In the real-estate business, salespeople talk a lot about “curb appeal,” the first impression that potential buyers get when they see a house. The technology-industry equivalent is Out-of-Box Experience (OOBE), or the experience you have when you install and configure a new product. Some manufacturers do a better job with OOBE than others do. Exchange has never been known as having the best OOBE, even though, comparatively speaking, its installation experience has always been pretty good. Microsoft promised to improve the OOBE with Exchange Server 2007. Has the company succeeded?

Exchange 2007 uses a completely new setup process, and you’ll immediately notice the difference when you launch the setup utility. Instead of the typical list of installation options, the installer's first screen shows a list of prerequisites to installing Exchange. This list is helpful because, before you install Exchange 2007, you must download and install several components: Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0, Windows PowerShell, and Microsoft Management Console 3.0. Links on the setup page take you directly to the appropriate download pages at Microsoft.com. Better still, the setup program checks for the presence of these components: If they're already installed, the corresponding links will be grayed out.

After you start installing Exchange 2007, you’ll notice even more differences. For example, you’ll be asked whether you have any Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 or earlier clients in your organization. If you answer yes, Exchange will publish free/busy information and Offline Address Books to a public folder as well as to a Web page. If you answer no, Exchange will assume that you have only Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 clients and won't create public folders. The role-selection screen is also different because Exchange 2007 supports different roles than does Exchange 2003.

After you’ve chosen the roles you want to install, you’ll see a new page in the installer that checks to make sure your Exchange organization, Windows server setup, and Active Directory infrastructure meet all the Exchange 2007 requirements. The installer looks for specific prerequisites; for example, there are hotfixes for the Windows Media Encoder that you need when running the Unified Messaging server role on Windows Server 2003 x64. The installer also runs the Microsoft Exchange Best Practices Analyzer to look for configuration problems that need to be corrected before setup proceeds.

These readiness checks might not seem too new. After all, Exchange 2003 setup offers the opportunity to run the Exchange deployment tools before installation. However, one extremely nice new feature in Exchange 2007 is that if a setup check fails, you can click Back to retry the failed prerequisite after you correct the problem. No more quitting and rerunning setup! Other welcome improvements include a much more powerful command-line-setup interface that lets you install or remove individual Exchange roles and new options for performing unattended, or silent, installations.

Why these changes? One focus area for Exchange 2007 development has been bringing Exchange into line with Microsoft's Common Engineering Criteria, which specify a common set of requirements for setup, removal, error logging, and other aspects of server applications. Exchange 2007 uses the Windows installer, plus a host of custom PowerShell scripts, instead of the custom Exchange installer. This consistency should make both installation and removal more reliable and easier to manage, particularly for large deployments.

In a future column, I’ll talk to the program manager who oversees Exchange participation in the Common Engineering Criteria program and give you some details on what these criteria mean to Exchange administrators.