Microsoft will deliver the next major release of its messaging and groupware platform, Exchange 5.5, at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, which begins November 17.
Exchange 5.5, with improved scalability, interoperability, and the ability to contain a message store larger than 16Gb, will form the core of Microsoft's messaging and groupware strategy for at least a year.
Exchange 5.5 will be followed by the end of next year with an NT5 Wave version of Exchange timed to the next major release of Windows NT 5.0 and its Active Directory strategy. It is expected to unify its message store with Active Directory and offer a single management console in tandem with Windows NT 5.0 management, as well as higher scaling.
When Active Directory arrives, Exchange 5.5's directory, or store, will migrate to it and fully interoperate with it, Microsoft officials said.
At the November 17 trade show, Exchange Server 5.5 will:
-- break the 16GB store barrier;
-- interoperate with standards-based clients, such as IMAP4 clients, browsers, POP3 clients, and news readers;
-- offer delete-recovery services for entire mailboxes or single files;
-- provide more consistent use among Outlook client versions;
-- deliver 68% higher throughput and 3.5 times as much SMTP throughput; and
-- backup and restore three to four times faster.
However, the new server software, which Microsoft is pitching as a way to consolidate the number of messaging server boxes required in large organisations due to its improved scalability, will not ship with a new Outlook client.
The next new Outlook client will appear in prerelease form as early as Nov. 12 but will not be ready in final form to join Exchange 5.5 until the first quarter of 1998, Microsoft officials said. Instead, the current, non-Internet-based Outlook client, Version 8.03, will ship with the new Exchange Server.
A mail- and newsgroup-only, Web-based Outlook version, called Outlook Express, arrived recently with the Internet Explorer 4.0 browser. However, it does not support the rich services of the Exchange Server.
The lack of a client fully synchronised to the server for at least three months may confuse users, an analyst said.
"The way they are going, both products look orphaned, and that doesn't help," said Tim Sloane, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, in Boston.
"They have to resolve their product differentiation between Outlook Express and Outlook. The two are in different spaces, and the name is all they share in common," Sloane added. "So they need to bring them together and share a common e-mail desktop, or they need to separate them so people can get on with their lives. One would assume that the prior one is the way to go."
Exchange has been hampered by concerns about scalability, but the 5.5 version will be able to accommodate message stores limited only by the hardware storage and processor speeds, said sources close to Microsoft.
Microsoft's budding intranet strategy is expected to rely heavily on Exchange, which is now being deployed in some fashion at 30 of the Fortune 50 companies, Microsoft said. Boeing has 60,000 installed seats and Digital Equipment has 30,000 Exchange seats, officials said.
Exchange will form one key component of a three-tier architecture and serve as a collaboration development base for Component Object Model (COM)-based workflow applications in the coming years, said Microsoft officials at an Exchange conference in September.
The Outlook client and Exchange next year also will allow for workflow applications development for distributed intranet applications, with the COM and NT technologies and scripting on the server forming Microsoft's view of the appropriate tools of the trade.