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Microsoft Rolls Exchange Labs Into [email protected]

Microsoft's suite of online tools focused on education has been expanded to include a "hosted" Exchange service with prototype features not yet available to the public.

Microsoft's [email protected], a suite of online tools focused specifically toward education, has now been expanded to include Exchange Labs, which is similar to a hosted Exchange service but with prototype features that are not yet available to the general public. Microsoft told us the move provides new opportunities for channel partners providing services around [email protected]

Anna Kinney, group product manager for Microsoft [email protected], told us, "Students are coming to universities with more technology background and experience than ever before. And what I'm hearing from [campus] IT administrators I've talked to is that they are continuing to look for more and more ways they can meet students where they are with their level of sophistication -- online services, virtual collaboration spaces, online storage -- and Microsoft [email protected] brings that capability to campuses in a very quick and seamless way."

[email protected] is Microsoft's portal, communications, and collaboration suite for education that launched back in March 2005. It incorporates Office Live Workspace, a Web-based feature of Microsoft Office that allows for collaboration and sharing of documents. It also provides hosted personal storage and e-mail services. With the addition of Exchange Labs, [email protected] now offers two e-mail options: the 5 GB Hotmail-based accounts that were previously available plus the new Exchange Labs inbox, with 10 GB of e-mail storage, which is available for students, alumni, and others.

Microsoft told us that it's been quietly making the Exchange Labs service available to [email protected] users since December as a sort of semi-private, limited pilot but is only now committing to keeping Exchange Labs as an ongoing piece of technology available to [email protected] members. (Several thousand campuses around the world have signed up for [email protected], but only a small percentage tested the Exchange Labs features through [email protected] during the quiet period between December and now.)

We spoke with Bruce Gabrielle, senior product manager for Microsoft [email protected], who explained Exchange Labs and the reasons for rolling it into [email protected]

"Exchange Labs is not hosted Exchange, but it's kind of like that. It's an R&D environment where we are testing new e-mail features for future versions of Exchange. And so basically we have our hosted Exchange 2007 environment, but we have additional features that are not available in Exchange 2007," he said. "We wanted to have customers to help us test these new features, and we found that universities were very willing and very excited to help us test these features and give them to their students. So Exchange Labs became a kind of quiet part of [email protected] We didn't...broadcast it widely because we didn't know if it was going to remain a part of [email protected] or if it was more like kind of a temporary addition to [email protected] But we've had such fantastic feedback to offering free hosted Exchange -- essentially hosted Exchange Labs -- to students and alumni that we've now made a decision here at Microsoft to add it permanently to the [email protected] suite."

(Although [email protected]'s focus is on higher education, it's also available to K-12 schools.)

So how is Exchange Labs different from the Hotmail service also provided through [email protected]? In addition to the expanded e-mail storage (10 GB), it also provides:

  • Support for attachments up to 20 MB;
  • Access to e-mail, contacts, and calendar from Outlook and Outlook Web Access;
  • Support for Web-enabled mobile phones;
  • Message tracking (i.e., to determine whether a given message was delivered);
  • Content filtering (in addition to spam filtering);
  • Custom branding for the inbox with a school's logo and theme;
  • School e-mail addresses for graduates;
  • Global address lists;
  • Shared calendars; and
  • Support for the creation of distribution lists, with the ability to limit who can post to that list.

Exchange Labs is not a replacement for the Windows Live Hotmail service; that continues to be a part of [email protected]

For channel and technology partners, Gabrielle explained, the new service affords a few different opportunities. These include providing help with e-mail migration and deployment of the service (although it can be deployed by institutions without any additional help).

"It's easy to deploy without any kind of partner help at all. But for larger institutions who want to do...deeper integration," he said, "partners [will be able to help with that]. There's also partner opportunities [in the area of] integrating with the [email protected] APIs."

These include things such as calendaring and distribution lists, integrating the service with student information systems and tying features in with other Web applications.

"So we definitely have partners who are looking at us and saying, 'We're developing he next version of our product; tell us about your API. Tell us how we can integrate and make our product work well with [email protected],'" Gabrielle said.

In related news, Microsoft said it will be hosting [email protected] World, a conference for [email protected] members, at its Redmond campus June 23 through 24. Further information about that event can be found here.

About the Author

Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters.

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