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Exchange SP2 Enhances Outlook Web Access

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday released Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Exchange 2000. Although it boasts several new performance and usability enhancements, Microsoft says that SP2 has been designed primarily to augment Exchange’s Outlook Web Access (OWA) component.

“One of the main areas that we’ve made a lot of enhancements in is Outlook Web Access. What we’ve done with OWA is modified it a bit to bring a lot of the general UI parity with Outlook 2002,” says Mark Adcock, an Exchange 2000 product manager with Microsoft.

OWA is a Web-based interface that makes it possible for users to access their Exchange mailboxes through a Web browser. According to Microsoft’s Adcock, SP2 brings a number of new OWA-specific features to the table, including: Enhanced performance over low-bandwidth (dial-up connections); beefed-up support for calendaring and for reminders; and a revamped search facility that now makes it possible to do text-specific searches.

Chief among SP2’s raft of OWA-related goodies is a notification service that can automatically alert users to the presence of new e-mail messages as they arrive. In previous versions of OWA, users were forced to continually refresh their Web browsers to access new e-mail messages.

OWA has long been positioned as a solution for telecommuting or for mobile users, but Microsoft’s Adcock notes that it serves another purpose. Because it’s enabled by means of a conventional Web browser interface, OWA effectively fleshes out Microsoft’s cross-platform strategy for Exchange users on non-Microsoft or on non-Macintosh platforms. Not surprisingly, then, Adcock says that Microsoft has concentrated on building as much of the Outlook 2002 client experience as is possible into OWA. As a result, he claims, the latest version of OWA will provide users on Unix systems and other platforms with an almost full-featured version of the stand-alone Outlook 2002 client.

Although most of OWA’s new functionality is supported in non-Microsoft Web browsers –- Netscape Navigator and Opera, among others –- Adcock cautions that some features, such as drag-and-drop calendaring, will require Internet Explorer versions 5.5 and higher. “The general usability is across all other browsers, however,” he maintains.

Aside from the OWA-specific enhancements, Exchange 2000 SP2 also features an enhanced version of the Migration Wizard that Microsoft originally delivered with SP1. The revamped Migration Wizard facilitates the consolidation of disparate Exchange 2000 systems in the enterprise, Adcock says. Additionally, he claims, SP2 introduces several performance, memory management and tuning enhancements to the Exchange 2000 environment.

“We’ve done some work around Active Directory and how the servers work with AD, you know, general reliability and performance,” he says. “So if a domain controller goes down or becomes unavailable, Exchange just handles it better, and if the domain controller comes back up, it recovers more easily.”

Like Exchange 2000 SP1, which appeared in June, Exchange 2000 SP2 is a cumulative release. Exchange 2000 SP2, a 189 MB download, is available here.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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