5. I’ve administered other mail servers, including GroupWise and some relatively ancient systems, and find the progress that has been made with Exchange to be compelling.

As a result, I spent quite a bit of time digging around for information regarding the next version of Microsoft’s enterprise messaging platform — Exchange 14. Over the past couple of months, various sources have released tidbits here and tidbits there regarding Exchange 14. I thought I’d bring all of the various discussion points to date together into one posting.

First of all, it appears that Microsoft is making a sincere effort to make Exchange 14 more accessible to a wider user audience. Microsoft has indicated that Outlook Web Access (OWA), arguably the best Web mail product on the planet, will fully support Firefox and Safari. Until now, Microsoft has made the premium OWA experience available only to users running Internet Explorer, while users of other browsers faced limitations in the OWA Light experience.

Microsoft will also introduce Gmail-like conversation threads into OWA, helping users tame their inboxes. Finally, the new OWA will sport instant messaging capabilities with users able to see presence information for and send instant messages to other users in the organization — all from within the new Web client.

A user on the Microsoft Exchange Team Blog has also repeated a rumor that Exchange 14’s high-availability features will remove the need to use Microsoft Clustering Services. If this is true and is implemented correctly, a great level of complexity could potentially be removed from highly available configurations.

Here are some other items I’ve run across that are rumored to be included in Exchange 14 (I say rumored since there is no real public beta yet available for testing):

  • User-created distribution lists.
  • Users can manage some of their own information that is presented in the Global Address List.
  • Public folders. I list that here because there were questions as to whether Microsoft would jettison this legacy from the product. From most indications, public folders will remain fully supported in Exchange 14. However, an astute reader on the Exchange Team Blog did notice in the new OWA some reference to SharePoint where the Public Folder link belongs, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
  • The next version will be named Microsoft Exchange Server 2010.

I have only listed what seems reasonably true given the information that is out there. Some people are expecting that Exchange Server 14 will move away from the Jet database to a SQL backend. Personally, I doubt this will happen, but it is another rumor out there.

Millions of people are already testing Exchange 14. Microsoft Exchange Labs, a service made freely available to colleges and universities, is already running Exchange 14 to support their users. With that kind of test base, I can see Exchange 14 being very well-vetted before release!

Do you have anything to add to the rumor list? I’ll update this post with new information if you can point me to something I’ve missed!