Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 SP2 debuts

Microsoft has released Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 for free download, featuring a host of bug fixes, enhancements and features aimed at providing better protection, more reliability and easier administration for corporate users.

The SP2 update was built to correct dozens of glitches in Exchange Server 2003, from blind carbon copy information that could improperly be seen in embedded e-mails to the Microsoft Exchange Information Store services using 100 percent of the CPU resources on an Exchange 2000 server, according to the company.

Also included in the latest release are mobile e-mail improvements with Microsoft Outlook, using a new Direct Push Technology that sends out new e-mail messages, calendar data, contact information and task notifications to mobile devices. Data compression translation has also been improved to provide faster sending and reception of messages and reduced sync times, according to Microsoft.

Device security for mobile devices has also been updated, allowing corporate users to set policies, including passwords, to lock and unlock a device to protect it from unauthorized use. Policies can also be set to decide how many incorrect log-on attempts are permitted before local data is wiped clean or for remote security wiping if a device is lost or stolen.

The SP2 release also offers improved antispam protection through the updated and integrated Exchange Intelligent Message Filter. The filter has been refined to better identify spam and includes new tools to block phishing schemes.

Microsoft added support for the Sender ID e-mail authentication protocol, which it said can help reduce unwanted mailbox phishing and spoofing schemes by verifying the IP addresses of incoming e-mails against the purported owner of the sending domain. The sender must have registered a list of the valid IP addresses in DNS for accuracy or the message will be seen as spam.

Additionally, the release adds a host of administrative improvements, including updated controls for public folders, better replication and permissions management, safe removal of servers, and folder deletion logging to increase administrative efficiency. Full support for Novell GroupWise 6.x connectors and migration tools is also part of the release, as are improvements to the product's online address book.

One user, Hewlett-Packard Co., has been testing SP2 as part of its participation in Microsoft's Technology Adoption Program early-adopter program. Stan Foster, a technologist for HP's services group, said the features most valuable for HP's users are the new mobility upgrades, which drastically improve security for users.

"The biggest feature is all of the stuff that they built in for mobility support," he said. When used with the latest mobile devices featuring Microsoft's Mobile 5 operating system and the optional Microsoft Messaging and Security Feature Pack, SP2 "brings in the back-end infrastructure that you need to have all these improved [security] capabilities," Foster said.

For HP, bug fixes in Exchange Server 2003 weren't an issue, he said. "We didn't need any major bug fixes on our part," Foster said. "I'm not thinking of any bugs that were causing us any pain. I was mostly waiting for the mobility features and the new online address book improvements."

Foster said HP has been beta-testing SP2 for about six months with about 500 user e-mail accounts. The rollout to all of HP's 250,000 user e-mail accounts will take months to complete as other upgrades are performed, he said, adding, "It's a very easy upgrade, and there are a lot of great features that you get by doing it."

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