After canceling a minor version of Exchange Server that was expected this year, Microsoft is now focused on making the next major version, code-named "E12," a deliverable in the 2006-2007 timeframe.

E12 will include 64-bit support; new Web services programming interfaces; improved scripting and security; improved search functionality; and more e-mail/voice-mail/fax integration, according to company officials. The new release also will add better support for mobile devices, improvements in Office Web Access functionality; and better integrated meeting-scheduling capabilities, officials added.

The E12 release will continue to rely on the Jet database store, as does the currently shipping Exchange Server 2003. Microsoft officials have expressed interest in unifying the SQL Server and Exchange Server stores over time. But at least for now, such a move is not in Exchange's foreseeable future, Microsoft officials acknowledged.

Microsoft representatives declined to provide any firm dates for E12. Officials would not talk about their Beta 1 targets. But the final version of E12 could hit any time between 2006 and 2007, based on Microsoft's plan to release a new version of Exchange every three to four years.

(The next version of Office, code-named "Office 12," is slated to hit beta 1 in late August 2005 and to go gold in the summer of 2006, according to sources claiming familiarity with Microsoft's internal shipping schedules. It is not clear whether E12 will be on a parallel schedule.)

The Exchange team has been refining its roadmap over the past few months. Last summer, the team announced that it was planning a minor version of Exchange, known as Exchange Edge Services, for 2005. But in December, the Exchange team changed course, deciding to fold many of the features slated for Edge Services into either Exchange Server Service Pack 2 (due in the second half of 2005) or the next follow-on release (now known as "E12").

This week, Exchange team members made it plain that the Exchange team is not on the same schedule as the Windows Server team — which is working to release a new version of Windows Server every two years. The major Windows Server releases will ship every four years under this plan. The next major Windows Server release, Longhorn Server, is due out in 2007.

(E12 will run on Longhorn Server, but will not require it or be optimized for it, Microsoft officials said this week.)

Exchange Server customers tend to be a bit slower in their upgrade habits, according to Dave Thompson, the corporate vice president heading Microsoft's Exchange Server product group. Microsoft has listened to these customers, and is focused more on making their Exchange implementations smoother, rather than rushing out more new features, Thompson said.

To achieve this goal, Microsoft is working on more Exchange Server 2003 add-ons, which the team will make available on the Web for download, in the first quarter of this year. Among these tools are ones for storage sizing assistance; SMTP configuration diagnosis; a Best Practices Analyzer for the Exchange pack for Microsoft Operations Manager 2005; and public-folder usage-analysis tools.

In the second half of this year, Microsoft will roll out more ease-of-use and ease-of-management features, as part of Exchange Server Service Pack 2 (SP2). SP2 will include mobility enhancements and improved public-folder management facilities. It also will include Sender ID e-mail authentication integration to help fight phishing and spoofing, as well as updates to Microsoft's Intelligent Message Filtering (IMF) anti-spam technology.