Microsoft woos users with Exchange enhancements

Microsoft woos users with Exchange enhancements

With neither company planning messaging and collaboration product upgrades before 1999, Microsoft and Lotus will spend the rest of this year vying for mindshare with promises of major enhancements in future releases.

This week it is Microsoft's turn to put on the charm, with the company hosting its annual Exchange conference here. The company will not be releasing the next version of its messaging and collaboration server, code-named Platinum, until after Windows NT 5.0 is launched. And a ship date is yet to be set for the client, Outlook 2000.

But Microsoft is already foreshadowing big improvements in both products.

Platinum's key enhancements will include tight integration with NT 5.0's Active Directory and the Office 2000 suite, Eric Lockard, Microsoft's general manager, Exchange group, told delegates.

Platinum will leverage Active Directory's services instead of running a separate directory, eliminating the duplication of lists and cutting down on the amount of server space dedicated to housing directory information within an organisation.

And officials claim users of Exchange 5.5, the current iteration of Microsoft's messaging and collaboration server platform, have a head start for the adoption of NT 5.0.

Two-way replication being built into two products will automatically mirror changes made in the Exchange directory in Active Directory and vice versa.

"You can make investments in the Exchange directory today and easily migrate that over to Active Directory in the future," Thom Rizzo, Microsoft's product manager, Exchange server, claims. "If you start using Exchange 5.5 now, you're already on your way to using the NT 5.0 application."

Suite leverage

Platinum will also leverage Microsoft's upcoming Office 2000 product suite for the development of collaborative applications. "Developers will be able to leverage Office and use tools they are familiar with - like Access and Visual Studio - to build collaborative applications," Rizzo said. "And they'll be able to do that using standard interfaces."

On the client, Outlook 2000 enhancements will centre around three main areas: information management, contact management, and collaboration.

New features designed to aid information management include menu options to make finding data in public folders easier and more customisable sychronisation features.

A new rule wizard will also enable users to search for one rule against all items in an in-box or discussion group, officials claim.

The greatest enhancement to Outlook from a contact management point of view is likely to be the establishment of private mailing groups to allow users to publish to lists of people independently of the Exchange server.

A new team contact feature will also enable groups working on the same project to track all correspondence on that project.

Improved synthesis with the Web will also see Internet Explorer integrated into the right-hand page of Outlook, and a list of the user's most frequently visited sites will be stored on the sidebar of the interface.

Collaboration will also be improved with the addition of an application design wizard.

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