A slick new release of Microsoft's market leading email and collaboration platform with lots to tempt new customers and upgraders alike, but it's still a complex product to deploy.
Extended browser support; conversation view; integrated archiving; availability and performance enhancements.
Complex deployment with no in-place upgrade.
X64 processor (either Intel 64 architecture or AMD64, but Itanium IA64 not supported); at least 4GB of RAM recommended but amount required varies depending on features installed; minimum 1.2GB disk space plus additional for mailboxes and options.
A feature-complete release candidate of Exchange Server 2010 became publicly available at the end of August, making it a good time to look at what the new version of Microsoft's market leading messaging and collaboration server has to offer. Which turns out to be quite a lot, although it's not all good news.
There are some pretty obvious enhancements, with the relentless march towards a common user experience, regardless of platform, continuing apace. Web and mobile clients have both been tweaked to match what Outlook has to offer so, for example, web users now get just one page of messages, and can share calendars and contacts and access integrated IM facilities. We were also able run the full web interface from a lot more browsers, including Firefox and Safari. This is a big step up from previous releases, even Exchange 2007, where you had to make do with a cut-down client in anything other than Internet Explorer.
Another new feature which everyone will like is a threaded 'conversation' view. Available in the forthcoming Outlook 2010 client and Outlook Web Access, this does away with the need to manually wade through long lists of messages in order to follow an email exchange. Bulletin boards have always had this, and it's available in several Exchange alternatives, including Lotus Notes and Google Mail, making it even more amazing that it's taken so long to add it to the Microsoft product.
Still, the conversation view is there now, and we also liked the ability to see whether we had replied to a message without having to wait for checks to be made. Likewise we liked the new MailTips, which warn when you're about to make a range of common emailing errors. We were a little sceptical to start with, but it doesn't take long to appreciate these pop-up warnings. This is especially true when you've accidentally clicked 'Reply All' on an email with a long recipient list, or spent ages composing a message to someone only to get an automatic reply telling you they're on holiday.
Of course, in order to support these and other new features you have to first install or upgrade your Exchange servers, and that's not always been easy in the past. The good news is that it's not as big an upgrade as Exchange 2007, as only a minor tweaking of the role-based architecture was introduced in that release. However, we still found it quite daunting and it took us several hours to get a single test server up and running.
As with Exchange 2007 you need a 64-bit host and, similarly, you can't upgrade from an existing server straight to 2010. Not that that was a problem for us starting from scratch, but it could be a major irritant for upgraders who will need to deploy one or more new servers, and then migrate users and mailboxes across.
On the plus side, if you start running the release candidate now, an in-place upgrade to the final code will be possible when the full version is released later in the year. You can also integrate Exchange 2010 into an existing 2003 or 2007 setup, although the recently released SP2 update is needed for co-existence with Exchange 2007.