Microsoft Exchange 14 Webmail to get Gmail-like threads, Firefox support

Outlook Live's features coming to next version of Outlook Web Access corporate e-mail software

Exchange 14, the next version of Microsoft Corp.'s market-leading corporate e-mail server software, will add support for Google Inc.'s Gmail-like conversation view, full support for the Firefox and Safari Web browsers, and integrated instant messaging, the company said Thursday.

The features will all be part of Exchange's revamped corporate Webmail service, Outlook Web Access (OWA), according to a blog and video posted by Microsoft's Exchange development team. Microsoft is testing the new OWA features today in a free service for students, Exchange Labs, that will be renamed Outlook Live in Exchange 14.

Microsoft has not set a release date yet, but it said last month that it had been beta-testing Outlook Live for more than a year with 3.5 million students and faculty at 1,500 schools.

OWA is the Web-based counterpart to Microsoft's Outlook desktop e-mail client software. It is meant for users who are on the go or logging in from a smartphone. It is different from Windows Live Hotmail, Microsoft's consumer Webmail service.

OWA has been criticized by users for lacking the features of both Outlook and Gmail.

Besides adding full support for Firefox and Safari (in addition to its own Internet Explorer), OWA will add an optional "conversation view" similar to Gmail's. E-mails will be grouped by senders and recipients, and can be hidden underneath the most recent one for a cleaner look.

Microsoft has not said whether e-mail threading will be available in the next version of the Outlook client. That feature is already available from a third-party software maker, ClearContext Corp.

OWA will also let users see the "presence" of people such as co-workers on their contact lists, when those users are managed on the same Exchange 14 server. Users can then send IMs to people on the same network.

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