Fair Exchange?

Are you considering upgrading your Exchange Server to the newly released 2007 version? Are you worried about how your existing Outlook/Exchange-based solutions will cope with the change and their long-term future? You should be.

Fair Exchange?

The vast majority of end users, those who use Outlook to connect to Exchange Server, will hardly notice any difference. Yes, ES2007 runs faster and more efficiently than previous versions, and most of this is because the code has been streamlined and ES2007 is a native 64-bit application that runs on Windows Server 2003 64-bit only. Apart from the speed increase, the only improvement most users will see is a new Out of Office Assistant that allows them to set separate “Out of Office” messages for use inside and outside their organisation. This means Fred from Accounts will be told you’re on holiday until Thursday, but Mrs Big Client can be told her mail has been passed to your assistant who’s dealing with it in your absence.

People in your organisation who use Outlook Web Access (OWA) will notice that the 2007 version looks slicker, and more closely corresponds to the look and feel of Outlook 2007 itself, although it doesn’t use the Ribbon user interface for creating or viewing items. They will, however, start to see some of the new restrictions too, because OWA2007 has no access to public folders. Microsoft says that public folders are “deemphasised” under ES2007, which means that they’re supported but “may not be in future versions of Exchange”. How “de-emphasised” differs from “deprecated” – the usual word for a feature that’s about to be pulled – is anyone’s guess. It sounds like it might be less severe, a mere step along the way from “fully supported” to “deprecated”, but it may actually end up being more severe than “deprecated” and much closer to “defunct”.

Public folders are useful in many different ways: they can be central stores for mail sent to generic addresses such as sales@mycompany.com; they can hold contact details for customers, so that everyone is working from the same details; they can store snag lists for projects or threaded conversations about those projects. Any public folder can hold any mixture of the standard item types, but you can also customise the forms by adding, moving or deleting fields and adding extra intelligence by writing some code (albeit in VBScript). Combine this central data store concept with the built-in replication and offline abilities of Outlook and Exchange, and you get a compelling platform around which many people have built sophisticated systems – in fact, we at PC Pro use it to send in the copy for this section of the magazine.

Now, while Microsoft says public folders will be “fully supported” in ES2007 for ten years, that means supported only so far as ES2007 supports them, which isn’t very far. There are no longer any management tools for public folders in ES2007 – if a system administrator wants to do anything with them, they’ll have to use the PowerShell scripting language (aka Monad). There’s no point-and-click and no easy way to set permissions and cascade them down the folder hierarchy. You can no longer see public folders via OWA or through IMAP, and that rules out using them from a Pocket PC or smartphone device, or from the Entourage client on a Mac. The Organisational Forms Library has completely gone, so any custom forms you’ve built will have to be stored in the individual folders, and that might require multiple definitions if you use the same form in several different folders.

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