During the last few weeks, I've spent a lot of time with Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, getting ready for the "It's Time to Deploy! Microsoft Unified Communications" roadshow. The roadshow, like Microsoft's upcoming unified communications (UC) launch events, features lots of demos of OCS 2007, Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, and Exchange Server 2007 unified messaging (UM). To put them together, I've had to get my hands dirty with OCS 2007, Exchange, and a variety of hardware devices. In the process, I've noticed some areas where Exchange 2007 could use improvements in its interface and feature set.

Let me start with a pet peeve of mine: certificates. OCS 2007 includes a simple Certificate Wizard that's visible from the top level of the OCS 2007 console. The wizard makes short work of requesting a certificate, and it provides a means for you to request subject alternative names to ensure that your certificate lists all of the correct names to work in your environment. By contrast, Exchange 2007 requires you to generate certificate requests by using Exchange Management Shell. This isn't hard to do if you're experienced, but it's easy to make mistakes when you're learning the syntax. The OCS 2007 wizard also makes it easy to assign a certificate to a particular role, something that requires a command-line visit in Exchange 2007.

The next area I see for Exchange 2007 improvement is debugging and troubleshooting. OCS 2007 makes it easy to gather tracing information, and it includes a log viewer that turns the trace data file (aka an ETL file) into an easily readable summary. By contrast, Exchange 2007 lets you gather trace information using the Microsoft Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant (ExTrA), but it's harder to select the components you want to trace, and there's no built-in tool for reviewing the trace logs from within Exchange Management Console. I recently had a problem getting OCS 2007 and Exchange 2007 to talk to each other, but the OCS 2007 trace logs made the problem immediately clear.

OCS 2007 includes a nice validation tool as well—think of it as a cross between the Microsoft Exchange Server Deployment Tools (ExDeploy) wizard that first shipped with Exchange Server 2003 and the Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer (ExBPA), although OCS 2007 also includes its own Best Practices Analyzer. The validator checks system configuration according to a rule set, but it also performs active tests, such as starting a two-party IM conversation to verify that the necessary services are up and running. (Speaking of which: The OCS 2007 management console includes context-menu commands for stopping and restarting services. This is a nifty feature; unfortunately, it's also necessary because you often have to restart services to pick up configuration changes.)

Of course, OCS 2007 isn't perfect. It doesn't include PowerShell support, for one thing, and it doesn't have a good equivalent to the ExDeploy toolset. Some OCS 2007 tasks require the command line, but others require the GUI. The Exchange team deserves credit for its effort to streamline Exchange Management Console, which is a big improvement over Exchange System Manager; the OCS 2007 interface could use the same attention to flattening its interface and making it more task-oriented.

Because OCS 2007 and Exchange 2007 are both part of Microsoft's Unified Communications Group, I hope that some of the positive features will cross-pollinate. In the meantime, expect some differences in the administrative interface for these products, and prepare yourself to learn their individual quirks.