Last week I attended Microsoft's Global Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Summit in Redmond, WA. While the majority of the information presented at the summit was subject to a non-disclosure agreement, I wanted to share other information with you on Microsoft's vision for future versions of Exchange and Outlook.
Not surprisingly, security is Microsoft's number one priority, and CEO Steve Ballmer reinforced this during his speech to MVPs: security, is said, is now Microsoft's number one, number two and number three priority for all products. While I couldn't help but wonder whether that statement applied to Microsoft Flight Simulator, I am positive that the statement applies to messaging.
One way that Microsoft will make messaging more secure in the future is through further development of a little-known Server 2003 feature called "quarantine mode."
In case you aren't familiar with quarantine mode, it is a server 2003 feature designed to prevent remote users from jeopardizing the network's security. The idea is that when a remote user connects to the network, a script can be run that checks to see if the user has the correct security patches, service packs, anti virus definitions, etc. If the user does have all of the latest security updates, then they are given access to the rest of the network. If they do not have the correct updates, then there are several different things that can happen, but generally the updates will be applied before the user can access the rest of the network.
Quarantine mode is a great feature for any company with remote users. After all, if a remote user connects to the corporate network to check his or her mail, shouldn't you make sure that they aren't spreading viruses to the rest of the network? But quarantine mode has two major issues: It requires some elaborate scripting and only applies to remote users, not to local users.
I attended a Microsoft briefing recently and the speaker said that Microsoft would be investing big bucks in enhancing quarantine mode in future versions of Windows. Although it is purely speculation, I look for Microsoft to enhance security by making quarantine mode easier to use and by making it work for any computer connecting to the network, not just remote systems.
Another way that I think messaging will evolve in the future is that Exchange will become better suited for heterogeneous environments. During the MVP summit, Ballmer indicated that Microsoft was going to put more effort into allowing Windows Server products to integrate more seamlessly into heterogeneous environments. Evidence of this commitment can be seen in the latest version of the Services for UNIX. Services for UNIX used to be an add-on product, but Microsoft has made the latest version available free.
Exchange has always worked relatively well in heterogeneous environments. After all, Microsoft has always given Exchange Administrators connectors that can be used to attach an Exchange server to other messaging or groupware platforms, such as Lotus Notes. If Microsoft is really serious about improvements in supporting heterogeneous environments, though, then I would look for future versions of Outlook to fully support Lotus Notes. Microsoft might even go so far as to design future versions of Exchange to be able to fully emulate Lotus Notes servers. Again, this is purely speculation, but it is speculation based on what Microsoft indicates is a firm commitment.
One other area where I expect Exchange to evolve is in licensing. For the last three or four years, licensing for Microsoft sever products has been notoriously complicated. For example, you can license some products on a per-user or even on a per-processor basis.
Microsoft has long stated that the complexities involved in server licensing are for the benefit of its customers because it gives them several different ways to legally purchase the software, and the customer is therefore able to choose the pricing model with the lowest overall cost.
When I asked one of the Microsoft executives what was being done to simplify licensing, I was told that Microsoft is currently reevaluating its licensing policies. The Microsoft executive told me that in the future, Microsoft could possibly adopt a site licensing policy in which small- to medium-sized businesses could have unlimited use of Microsoft products for a flat annual fee. The fee would be based on the number of employees in the company and on the company's revenues.
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as the CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, Tech Target, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies, and numerous other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web sites at http://www.brienposey.com and http://www.relevanttechnologies.com.