Microsoft ships Service Pack 2 for Exchange

Microsoft Corp. Wednesday enhanced the mobile client features in its e-mail and collaboration server with the release of Service Pack 2 for Exchange 2000.

The service pack contains enhancements to Outlook Web Access (OWA), a Web-based interface that is quickly becoming a needed deployment option in large enterprises. The service pack also contains management and migration features, as well as all the upgrades from Service Pack 1.

As enterprises begin to support more mobile workers, IT executives have been demanding a robust mobile client that can be used for more than just reading and writing e-mail. Microsoft competitor Lotus has recently added iNotes to its client lineup to satisfy mobile users and expects nearly 20 percent of its 80 million users to be strictly mobile client users, including road warriors and users who share computers, such as those on a factory floor.

Microsoft officials say they expect up to 45 percent of their nearly 78 million customers to use OWA, but many of those will use both Outlook and OWA at various times. Microsoft still expects that heavy-duty remote users will use the full Outlook client to take advantage of offline and other features.

With Service Pack 2, Microsoft has added a number of usability improvements to OWA, including better navigation, meeting reminders, notifications, type-down and field-based search, and calendar features.

"We are trying to bring the user interface of Outlook Web Access in line with Outlook," says Mark Adcock, product manager for Exchange. "That includes such things as the look of buttons and drag-and-drop features."

But the features are locked into another piece of Microsoft software. Many of the new mobile features are only supported on Internet Explorer 5 or later.

The reminder feature consolidates all reminders into one window so users can review and cancel all reminders with just a single click. Notification provides a small pop-up window, much like those in instant messaging, alerting users to new messages. There is also a "new messages" icon on the toolbar. The calendar now can display multiple days, including days out of sequence, and users can click on time slots to create new meeting entries.

The service pack includes mobile management that allows administrators to enable and disable OWA features on a per-server or per-user basis.

Service Pack 2 also includes a number of performance upgrades around Exchange and Active Directory, including failover, recovery and managed cache enhancements.

"We did a lot of work around Active Directory that are tough to quantify but will aid in performance," says Microsoft's Adcock.

The enhancements do not require any updates to the Active Directory schema, the data that define the directory.

The management features in the service pack include migration enhancements that allow administrators to migrate users between organizations and across Active Directory security boundaries. Those capabilities are important for mergers between companies. Microsoft also has included error reporting if certain Exchange services malfunction, an archiving tool, improved message tracking and an SMTP reinstall tool to quickly recover if the server becomes corrupt.

Microsoft also added security and encryption tools to Exchange Conferencing Server.

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