Microsoft has released a public preview of Exchange 2019, the on-premises email server software the vendor will start selling later this year.
First promised in September 2017, when Microsoft announced that sneak peeks of perpetual versions of the Office applications - Word, Excel, Outlook and the like - and Office-centric servers would land in the middle of the following year, Exchange 2019 is set to launch sometime this fall.
Redmond has already issued previews for Office 2019 for Windows and the Mac, although both betas have been aimed at commercial customers, not consumers.
Like the previews of the productivity suite's applications, the one for Exchange 2019 is a snapshot of features that have long been live in the Azure-based version that Microsoft offers within the Office 365 business and enterprise plans.
In that regard, the developer's on-premises software deserves a label of second-class, since it can never match the functionality of what's delivered to Office 365 subscribers.
Microsoft didn't bother hiding its preference of Office 365 over on-premises, sounding almost apologetic as it introduced the preview of Exchange 2019.
"We strongly believe Office 365 delivers the best and most cost-effective experience to our customers, but we understand that some customers have reasons to remain on-premises," the company's Exchange team said in a Tuesday post to a company blog.
Among the new features in Exchange 2019, Microsoft called out its pairing with Windows Server Core, the minimalist installation that dispenses with tools and capabilities, including a graphical user interface, to reduce the attack surface as well as disk space.
When finalised, on-premises Exchange 2019 will install on Windows Server 2016 Core, Windows Server 2019 Core or Windows Server 2016/2019 with Desktop Experience.
Windows Server 2019 is in a preview period of its own at the moment, with an expected release this fall.
Search on Exchange 2019 has been "re-engineered ... using Bing technology to make it even faster and provide better results," Microsoft said, and the on-premises version will include features such as "Simplified Calendar Sharing" that already exist for Office 365 customers.
Although Microsoft has declined to say whether the perpetual versions of Office 2019 and its servers will be the last offered as on-premises software, it's likely that the application suites themselves - for Windows and Mac - will be available only through Office 365 once Office 2019 (the perpetual version) is forcibly retired from support after just seven years, not the usual decade.
The preview of Exchange 2019 can be downloaded from this page as a disk image (in .iso format) of nearly 6GB.
Besides Exchange 2019's preview, Microsoft has also issued betas of Skype for Business Server 2019, SharePoint Server 2019 and Project Server 2019, which, the company noted, "wraps up our set of commercial previews for Office 2019."
(Reporting by Gregg Keizer, Computerworld)