Microsoft promises Exchange improvements

Support for open encryption standards and a more intelligent calendar are among the things being promised for the next version of the software leviathan’s email server software

Mail servers running on the new version of Microsoft Exchange will encrypt Internet traffic using open standards, a Microsoft executive said.

"If two customers are running E12, it will automatically create a secure connection", said Kim Akers, Microsoft Exchange group senior director. Exchange 12 or E12 is the code name for the next version, and is scheduled for release in late 2006.

The feature will be based on the Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) public key encryption and X.509 digital certificate standards.

Akers assured ZDNet UK sister site ZDNet Australia Microsoft would take the final specifications to the relevant standards body so other mail server software will be able to interoperate with Exchange.

In contrast with previous versions, Microsoft is designing Exchange 12 to be fully scriptable, with a completely redesigned management console.

The software maker has also reacted to stringent e-mail archiving requirements imposed by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act . The legislation requires certain organisations to archive e-mail in selected categories for seven years. Exchange 12 will allow administrators to set options to automatically archive e-mail messages from a particular company, for example, or relating to a certain set of executives.

As previously reported, Exchange 12 will attempt to integrate e-mail, voice mail and fax messages into "one inbox", as well as text-to-speech recognition.

For instance, the integration would allow users to listen to their e-mail messages via a mobile phone while driving to work. Up to 1,500 Redmond-based Microsoft employees, including Akers, are currently testing this feature.

The one-word "delete" command is her favourite, Akers said.

This sort of unified messaging support exists in the market but is mainly used by niche groups, she said, adding that companies offering such services have told Microsoft they were waiting for it to generate demand with the mass market.

Administrators can also look forward to better backup, clustering and 64-bit support with Exchange 12, while Web programmers will be able to hook into the software more easily, with a new Web services API in the works.

The next update will also boost improved calendaring, which Akers said would provide balm to users frustrated with some non-intuitive calendaring options. Of particular note is a new "smart meeting booker" which will be able to examine multiple people's schedules and find the best common time for a meeting.

Renai LeMay reported from Sydney for ZDNet Australia. For more ZDNet Australia stories, click here.