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Dig Out From The E-Mail Crush

E-mail, the dinosaur of PC applications, continues to evolve with the times. Forthcoming systems from Microsoft and IBM should help employees cope with the crush of messages they send and receive, while giving IT administrators new tools for managing e-mail in an era of regulatory scrutiny and legal obligation.

Microsoft's Exchange Server 2007, due later this year or early next year, focuses on three areas of improvement: creation of policies and protection against viruses and spam; access to e-mail, voice mail, calendars, and contacts within the same in-box; and Web access. A second beta version was released last month.

Antivirus and anti-spam defenses will come bundled with Exchange Server 2007. The upgrade also will let system administrators apply e-mail retention policies, such as how long messages are kept in a folder, based on a worker's job category or other factors. As time expires, messages can be automatically archived, freeing up in-boxes for more messages.

"I'm seeing the average size of mailbox [storage] quotas rising," Forrester Research analyst Erica Driver says. Employees are typically allotted up to 400 Mbytes of storage capacity, up from 100 Mbytes a year or two ago.

Many companies try alleviating the load by putting e-mails into personal storage (.PST) files in the Outlook client. But that approach is falling out of favor because .PST files can be hard to manage, back up, and restore. "They can be a compliance or a legal risk," Driver says. She expects more companies to replace .PST files with the improved message archiving in Exchange Server 2007.

IBM's Lotus Notes version 7.0.2 is about to ship with a feature that condenses e-mail strings into a "message tree." When users view their in-boxes, they'll see one document on a topic instead of a dozen.

The trend is toward storing more than e-mail in the in-box. IBM will soon release version 7.5 of its Sametime instant messaging client, which will let users peruse previous chat transcripts. And the next major release of Lotus Notes will let users store and work with different kinds of content such as e-mail, IM, documents, and calendar entries based on a particular project."We want users to live inside their e-mail client," says Alan Lepofsky, head of Lotus Competitive Marketing Intelligence.

Microsoft's Exchange Server 2007 will also come with support for unified communications, where e-mail, IM, phone messages, and presence awareness coexist on the desktop. It's where things are heading. E-mail systems will become more about communications management," Driver says, "which is closely related to content management."

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