Microsoft's Open License customers will receive Exchange 2003 on Friday, a few months before it becomes generally available.
This newest version of Microsoft's messaging server was released to manufacturing in late June. It will be made generally available sometime in October at an official launch event, sources said. Open License is a software volume-licensing program for any customer that purchases at least five licenses.
Microsoft officials declined to comment on the release dates but continue to say Exchange 2003 will be available later this year.
Customers using Exchange 2003 will initially use Outlook XP as a client. Outlook 2003 won't be available until at least mid-September but will be included in the final packaged product. Open License customers who use Exchange 2003 early will need to order a new client separately when it becomes available.
Exchange Server 2003 promises several improvements over Exchange Server 2000. It adds features for better Outlook Web access, mobile and wireless support, some antispam capabilities and improved integration with Windows.
Though Exchange Server 2003 causes no major infrastructure changes to an enterprise, customers can expect better reliability and scalability, said Jonathan Penn, an analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass.
Exchange's underlying database, which has always been a gating factor, hasn't changed in this release, Penn said, but there will be significant changes in the next release of Exchange (code-named Kodiak).
This is the first time that Outlook and Exchange will be on the same development cycle, Penn said. This is reflected in terms of both security and reliability. Outlook 2003 has more robust network connectivity. On the security side, with Exchange itself, users no longer have to access a virtual private network, which requires opening up a slew of ports on a firewall. Now users can connect to Exchange via MAPI, the protocol for connecting Exchange to Outlook, over secured HTTP.
"The biggest thing coming out of Exchange 2003 is as it relates to the integration with the Office system, and specifically Outlook," said Neil Richards, president and CEO of Hunter Stone Inc., an integrator based in Columbia, S.C. "The remote features in Outlook are a great value for people who travel."
Microsoft has high hopes that it can persuade customers on Exchange 5.5 to upgrade to Exchange Server 2003. General support for Exchange 5.5 ends Dec. 31.
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