REVIEW: Microsoft's Exchange Server 2010, which eWEEK Labs tested in its Beta 1 incarnation, takes on its cloud-based e-mail rivals with a new Outlook Web Access interface that adds both richness and interoperability with non-Microsoft browsers such as Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari. At the same time, Microsoft has bolstered the management capabilities relied upon by Exchange's core enterprise audience.
Over the last three years, the world of e-mail and Internet communications
has changed quite a bit. The growth of cloud-based services and Web-based
messaging solutions, most notably Google Gmail, has changed the way people and
businesses (especially small businesses) look at messaging.
But while small businesses have started to move to services such as Gmail to
handle their e-mail needs, large corporations still need enterprise-class
messaging systems that can tie into company applications, provide high levels
of security, and allow businesses to fulfill data retention and compliance
This is the challenge that Microsoft faces in putting together the first new
version of its messaging and communications platform since Exchange
was released in 2006. The next version of Exchange needs to
work well in the new more distributed, cloud-based and mobile world of
messaging while also providing the core capabilities that enterprises need.
For images of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010's welcome improvements, click here.
Based on eWEEK Labs' tests of the first beta of Exchange Server 2010 (the
final version is scheduled to ship by the end of this year), it looks as though
Microsoft is well on its way to balancing these requirements.
While there aren't a lot of ground-breaking new features in Exchange Server
2010, there are many welcome improvements that go a long way toward addressing
the shortcomings of the previous versions. In particular, the beta of Exchange
Server 2010 offers features for businesses looking to leverage the advantages
of both hosted and internal mail systems, for companies looking to cut some of
the more needless help desk costs associated with managing Exchange, and for
end users who don't use Microsoft operating systems or Web browsers.
For most end users, the biggest and most notable differences with Exchange
Server 2010 will be in the much improved Outlook Web Access Webmail client. The
most welcome of these new features is that the Webmail client now works pretty
much identically for users of Mozilla's
Web browsers as it does for users of Microsoft's own Internet
. For instance, instead of having to deal with checkboxes and next
screen arrows, users of Firefox and Safari can scroll down to view an entire
page of messages, access right mouse button menus and have much of the same
functionality as one gets from the full Outlook client.
In general, the Outlook Web Access client behaves much more like a full
Outlook client, offering everything from pop-up tips (for example, when a
message is too large) to suggested contacts when entering a name.
For businesses, the most welcome new capabilities in the Webmail client are
those designed to help businesses delegate administrative tasks and provide
users with more self-help options to cut down on help desk calls.
Clicking on the Options link in the Outlook Web Access client brings up the Web-based
Exchange Control Panel. From here, users can carry out standard self-service
tasks such as updating contact information and defining in-box rules. The
Control Panel also offers access to more powerful features, including the
option for users to create their own custom public distribution groups without
the need to contact the IT staff, or to track the delivery status of their
messages. Depending on the role given a user by administrators, end users can
also use this feature to control public company mailing lists.
In addition, this interface can take advantage of new roles capabilities in
Exchange Server 2010 to let administrators delegate capabilities to end users.
Most interesting of these is the ability to quickly enable multiple mailbox
searches, letting, for example, an HR or compliance officer quickly search for
information across several mailboxes. Almost any capability accessed through
the Exchange Control Panel can be turned on and off for specific users through
the use of these roles.
On the administration side, like previous versions, Exchange Server 2010
still uses a standard Microsoft Management Console interface for the majority
of management tasks. However, there is a greater use of tools such as wizards
to ease the configuration of many common Exchange settings.
The Exchange Federation Gateway feature makes it possible for organizations
to share Exchange data easily across their implementations or through a hosted
Exchange Online system. For example, administrators can share live calendars
across two different partner companies to smooth meeting scheduling.
Moving user mailboxes has been greatly streamlined and, in tests, user
mailboxes could be moved quickly with limited disruption to end-user access.
With the Database Availability groups feature, I was able to easily
configure database replication services to multiple servers, including off-site
servers. In basic tests after bringing down a database server, the server
seamlessly automatically recovered with no loss of messages.
Using the Transport Protection Rules, it was possible within the
administration interface to create customized rules to control how specific
messages could be routed within an organization-for example, applying "no
forwarding" rules to specific messages. This feature could also be tied to
Windows Rights Management Services to provide deeper DRM-style controls over
The beta of Exchange Server 2010 also has a number of under-the-covers
changes that increase the stability of Exchange and make it easier to use in a
variety of organizations. These include the ability to work better with non-SAN
storage infrastructures that utilize standard direct-attached disks.
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.