What is Microsoft Exchange?

Wikipedia says, "Exchange's major features consist of electronic mail, calendaring, contacts and tasks; support for mobile and web-based access to information; and support for data storage." Aren't there like a zillion things that do that? What makes is special to command such a high market-share?


Tiny example, you get a mail from a co-worker, in Outlook you can see if he's at his desk, and start chatting or initiate a call (voip OR PBX phone) with him to ask about an unclear part using the integration with OCS.

Then you can schedule a meeting, still in the same application, and make sure everyone you invite is free at the time - and also book your favorite conference room four with that awesome projector and not the dinky one that can't handle greens in conference room three.

Half of the people you invited are on the road with Iphones, Androids and Winphones and got the meeting request in real-time. One of them is new and looks you up in the company directory directly from the same phone app to figure out what department you're from. Realizing you're his new boss he rejects the invitation with an additional comment about your scary hair-do.

You quickly flesh out the vague agenda in the invitation to a fully-fledged project site on your internal Sharepoint and send out an update for people to review this before the meeting. While editing the agenda, another person see that you're doing that right now and are probably not interrupted by a question about it and initiates a quick text chat to ask about bullet number four which she thought was a bit insane, and you answer on the spot, proving your insanity.

In the meantime, a system administrator is moving your mailbox storage away from the old servers without you really noticing, using a simple Powershell script based on today's coffee which is vanilla flavoured.

Getting closer to the meeting you quickly check the statistics out in Outlook, these days there would be too much noise having personal messages about attendance so most invited people just accepted or rejected the request. This time, no-one did the rude "suggest another time" button and with two exceptions everyone seems delighted to attend your awesome meeting - so you email the coffee machine to prepare your regular triple espresso while walking across the office.

As someone said, you can call your mailbox as well... never really got used to that myself though in this smartphone world.

The presences works fine in the web mail interface as well these days, which is rather cool.

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    I never really understood from Wikipedia you had all this. I'm a student and this was a very nice example. Thanks. – Jungle Hunter Nov 9 '10 at 7:41
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    You're welcome, it takes a lot of hard work out of setting up a complete system when Exchange (which requires Active Directory) and its related products like OCS, Office and Sharepoint are made to integrate out-of-the-box. Not that it comes cheap, but there's definitely a business case in paying for it for a lot of companies - though it's not for everyone of course. – Oskar Duveborn Nov 9 '10 at 7:47
  • It's been a few years now so this answer is a bit outdated in regard to new functionality... – Oskar Duveborn Feb 27 '14 at 17:15

(short answer) Microsoft Office is the de facto standard for office products. Outlook is the well-integrated Mail Client that is part of Office. Exchange is the server that makes much of Outlooks special functions possible. Therefore, Exchange is one of the more prominent Mail servers.

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  • I would image. A little more specifics would really help. – Jungle Hunter Nov 9 '10 at 7:07

First of all, here is the official Microsoft link where you can find a lot of information: http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/2010/en/us/default.aspx

That would solve the start - but it is only half the answer (lots of marketing speech).

Exchange does all the things integrated. There are a ton of things doing it, but none integrated and prepared for high scalability. What makes Exchange really special is that it works and has full integrated tooling support from PC (Outlook) down to mobile phones. People replacing Exchange with for example a mail system just don't understand the fundamental difference between them.

Core functions are:

  • Email
  • Address book
  • Calendar

all integrated, centralized, manageable and enterprise ready.

Clustering is great. Zillion solutions? How many can distribute mailboxes over many servers without setting up manual routing and have live real time replicated backups on a backup server? This is important if you manage 50,000 mailboxes and dont want downtime. Calendar - integrated, shared between teams. First time my phone actually has a live calendar and address book update.

The special sauce is integration here. Exchange shines here and basically it has a hugh value for the typical users.

If you think that is funny to understand that it also means- properly set up - yuo can call (!) your mailbox, have emails read to you and reschedule appointments via phone. Not important for you? Well, this is not about you. Sales teams out in the front may rely on it for emergency situation (when you can not put up a laptop, like when you are stuck in a traffic jam). The whole unified communication thigny is really interesting. Same in the other way. A voicemail arrives (from the pbx - phone system) exchagne will generate an email and use VOICE TO TEXT to get some preview / searchable text. Not so many zillions solutions around anymore ;)

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    What is with the tone of the answer? Fix the typos and state only the facts and this makes a very good answer. – Jungle Hunter Nov 9 '10 at 7:29
  • FYI: I improved the quality of the post. ;-) – splattne Nov 9 '10 at 8:19

Well, Maybe is as simple that ppl didn't know about those zillions, only 2 or 3, betwen Windows and Linux. He integrates with AD, that has quite good things. And that integration provides more "default" security that others products.

I think it's simple a "popular" name, that inclusive Directors know.. So it's easy to explain the use and easy for them to approbe the budget.

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This is a really broad question that could take hours to answer but I will try to really sum it up...Exchange is a Microsoft Enterprise product that falls in the server software category. As such it is not like most products that you find out there that only require configuration on the user end. You are thinking of other products that are apps that you can buy on the iTunes store. Exchange is completely different. Exchange is a mail management solution that allows a company to have its own mail system without needing any of the external mail providers such as gmail, yahoo etc. In other words, if you have a domain called mydomain.com, Exchange is a product that allows you to host your own mail server with addresses that end with @mydomain.com

One reason why it is so popular is because of its integration with Active Directory. So, a company can create accounts that allow its employees/clients to use its resources while also offer them mail services at the same time. The two integrate very well because both Windows Server and Exchange Server are made by the same company, Microsoft.

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  • Where did the iTunes Store come in from? I'm sure there are other mail servers out there. – Jungle Hunter Nov 9 '10 at 7:25
  • Well, there are a gazillion mail checking apps but not that many enterprise grade solutions that would be considered mainstream and used at enterprise level. I thought that perhaps that is what you meant, apps like the ones you can find at the iTunes store or wherever. – Bourne Nov 9 '10 at 7:31
  • Oh! LOL. Not that. I don't quite understand what qualifies as "enterprise grade", that's all. – Jungle Hunter Nov 9 '10 at 7:37
  • Oh ok. That is usually a term used to refer to companies that have lots of employees and multiple locations like Dell, HP etc. – Bourne Nov 9 '10 at 7:39

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