Microsoft has released a beta of Exchange Server 2010, and has also gone public with the official branding of its next productivity suite - Office 2010 - previously known as Office 14.

Exchange Server should be in full release by the end of the year, but the rest of the products in the suite won't be out until early 2010, said Julia White, director of the Exchange product management team.

Microsoft will release technical previews of other products in the suite, including Office 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010 and Project 2010, in the third calendar quarter. A technical preview is tested by hundreds of thousands of users, while millions of people will have access to the Exchange 2010 beta, White said.

But Microsoft also confirmed that it won't open Office 2010 beta testing to the general public, but will instead limit the preview to a large group of invite-only users starting in the third quarter of 2009.

The technology preview, as Microsoft will call the beta programme, will involve "thousands of users", a company spokeswoman said. But it will be a closed group, in that Microsoft will not post a beta version of Office 2010 to its site for just anyone to download.

Another of the Office System products, Office Communications Server (OCS), is on a different schedule. The latest version, OCS R2, was released only in February, and Microsoft has not discussed plans yet for the next big upgrade.

Microsoft will begin the process of upgrading its hosted version of Exchange, Exchange Online, at the same time it ships the Exchange 2010 on-premise product. Exchange Online customers will have the ability to determine when their users are upgraded to the new Exchange 2010 capabilities in Exchange Online, starting in the first half of 2010.

Now that Microsoft offers Exchange as both a service and an on-premise product, it is beginning to align the features of the two offerings more closely, White said. When the company makes architectural decisions about the server product, it thinks about the service as well, White said. "We're thinking about them in a unified way."

It made it easy in Exchange 2010 to automatically configure access for certain employee roles, such as a compliance officer or human-resources manager, White said. "You can set it up [for people] to just have access to the mail boxes they need to search, and can turn that access on and off very quickly," she said.

In Exchange 2007, IT pros needed "an 80-page white paper" to do something similar, she said.