Microsoft releases second beta of Exchange 2003

Microsoft Monday released another test version of an upgrade of its Exchange messaging and information management server software, as it prepares to enhance access to e-mail by mobile users.

The software, previously known by the code-name Titanium, will be released as Exchange Server 2003 and is due to make its commercial debut sometime midyear.

The new version of Exchange was first announced in July, surprising customers and analysts who had expected the next upgrade to be a long-discussed software package that was code-named Kodiak. The release of that software package, which is expected to tie in heavily to Microsoft's .Net initiative, has since been postponed. Titanium will be based on the same code as Exchange 2000, the current release.

Still, Microsoft is squeezing a number of enhancements into Titanium, which will be shipped around the same time as the next version of the company's Outlook desktop software, Outlook 11. With these products, Microsoft is planning to enhance how users manage e-mail and other business information, it said in a statement.

For one, Exchange Server 2003 is being designed so that users can access e-mail even when there is a spotty connection to the Internet. The company says it is improving the method for synchronizing data on an Exchange server and a client device so that users can work from a cached mode and access an up-to-date local copy of their mailbox.

The new version of Exchange will also allow it to connect to a variety of computing devices. It includes support for wireless access to e-mail via Outlook Mobile Access and provides support for mobile devices that make use of cHTML (Compact Hypertext Markup Language), WAP 2.0 (Wireless Application Protocol) and NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s iMode technology, it said.

The protocol used to communicate between Outlook and Exchange, called MAPI (Mail Application Programming Interface), has also been enhanced. Microsoft said that it will improve e-mail performance by reducing the amount of network traffic between the client and the server.

Another enhancement allows users to access their Exchange server using MAPI from a remote location over a secured HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) connection, and is expected to be used as an alternative to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection, it said.

In addition to enlisting customers to test the new software, Microsoft said that Titanium has also been deployed internally at the company. Over the next year, Microsoft is consolidating 70 worldwide Exchange sites running previous versions of the software to 20 sites running the new software, according to the statement. In Europe, Microsoft is using Exchange Server 2003 to consolidate nine Exchange sites into a single site, it said.

Developers can download the second beta release of Exchange Server 2003 or order it on a CD online here.

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