Exchange 12 and Public Folders

EDIT 3/31/2008: We have posted the updated public folder guidance for versions of Exchange past Exchange 2007; you might want to read it.

A frequent topic of discussion with customers is the future of Public Folders, thus I think it would be good to capture that discussion on our blog.

In summary:

  1. Public Folders are widely used by our customers for sharing document, calendar, contact, and tasks; and for archiving distribution lists.
  2. Exchange 12 (aka "E12") and Outlook 2007 (aka "Outlook 12") include public folder support - with great new investments in manageability and improved storage costs. Both of these products will be fully supported for 10 years from the availability of E12 - through at least 2016.  You can continue to use Public Folders with full support throughout this time.
  3. Windows SharePoint Services is another option from Microsoft for, amongst other things: sharing document, calendar, contact, and tasks; and for archiving distribution lists. DL archiving and Outlook synchronization are new in Windows SharePoint Services v3 (WSS v3), which ships at the same time as Office 12 and E12.
  4. For all new collaborative application development, we recommend WSS v3 and the new E12 web services as your platform, both of which are designed with .NET development in mind. We recommend maintaining existing Public Folder applications in-place.
  5. All current versions of Outlook (from 97 through 2003) and Exchange (4.0 through 2003) require Public Folders to be deployed - Public Folders are required within an organization until all Outlook clients are upgraded to Outlook 2007, all mailboxes have been migrated to E12, and of course, no Public Folder applications are still used. Details below...

What are they?

Architecturally, Public Folders are a special mailbox, like all other mailboxes having a single top level folder hierarchy, but unlike all other mailboxes, Public Folders are stored in a dedicated database whose content can be replicated between servers. Administrators centrally manage this folder hierarchy, enabling end-users to create and modify folder content as they see fit.

What are they used for?

Public Folders were introduced in the first version of Exchange as a solution for sharing, discussion list archives, and as a platform for custom applications.

All current versions of Outlook (from 97 through 2003) also use Public Folders for four very important functions:

1)    Offline address book distribution

2)    Free/busy lookups

3)    Organizational form library

4)    Outlook Security settings

What did we introduce in Exchange 2003 SP2?

With Exchange 2003 SP2, we invested in the manageability of Public Folders.  A quick list of improved controls for administrators includes:

1)    stop and resume content replication

2)    apply delta changes recursively through a hierarchy

3)    synchronize the hierarchy

4)    ensure safe movement and/or removal of servers and stores

5)    log public folder deletions

Alongside SP2 we also shipped PFDavAdmin, which in addition to being a great tool for managing Public Folder permissions, addresses a very common customer request: how should you identify which public folders are stale (with the goal of deleting them/cleaning them up)? Unfortunately, virus scanning software accesses Public Folder content frequently, and current versions of Exchange do not have a good way to distinguish AV reads vs. end-user reads. We do however, have a clear understanding of when content was last modified. PFDavAdmin clearly identifies when Public Folder replicas and content has been last modified. If nothing has changed in 5 years, how interesting can it be?

What is new in 12?

As mentioned in the summary, Outlook 2007 and E12 will include support for Public Folders. Of course, there are some details worth noting:

  1. E12's 64-bit storage optimizations accrue to Public Folders - providing a 70% reduction in IOPS requirements.
  2. E12's MONAD command line experience can be used to manage E12 public folder deployments.
  3. Outlook 2007 and E12 have greatly improved connection and synchronization logic, which accrues to both mailboxes and Public Folders.
  4. E12 is the first version of Exchange that will enable customers to turn off Public Folders. When Public Folders are not available, Outlook 2007 is the only version of Outlook that supports:
    1. Offline address book distribution through a BITS http connection to the E12 client access server.
    2. Free/busy lookups through the new E12 availability web service
    3. Outlook Security settings from the registry deployed through Group Policy
    4. Organizational forms will be unavailable (Infopath forms are so much better, I recommend checking them out)
  5. WSS v3 adds support for DL archiving and Outlook synchronization.
  6. E12 OWA will support viewing documents shared through SharePoint sites.
  7. E12's client access server has some limitations in public folder support: no IMAP, NNTP, nor OWA access to E12 public folders (OWA access to E2K and E2K3 public folders will be possible for E12 mailbox users).
  8. E12 Public Folders continue to support replication across geographically distributed sites. WSS v3 has limited support for these topologies.

What is the plan for future versions of Exchange?

