TechEd 2006 and Exchange 2007 Tidbits

This week, the Microsoft TechEd 2006 conference gets underway in Boston. This is good news for me because I live in the area and don't have to travel for once. But it's bad news for most attendees because TechEd is being held in Boston's new convention center, which is located in our version of Siberia (South Boston). Put simply, there's only one hotel nearby, and no subway lines go anywhere near that part of town. Boston's solution is the so-called "Silver Line," which is really a bus, not train, system. People are going to face some interesting commutes each day.

Regardless of the logistics of the show, TechEd 2006 comes on the cusp of numerous Microsoft software releases, which the show will highlight to varying degrees. I'm writing this on Sunday, before Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia and CTO Ray Ozzie present their keynote addresses, but the show is sure to be chock-full of information about the company's Windows client, Windows Server, Office, messaging, and management products. I'll have more on the specifics next week, after the dust has settled.

If you happen to be in Boston for the show, I'll be giving a talk on Windows Vista Beta 2 at the Windows Technical Forum at the Microsoft offices in Waltham, Massachusetts, near Boston, on the night of Tuesday, June 13. You can find out more information at the URL below, but it's generally a relaxed and informal setting. If you haven't seen Vista Beta 2 yet, it might be worth your while.

Last week, I briefly discussed Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 briefly, and I'd like to expand on that a bit. Exchange 2007 is a major update, as evidenced by its x64 requirements and massive functional changes. I'm most excited by the way Microsoft has engineered Exchange, almost as if it were a UNIX server: Everything you can do with Exchange 2007 can be controlled via the Exchange version of the Windows PowerShell (formerly code-named Monad), and a subset of that functionality is exposed graphically through the new Exchange management shell. That's right: The GUI is less full-featured than the command line, scripting, and extensibility interfaces. I'm pretty sure this is a first for Microsoft.

Exchange 2007 is also far more componentized, and as with the next version of Windows Server, that will lead to safer and easier-to-configure servers. You configure Exchange for particular roles (e.g., mailbox server, edge server) and only those features that are absolutely needed to fulfill the needs of the roles are installed--and they're installed in the most secure possible configuration. In the past, I've lamented Microsoft's "tacked on" security model, but this type of product development neatly handles my complaints. Exchange 2007 will be as secure as possible out of the gateway (pardon the pun), and correctly configured, regardless of which roles you need.

Another smart thing that Microsoft is doing with Exchange 2007 (as well as many other products) is integrating best practices experiences directly into the product. For example, an integrated version of the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer will ensure that the system to which you're installing Exchange 2007 meets all the installation requirements (such as Active Directory--AD--configuration: AD must be running in native mode before Exchange 2007 is installed). The idea is to make deployment smoother, and because Microsoft's best practices tools include information from the company's partners, the tools take advantage of a wide body of expertise.

There's so much more, but Exchange 2007 is a major update, so that's to be expected. Outlook and Outlook Web Access (OWA) have been augmented by new portable phone/PDA capabilities as well as Outlook Voice Access (OVA), a way to navigate Exchange features via a call-in service and voice recognition; you can literally call Exchange when you're late for a meeting, tell it you're late, and it will update your schedule--and shared calendars--on the fly. A new feature called Local Continuous Replication will replicate the Exchange database to a drive that's local to the server for failover purposes. Cluster Continuity Replication uses asynchronous replication to perform a similar (if less frequent) backup to different machines, including those that are geographically distant. Message Level Security can encrypt messages between Exchange 2007 edge servers, which typically exist outside the corporate firewall, ensuring that your corporate communications remain secure even when you don't have any control over who can intercept the messages. (As Microsoft says, email messages today are like postcards: Anyone can read them.) And email encryption and retention capabilities will help any corporations concerned about compliance. That's probably a good chunk of Exchange's potential customer base, I'd guess.

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