A new version of Exchange inevitably creates some speculation as to what big headline features will be included. As examples of headline features, Exchange 2007 introduced log shipping, Exchange 2010 gave us the Database Availability Group, and Exchange 2013 brought Managed Availability to the table. These features are important in terms of convincing customers to upgrade to the new version. In the case of Exchange 2016, some compelling new features will reassure on-premises customers that their favorite email server is not being left behind by the blizzard of functionality introduced in Office 365 over the last few years.
In their April 15 post that provided a taster of what will be revealed about Exchange 2016 at Ignite, the Exchange development team discussed some of the areas where they'll be concentrating their efforts. Four areas were called out:
Document collaboration: Easy to send links and collaborate without "versioning issues" (everyone has a different version of a document in their mailbox). Given what's happened with Office 365, you can expect a focus on OneDrive for Business as the preferred location for attachments. Users will send links to documents stored in OneDrive rather than the attachment themselves. This is a laudable goal, but one that might run into the fact that it is terribly hard for users to break the habit of a lifetime and stop including full attachments with messages.
Faster and more intelligent search: Exchange 2013 brought in the Search Foundation to replace the old MSSearch component to improve the efficiency of search. It's been flagged that Outlook 2016 will replace the old Windows Desktop Search with the Search Foundation and this should address the known problem of inconsistent searches with the same results generated on the desktop and server.
Significant improvements to eDiscovery search performance and reliability: This is an area where a lot of work has been done in Office 365, so it's good that the work will find its way back to the on-premises version.
Better extensibility with new REST-based APIs: OK, exciting enough in its own way, but probably not a headline feature that will attract a lot of attention.
The post goes on to say that "If you’ve been keeping tabs on Office 365 … Most of the new features in Exchange Server 2016 were birthed in the cloud and then refined in a feedback loop that includes millions of mailboxes deployed worldwide." Of course, this assertion is true but it begs the question as to what of the features available to Exchange Online users will find their way to on-premises mailboxes. This category includes Office 365 Groups, Clutter, Delve, and People View. Incidentally, the latest version of the Outlook 2016 preview supports access to Office 365 Groups.
I suspect that the complexity involved in the transition from cloud to on-premises means that some of these features will not appear and others will be supported for hybrid connectivity. For instance, it might be possible for Delve to extract signals from on-premises content so as to be able to include that content in the results it presents to users.
As with all software releases, the devil lies in the detail. Microsoft wasn't going to reveal everything in their blog post as they need to keep something back for the keynotes and other Exchange 2016-related sessions at Ignite, so I suspect that there will be a lot more additional information and some surprises revealed in Chicago in a couple of weeks. If you are at Ignite, you might like to drop into "Meet Exchange 2016", featuring the talents of Jon Orton, Kip Fern, and Karim Batthish at 10:45AM on Tuesday in the Crown Theater. Those who aren't at Ignite can watch the video the next day on MSDN Channel 9.
In closing, I noticed that the EHLO post also mentioned a "tight integration with … SharePoint 2016". Let's hope that the news subsequently released that SharePoint 2016 is tracking towards a Q2 2016 release doesn't mean that Exchange 2016 will be delayed until then too. I haven’t seen any sign that Exchange 2016 is delayed, but I guess we shall have to wait for this to be confirmed at Ignite.
And if you're at Ignite, please come along to the sessions where I'll be on the platform. These are:
- Bumps and Blips on the Road to Cloud Nirvana: From On-Premises Microsoft Exchange to Office 365 (Thursday, 1:30PM)
- MVPs Unplugged: The Journey to Microsoft Exchange Online (Friday, 10:45AM)
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