We are "de-emphasizing" Public Folders - which means that Public Folders may not be in our next major release after E12. That being said, let me re-affirm our commitment to fully support E12 Public Folders through at least 2016.

With this de-emphasis, we understand that some customers will be seeking prescriptive guidance on managing their Public Folder deployments. We will post more here soon. In the mean time, I recommend:

  1. Plan on migrating to Outlook 2007 and Exchange 12.
  2. Develop all new applications with .net
  3. Watch this blog for detailed information on:
    1. IT data management (i.e. setting expiration limits on data, deleting unneeded data)
    2. End-user data management (to what extent can Outlook 2007 help end-users manage their Public Folder data)
    3. Partner solutions for data management


- Terry Myerson

Comments (33)
  1. I think one thing that is majorly overlooked by the WSS team, is the "replication across geographically distributed sites". I use public folders for this purpose alone, and though I like WSS, there is no way to use it over slow links, and no good way to replicate the data. I hope that whenever exchange drops support for PF, that the WSS team adds replication to the product, or else customers will be stuck.

  2. Given that PFs will be officially supported until at least 2016, I think it’s a safe bet that the SharePoint folks will provide a distributed multi-master replication facility sometime before PFs fade off into the sunset. My experience has generally been that many of the organizations now using PFs have lots of PF content that they don’t need and aren’t using, so PF cleanup is always one of the first things included in any supportability review I perform for customers.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Terry Meyerson of the Exchange team clears up a lot of misconceptions about Exchange Public folders and…

  4. Nathan Yelton says:

    First, I noticed that you’re still calling the product E12, and that it wasn’t announced as part of Office 2007 last week.  Does this mean it’s not a part of Office anymore (again)?

    Second, two things we also use public folders for here in addition to sharing messages with a workgroup:

    1) Shared/generic e-mail addresses that we don’t want to set up as a distribution list.  It seems like creating a public folder has lower overhead than maintaining a separate user account for a generic mailbox.

    2) Easy way to move e-mail messages between users when a user is retiring or taking a new position. Before they leave, they can move any e-mails they wish to pass along to a public folder, and the new employee can claim them and move them back to their inbox.

  5. K. Jung says:

    We use public folders for Scripts (Events.exe)

    Will our scritps work whith Exchange 12?

  6. Anonymous says:

    The Exchange Team has a great new post on the future of Public Folders in Exchange 12 and understanding…

  7. Dan Smith says:

    Mail-enabled public folders are often used as shared group mailboxes, centralized fax mailboxes, and a variety of other group collaboration needs in which direct SMTP support is necessary.  I haven’t seen any promise that WSS will provide the capability of a shared mail-enabled repository in which permissions can be controlled as easily as public folders can.

    Are there plans to allow SharePoint to offer the simplicity and flexibility of mail-enabled public folders?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Многие серьёзные компании хранят документы в Exchange. Но внутреннее устройство

  9. adam says:

    Will E12 integrate with Groove Server?

  10. Chris says:

    My customer is providing accessing to public folder for non-Microsoft clients through NNTP under Exchange 2003

    Will this still work ?

  11. Nathan says:

    As many above I also have concerns about mail enabled public folders.  We use a number of them as shared generic accounts such as etc.

    My other question is about "Free/busy lookups through the new E12 availability web service".  Can you elaborate more on this?  Will this be based on the CalDAV standard?

  12. ML49448 says:

    I also want to register my concern about mail enabled public folder. We use them, and as a Gold Partner we have advised our clients to use them as they simplify management of mailboxes.

    Another common use for our organization and our customers is centralizing external contacts into a public folder. This works extremely well, as that contact folder can be setup as an Outlook Address Book. Although I understand that contact folders can be handled in WSS v3, what about making that contact folder in WSS v3 an Outlook Address Book.

    If you can provide a simple migration roadmap for these two issues, you will make adoption of Outook 2007 and E12 that much easier for many organizations!

  13. Exchange says:

    K. Jung,

    To answer your question – the EVENTS.EXE aka Events Service is gone from Exchange 12. This service was "de-emphasized" in Exchange 2000/2003 releases (meaning – it was included to allow time to migrate Event Service scripts to other solutions).

  14. Anonymous says:

    Hello Everybody,

    Terry Myerson wrote about the future of Public Folder in Exchange Server. The text…

  15. PermanentMarker says:

    I don’t understand why MS is so driven to a future that a lot of people like. I want to have that sportcar in red, but it will soon be available only in bleu because we don’t want to sell red ones anyomre.

