My editors have been politely asking me to turn in my columns earlier, so I did—I sent in last week's UPDATE a week early and fully intended to follow it with part 2 of my exploration of SharePoint migration options. In the meantime, though, Microsoft released Exchange Server 2007 Beta 2, so I figured I could put off SharePoint for one more week to talk about what's in the Exchange beta.
Of course, I'm obligated to start by repeating the warning that Microsoft has splashed in big bold letters on the Exchange Team Blog: Don't install Exchange 2007 in your production environment unless you have a support relationship with, and permission from, Microsoft. For the complete explanation of why Microsoft takes this stance, see http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2006/03/30/423691.aspx; in brief, however, Exchange 2007 will change both your Active Directory schema and permissions on some existing Exchange objects, and because the code is still beta Microsoft won't guarantee that the changes will be free of side effects in your production systems. (Do what I do: Put Exchange 2007 on a virtual machine and forward all your mail to it using a server-side rule.)
Now, on to the good stuff. Exchange 2007 Beta 2 is a largely complete build of Exchange 2007. What does "largely complete" mean? Well, there are some things not yet included, such as the ability to automatically set up permissions on new receiving connectors. Other aspects are likely to change, such as the exact sender address used for messages generated by the Unified Messaging (UM) server. None of these items are likely to create huge changes in the code, but after all, this is a beta, and you'll undoubtedly find things that don't work the way you expect (or don't work properly).
Microsoft has a set of support forums available at http://forums.microsoft.com/TechNet/default.aspx?siteid=17. Although Microsoft isn't providing direct support to people who download the beta (except for customers in the Technology Adoption Program), several Exchange product team members and Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) are answering questions in the forums.
In conjunction with the beta release, the Exchange product group also released an update to the Microsoft Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer, one of my favorite Exchange tools. This update includes the Exchange 2007 Readiness Check, which tests your environment to identify problems that you need to consider before deploying Exchange 2007 in production (which, as a reminder, you shouldn't do with the beta anyway!). Running the readiness check now gives you plenty of time to fix any problems in your environment.
What can you do with the beta? You name it! If you haven't already seen the new Exchange Management Console interface, that's probably going to be your first stop. Feedback on the new UI has generally been very positive, although I've seen a few gripes that the new console is too different from Exchange System Manager.
Of course, you might want to try the Exchange Management Shell as well, particularly if you have experience using other scripting environments. Microsoft has a site full of sample Exchange Management Shell scripts that you can review and experiment with—see http://www.microsoft.com/technet/scriptcenter/scripts/message/exch2007/default.mspx.
For bonus points, you'll probably want to experiment with the new version of Outlook Web Access (OWA), which is light-years ahead of OWA 2003. Even the OWA Light version for browsers other than Microsoft Internet Explorer is quite good. I've had lots of fun testing transport rules, which give you a very flexible toolset for controlling the flow of messages according to sender, recipient, or content. You can test Exchange UM using a Session Initiation Protocol soft phone (or a hard phone, for that matter, if you have one).
What else? Oh yes, let's not forget the new beta release of Microsoft Forefront Security for Exchange Server—the product formerly known as Antigen—which you can download and test now with Exchange 2007 Beta 2. (Lest I forget, there are tons of new Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 features that work in conjunction with Exchange 2007, such as Microsoft Outlook 2007 AutoDiscover.)
It's an exciting time, and I look forward to hearing what you like, and dislike, about the new world of Exchange 2007. Next week, I promise I really will write more about SharePoint migration.