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MacBook Air, Messaging, and the Exchange Server of the Future

Last week, Apple introduced its new MacBook Air subnotebook, which is billed as the industry's "thinnest notebook." However, it didn't make a particularly big impression: Apple's stock price is down by nearly 25 percent since its 52-week high on December 27, 2007 (although that probably has more to do with the current gyrations in the worldwide stock market than investor or market reaction to the product itself). Reactions to the new MacBook have generally fallen into one of two camps: "Hey, I want one!" or "No thanks, it doesn't meet my needs." (Personally, I'm waiting until the price of solid state disk technology drops!)

What does the reaction to the MacBook Air have to do with Exchange Server? Plenty. Every time Microsoft updates the features of Exchange, I see those same two reactions. Some people are excited, and some aren't. For example, some administrators have really been fired up about Exchange Management Shell in Exchange Server 2007—they love its power and flexibility. Others dislike even the idea of having to drop into a command-line environment to configure Exchange. So it goes with nearly every feature ever introduced in Exchange—you might recall that even the basic SMTP connectivity introduced with Exchange Server 5.0 had its share of people who sniffed, "Why would I ever want to connect to the Internet?"

I attribute this pattern to the maturity of the market space for various products. As Microsoft and its competitors have continued to develop their messaging, collaboration, and communications products, they've either had to add new features or improve existing ones. Your individual interest level tends to correlate with whether you use the affected features. For example, when OWA 2007 shipped without public folder support, companies that didn't use public folders didn't see that missing feature as a deployment blocker—but many others did, hence its quick return in Exchange 2007 SP1.

This pattern raises the legitimate question of what Microsoft might be planning for future releases of Exchange. Of course, Microsoft developers haven't said publicly what they have up their sleeves, but it's possible to make some informed guesses if you consider the areas of investment the company focused on for Exchange 2007. One interesting change I've noticed since the development process for Exchange Server 2003 started is that the Exchange product group is much more aggressive about seeking outside feedback—not just from its major customers, but from the broader community of Exchange administrators and users as well. This is a wonderful development, and one which I hope will spill over into more product groups as time passes.

In terms of actual hard features coming in the next release, the old rule is still mostly in effect: "Those who know won't tell, and those who tell don't know." Tony Redmond wrote an insightful article in the December 2007 issue of Windows IT Pro that gives some good suggestions about areas where we might expect Microsoft to invest in future development ("Exchange’s Evolving Strategy,"). Now is a good time to start thinking about these areas and see where they fall on your organization's "do I care?" scale. I suspect that Microsoft will be more openly seeking feedback later in the year; they often schedule feedback events and focus groups at events such as TechEd, IT Forum, and Exchange Connections (which, don’t forget, is coming up April 27–30 in Orlando!).

TAGS: Windows 7/8
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