Exchange 2007 SP1 Expected To Ship Later This Year

Although Microsoft focused public attention on the first Community Technology Preview of SQL Server 2008 and beta 2 of Visual Studio 2008 coming out this summer, product managers behind the scenes detailed big improvements for Exchange 2007 based on customer and partner feedback. Exchange 2007 shipped in December.

Plans call for Exchange 2007 SP1, now in beta testing, to be released in the second half. It will include an improved GUI and Exchange Management Console for managing public folders and IMAP and POP Servers, as well as the ability to provision certificates, which was missing in version 1.0, partners said.

SP1 will address those holes with new public folder configuration, POP and IMAP configuration and SendAs permission configuration tools, and new delegation wizard scenarios, according to Microsoft. Also In SP1, Microsoft will offer Web service coverage for public folder access, delegate management and folder permissions.

Exchange SP1 will also improve Outlook Web Access (OWA) with support for viewing Office 2007 file formats such as HTML, creating personal distribution lists, S/MIME, rules, monthly calendar views, deleted items recovery and public folder access. S/MIME enabled OWA users to read or compose messages that are digitally signed or encrypted. Deleted items recovery will allow users to recover items that have been deleted from the deleted items folder.

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One solution provider said he expects Exchange 2007 SP1 to ship in the fall, though it could slip to the year's end, when Windows Server 2008 is expected to be released to manufacturing.

The first service pack will offer native IPv6 support for Exchange 2007 on Windows Server 2008 and an improved .pst import/exchange feature for allowing administrators and VARs to move mailboxes.

In addition, Microsoft will introduce a feature called Standby Continuous Replication (SRC), which serves as a backup to its continuous cluster server that replicates data between two clustered servers. With SRC, data can be replicated on a group basis to a standby server or cluster, located in the data center or remotely, in case the primary server fails, according to a Microsoft Exchange team blog.

Sekou Page, a consultant at 25 By 7, an Exchange consulting firm in Santa Clara, Calif., said at TechEd that the GUI for managing public folders and provisioning certificates was rough in the first version, but SP1 will fill in those gaps.

"The GUI in [Exchange] 2007 is limited," Page said. "The GUI will be much better in SP1," he said.

One Microsoft solution provider said the improvements to OWA are most important to him. "Exchange 2007 SP1 is interesting from the OWA perspective," said Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, Fairfax, Va. "I'm glad to see continued development on what is a killer feature for the product."

Rurik Bradbury, vice president at Intermedia.NET, a New York-based Exchange hosting partner, said he's looking forward to SP1 but feels the current release is substantial.

"Lots of good, new features are coming up there [in SP1], including better .pst management, SharePoint integration and public folders in Outlook Web Access," Bradbury said, noting that managing .pst files is a "huge hassle" for IT managers.

"Actually, though, even the first RTM version of Exchange was remarkably stable and full-featured, much more than many initial Microsoft releases we've seen in the past," Bradbury added. "Intermedia launched hosted Exchange 2007 at the beginning of December 2006 and has had a good experience. In fact, we stopped selling hosted Exchange 2003 in May, ahead of schedule."

Exchange Server 2007 became generally available early this year. The release raised some eyebrows because Microsoft dropped Outlook client access rights to the mail server except for Software Assurance subscribers.

Microsoft also has a lot going on in the communications and collaboration space in the upcoming months. Live Meeting 2007, the hosted Web conferencing service, is due out in the fall, as is its sibling Office Communications Server 2007. The two products will feature a common user interface and share much -- but not all -- core code, Microsoft executives said last week.