Microsoft will ship Exchange 2000 Server Service Pack 2 (SP2) sometime this month. Although many Exchange 2000 users haven't yet deployed Exchange 2000 SP1, I want to preview SP2's feature improvements for those users who are ready to move on.

First, you must either already be running Windows 2000 Server SP2, or you need to deploy Exchange 2000 SP2 and Win2K SP2 at the same time. (As always, be sure to test the new service pack in the lab and back up your Exchange 2000 servers before you apply the service pack.) Microsoft also notes that with Exchange 2000 SP2, you need to upgrade Exchange 2000 front-end servers before you upgrade Exchange 2000 back-end servers if you've deployed this type of architecture (typically ISP and application service provider—ASP—deployments).

Outlook Web Access (OWA) improvements top the list of the most anticipated SP2 enhancements. OWA users can now use many features that are available in the traditional Microsoft Outlook Messaging API (MAPI) client (sorry, still no spellchecker). For example, Exchange 2000 SP2 adds support for Outlook Contact distribution lists (DLs). OWA users can access and modify Contact DLs the same way they access and monitor Outlook MAPI clients. SP2 also gives OWA a logoff page and provides segmentation features that are particularly important for kiosk deployments. The segmentation features let you configure OWA to expose only desired OWA components. For example, a kiosk setup might need the Inbox enabled but not the Contacts and Calendar components. Finally, for users of Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0 or later, Exchange 2000 SP2 includes OWA improvements such as reminders, new-mail notification, search, calendar printing, and better view and folder manipulation. I've been using the new OWA features for several months and enjoy the rich improvements to this key client.

Exchange 2000 SP2 also adds some tweaks to Directory Service Access (DSAccess) for Exchange 2000 servers. The Exchange System Manager (ESM) contains a new DSAccess tab that permits additional configuration and control of the domain controllers (DCs) that an Exchange 2000 server uses. Also, you can now create DSAccess profiles for an Exchange server; these profiles give you additional control over how Exchange 2000 uses Active Directory (AD).

Other minor but important improvements in Exchange 2000 SP2 include Message Tracking Delegation (previously, only Exchange Administrators could perform message-tracking functions) and full-text indexing improvements that provide index-catalog backup (checkpointing). The Active Directory Migration Tool (ADMT) also comes with Exchange 2000 SP2 (previously, you needed to get this utility from the Win2K Support Tools). Microsoft also has added an SMTP Reinstall Tool to help you repair an Exchange 2000 server (i.e., reapply SMTP extensions) after you remove and reinstall Microsoft IIS. Previously, you needed to completely reinstall Exchange 2000. Microsoft is adding Automatic Error Reporting (also known as DrWatson.NET) to many of its products, and Exchange 2000 SP2 includes this functionality. This feature lets Exchange servers send critical-error reports to Microsoft over the Internet (through HTTPS). Microsoft keeps this information confidential and uses it for product support and improvement purposes.

Supportability is the name of the game for Exchange 2000 SP2. Microsoft has solved many of the support problems that users experienced after Exchange 2000's release and added new tools that help make Exchange 2000 more reliable and easier for Microsoft to support. Exchange 2000 SP2 will be a welcome addition to your Exchange 2000 deployments. Check it out when Microsoft releases it later this month. In the meantime, you can learn more about the release by viewing the Exchange 2000 SP2 WebCast.