Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 is a far cry from Exchange Server 2003, based on eWEEK Labs tests of the first public beta of the new messaging platform. Administrators thinking of moving to Exchange Server 2007 should take a hard look at this beta to understand the impact of the platforms many new features.Theres no huge rush to evaluate the beta, but dont wait too longour tests show that getting a full sense of the capabilities and requirements will take time and training. Exchange Server includes a number of architectural changes. The product will be available for production deployment using only the 64-bit version of the software, so 64-bit capable servers are a must. (A 32-bit version of Exchange Server 2007 Beta 2 is available for companies that want to test the software without tying up a 64-bit system.) This beta also includes unified messaging capabilities with an embedded version of Microsofts Speech Server, allowing users to access their mailboxes and calendars from a phone as well as their voice mail from their e-mail client (provided the company has an IP PBX or VOIP gateway). Finally, the work Microsoft began with Exchange Server 2003 in terms of supporting multiple Exchange servers acting in different roles has been expanded in this release.
These new roles allow companies to configure Exchange servers to work at the gateway level, as well as to segment servers by function, such as unified messaging.
Outlook Web Access
From the client side, we liked the most obvious change in this beta: the retooled Outlook Web Access interface, which includes a number of significant improvements that streamline common tasks and bring useful information to the foreground. The new interface also makes it easier to manage preferences.
The interface looks more like Outlook 2003 than the previous version of the Web client did, with a couple of nice additions.
For example, rather than annoying the user with pop-ups for events and tasks, the new interface has a pop-down view of reminders in the main e-mail view.
Thankfully, we could collapse this view rather than have to snooze or dismiss dozens of reminders, as you have to do with the current version.
Microsoft strives to make Exchange more like an appliance. Click here to read more.
The forthcoming Outlook 2007 is quite different from this version of Outlook Web Access or Outlook 2003 because of its new ribbon interface, so companies upgrading to both Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 will have twice the training issues.
Theres good synergy between Outlook 2007 and Exchange Server 2007, however, including a feature that lets users easily connect to their Exchange mailboxes without help from IT.
We liked Outlook Web Access new Calendar view, which defaults to the current day in a narrow column with details on selected events to the right.
In fact, the Calendar has been retooled the mostand the most usefully. The greatest benefit is the improved ease with which users can coordinate meetings through a view that consolidates "accept" and "decline" responses from attendees and resources.
We also appreciated being able to automatically place a requested meeting in the Calendar as a tentative item, something that makes sense assuming Outlook Web Access users are traveling and might not be able to process requests.
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Exchange 2007 Beta 2 became widely available on July 24 and is expected to ship in its final form at the end of 2006 or the beginning of 2007.