    I see many organizations making use of PF’s even beside Sharepoint. Because it’s handy simple inside your mailbox and its a simple folderstructure, and they are free how to use it. For example lot of companies use it to collect emails for example share it and it’s available. The nice thing about it, is the simplicity easy fast solutions. installing another Backoffice product for those simple tasks is often overkill

    Well in the end besicly it’s just simple mail, and there are a lot of sportcar brands, when people look at cars they buy the ones with the most gadgets (wrong, that are the people who buy computers), car buyers prefer red sportcars

  16. Anonymous says:

    Hurray, 2 week vacation starting today ;-)

    How to enforce Microsoft Outlook cached mode via…

  17. Yegurnov Sergey says:

    Well, maybe this post is just a bit out of scope, but still about Exchange 12. First of all, exchange dev. roadmap seems to be really nice. IMHO, E2k/E2k3 has too many different management technologies… But the best news about Ex12 is management based on Monad. Here is my question: where can I find more technical information on Monad&Exchange? For example, which cmdlets will be available? Will Ex12 include namespace providers(for example, AD provider)? And how is GUI interacting with Monad? Does it use Cmdlets directly or via Monad hosting? If via hosting, could it be possible to view GUI-generated Monad scripts? I undestand, of course, this stuff would be in Ex12 SDK, but maybe you have some information to share now? In general, it would be great to see more blog posts about Monad&Exchange.

  18. Wayne Small says:

    I love it that you will support this for 10 years.  However I have a concern that you will withdraw support for features before that 10 year period.  Point in question – during the launch of Exchange 2000, much ado was made about the IFS and how you can now put information directly into the Exchange store.  My company built an Intranet solution for a client based on this technology which worked fine – even on Exchange 2003 – until that is Office 2003 SP1 – this "broke" their ability to save information to the data store.  MS response is "oh that’s no longer supported"… Hence the need to redesign the application at the cost to the customer.  Therefore I take the "10 year support" cycle very cynically.

  19. Nick Gillott says:

    IMAP and OWA don’t fully play with PFs in E12. So what happens to the Entourage clients? Can they no longer use PFs?

  20. Anonymous says:

    Kokią kompiuterių įrangą turėčiau įsigyti, jeigu jau dabar noriu naudoti Exchange Server 2003, bet tikiuosi iškart migruoti į Exchange 12 vos tik jam pasirodžius? Ar draugaus naujasis Exchange 12 su Public Folders technologija?

  21. Glen Martin says:

    No IMAP or OWA access to Public Folders in E12? This is not a good thing. It is bad enough that our Mac user base is screwed regarding freedocs in Public Folders, but under E12 they’ll have NO access?

  22. Anonymous says:

    Since we often get asked about building collaborative applications, I thought I would highlight a few…

  23. Ronny Ong says:

    I’d like to join the voices of those disappointed in the lack of IMAP and OWA support for E12 Public Folders. I think it’s horribly misleading to suggest that Public Folders AS WE KNOW THEM TODAY will be supported beyond the EOL of Exchange 2003. It sounds to me like Public Folders are being reluctantly retained for the sole purpose of appeasing the Outlook user population, without regard to the rest of the Exchange customer base. This only reinforces the industry misconceptions of Exchange being a closed, proprietary platform with poor interoperability options. Please…if you can’t RTM with IMAP and OWA support for E12 Public Folders, then at least keep them on the list to catch for SP1.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Comme donnée lors du BGC, la réponse est oui et heureusement…

    Les Dossiers Publics seront supportés…

  25. parol says:

    Kjempe kuuuul hjemmeside du har.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I wanted to give you an intial heads up as to what to expect in E12 this post is just a very high level…

  27. Garry Trinder says:

    Already looking forward to using the availability web service you mention. OWA not supporting public folders, is there a technical explanation for this change?

  28. Anonymous says:

    Well, as I promised last week at the Roadshow in Nottingham , I said I’d blog about all of the links

  29. Anonymous says:

    This question has come up several times recently so I thought I’d share a good references and tools for

  30. Anonymous says:

    Hi all, Many times I follow and participate of discussions on " File Servers versus Sharepoint ", and

  31. Anonymous says:

    I promised to give links to everything I talked about at this mornings TechNet event on Exchange 2007

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