My column "What You Need To Know About... Exchange 12 (E12)" (May 2005, InstantDoc ID 45880) focused on Microsoft's plan to release Exchange 12, a major upgrade to Exchange Server 2003. Since that time, a few things have changed. Although the time frame remains the same for an early 2006 release, the release will now include Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2). Here's what you need to know about the upgrade and service pack for Exchange 2003.

First, SP2
Despite its service pack moniker, SP2 is a major upgrade. New functionality supported in the release includes Direct Push Technology (a requirement for new smart phones running Windows Mobile 5.0 with the Messaging and Security Feature Pack), support for Sender ID (an integrated version of Intelligent Message Filter, version 2.0), and antiphishing technologies. Also, the storage limit in Exchange 2003 Standard Edition has been raised from 16GB to 75GB.

SP2's support for mobile devices is particularly interesting. Direct Push Technology, which works for all Exchange Inbox, Calendar, and Tasks data, lets users with compatible devices synchronize with Exchange Server Over-The-Air (OTA). Previously, Exchange 2003 used Short Message Service (SMS) to notify clients of updates. Now, Direct Push Technology synchronizes by IP address, which is simpler and more reliable. Basically, the server keeps a client connection open and notifies the device when an item, such as your calendar, needs to be synchronized. The Windows Mobile-based smart phone then triggers synchronization and downloads any pertinent data from the Exchange Server. The end result is a nearly instantaneous synchronization, thanks to two advances. First, bandwidth consumption is reduced through data compression and connection caching. Second, the administrator can configure how much of each message is downloaded automatically (usually in the 1K to 4K range) to users, so they won't be overwhelmed by trying to download email they don't need to deal with.

There's a lot more to SP2. To gain in-depth insights, see the articles by Tony Redmond, "Exploring Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2" (November 2005, InstantDoc ID 47792) and Karen Forster, "Hey Microsoft! Can You Hear Me Now?" (December 2005, InstantDoc ID 48173).

Exchange 12 Upgrade
Since my first preview of E12, a few things have changed. First, Exchange 12 will be the first Microsoft product to ship with an integrated version of Monad Shell, Microsoft's .NET Framework-based command shell. Every E12 feature will be exposed through Monad scripting interfaces, giving administrators and developers a new, powerful method to access Exchange Server through APIs and Monad interfaces.

Second, Exchange, like Longhorn Server, will consist of individual software components to reduce attack surface and will provide a truly roles-based architecture, in which you install only the server components you need during configuration. Exchange Server will be a perimeter server that sits outside your enterprise's firewalls and rejects the most malicious emails (when configured to do so) before they get inside your network. Although these servers will not be domain members, they will form the first line of defense against spam and other email-based attacks.

Third, a new Exchange System Manager will provide a single front-end console for all management tasks and will be built on top of the Monad scripting interfaces. Exchange will support continuous online backups, will be programmable through Web services APIs, and both Exchange 2003 Standard Edition and Exchange 2003 Enterprise Edition will come in an x64 version. More information about the E12 upgrade is still to come as the development continues.

Recommendations
It's unclear what viable competition Exchange really has these days, so in many ways, the real question is whether you want to upgrade. I'm not sure that Exchange Server 2003 SP2 offers enough of a change over the initial version of Exchange 2003 to compel users of previous Exchange versions to upgrade, but Exchange 2003 customers should upgrade as soon as possible because it's free, includes numerous bug fixes, and offers substantial feature changes. As for the E12 upgrade, it's still almost a year away and thus will likely offer many chances for prerelease testing in the interim.

Paul Thurrott (thurrott@windowsitpro.com) is the news editor for Windows IT Pro. He writes a weekly editorial for Windows IT Pro UPDATE (http://www.windowsitpro.com/email) and a daily Windows news and information newsletter called WinInfo Daily UPDATE (http://www.wininformant.com).