E-mail and Microsoft Exchange 2007

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HISTORY

    Microsoft Exchange Server is part of the Microsoft Server line of products and is the early 1990’s outgrowth of Microsoft Mail version 3.5. Microsoft Mail was the original Microsoft e-mail product which incorporated the SMTP RFC. There are also other RFC standards which define how a client application can retrieve messages from an e-mail application. Two of the most popular ones are the Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3 – RFC 1939) and the Internet Message Access Protocol version 4 (IMAP – RFC 3501). However, since these protocols are mainly used for intra organization communication, it does not force vendors into how client applications should interoperate with the main e-mail applications. To that end, Microsoft has developed additional proprietary protocols to support various e-mail clients and communication environments. The main protocol used by Exchange Server is the Mail Application Programming Interface (MAPI), which has been adapted as a firewall friendly protocol with the Remote Procedure Call over HTTPS (RPC over HTTPS) protocol and a mobile device push e-mail protocol called ActiveSync. Today, these protocols are used in client application such as Outlook (part of Microsoft Office), Outlook for Web Access (OWA), Entourage (Apple Mac), Windows Mobile Pocket Outlook and the Apple iPhone/iPod touch devices.

EXCHANGE 2007 OVERVIEW

    Over the years Microsoft has enhanced the Exchange Server platform to include contact, calendar, and task information in addition to e-mail. With last year’s release of Exchange 2007, Microsoft has enhanced the platform in three key areas: built-in protection, anywhere access, and operational efficiencies. The built-in protection includes anti-spam, antivirus, and message encryption. The anywhere access is probably the hallmark of this version with unified messaging for Voice over IP and Fax systems integration, enhanced web based access with OWA, and true push mobile messaging with ActiveSync. The operational efficiencies are achieved with the ability to delegate various tasks like mailbox management and SMTP services accross multiple servers. A hallmark for users in Exchange 2007, is the ability to automatically configure clients from Outlook 2007 to Windows Mobile 6.x with the new autodiscover feature.

EXCHANGE 2007 AND MOBILITY

    Mobility is one of the key tenants adopted by the Microsoft Exchange Server team. This goal with mobility is to enable users to retrieve, create or update any data stored in Exchange Server. This is known as Anywhere Access and as an example can allow users to update a contact’s phone number using the web based OWA, then have the information automatically updated on a Windows Mobile device and a Windows based PC using Outlook. The same applies with e-mail, calendar, and personal task information. I have seen many individuals e-mail themselves because they did not have mobile access to their sent items folder. Exchange 2007’s ActiveSync solves this problem by providing automatic synchronization with any selected folder in one’s mailbox. Mobile users can also access corporate global address lists and peform real time searches for mailbox items within the last 30 days. Another very important feature is the flagging of mail messages such as mark as read/unread or followup, ActiveSync provide automatic synchronization of these statuses as well. Obviously, you need to have the appropriate version of mobile device software to make this all work and the most advanced mobile client available today is a core component of Windows Mobile 6.1.

EXCHANGE FOR THE REST OF US

    The problem with the Exchange 2007 Server platform is that you need to be part of a decent size organization in order to gain access to its great mobile functionality. The Microsoft Small Business Server does include Exchange but the problem is that e-mail has become a critical business application for most of us and we cannot afford for it to be down for any lenght of time, so hosting it yourself is not really recommended unless you have a good disaster recovery plan. To mitigate this situation several years ago Microsoft started their Hosted Exchange Provider program which allowed hosted service providers to resell Exchange Server functionality by mailbox as a monthly service. These service providers have implemented disaster recovery procedures such as redundand power sources, internet connections and servers. Anton D. Nagy from pocketnow.com recently published a tutorial describing one such Hosted Exchange Provider; 4Smartphone. I personally have had occasion to use several Hosted Exchange providers including 4smartphone, Apptix, and GoDaddy. They all provide similar services and they have all worked well for me, am currently using GoDaddy because they are my domain registrar and thus the most economical. There are many Hosted Exchange Providers which can be found on the Microsoft website. In the end they all provide the same Exchange functionality, it is a matter of picking a provider which meets your needs. GoDaddy was a natural fit for me since I can easily link my domain name to Exchange with their service.

CONCLUSION

    I am a big fan of Exchange and have been using it since version 5.5. The interopablity between the web based OWA, Outlook, Windows Mobile and now the iPhone are critical to running my consultancy and my personal life. When I left my corporate job several years ago to become an independent consultant, the one the benefits I did not want to lose was access to an Exchange server. I signed my wife and I up to a Hosted Exchange service and never missed a beat. The access to Exchange allows me to easily collaborate and schedule meetings with my customers’ Exchange Servers. The sharing of contacts, calendar events, and tasks with my wife helps ease the burdens of managing our lives and is an all around win-win situation. I never leave home without my connection to Exchange.

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