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'Test drive' Exchange 2003

If you are thinking of migrating to Exchange 2003, you can take the technology on a free spin for up to 30 days.

If you are contemplating migrating to Exchange 2003 and want to test-drive the technology before you make a commitment, Microsoft has just the offer for you.

Microsoft will let you try Exchange 2003 free for up to 30 days so you can get an idea how the product works. One benefit is that you get to try Outlook Web Access and Outlook Mobile Access, which is probably a good way for you to get an idea of the features available that your users would be able to tap into. Further, because you can add up to five users for the trial period, you can have a subset of your IT shop operating on the 2003 server.

This offer from Microsoft differs from the one in which you can try a time-locked (120 days from the date of installation) evaluation version of Exchange 2003. For a tip posted on this offer, "Evaluate before you commit to Exchange 2003," click here.

Getting the free test drive
It's easy to sign up. Go to the Exchange trial page, and click on Sign Up Now. You'll go through one of those annoying set of scripts designed to get contact information and demographic information about you and your company. But you're quickly through that, and you get to a page that says your account has been established, and that you're going to get your username and password sent to your e-mail address.

Now you have to wait until the mailbox is provisioned, and Microsoft says to wait up to 15 minutes. I waited about 10 minutes, and then tried to logon. And that happened almost instantly, and my OWA client was happily displayed in my browser window. You can also download a script that will set up your account for access using the Outlook 2003 client, if you wish.

To use this test version, which a notice says is hosted by Apptix for Microsoft, you have to be running IE 5.x or higher, and Microsoft recommends 6.x. You can use other browsers, but you'll likely get a reduced user experience by doing that. If you want to see what would happen if you used a reach client for OWA, you might try accessing the Exchange 2003 trial with an earlier browser to see what it will look like.

There are limitations on this trial version. You can get a trial of 7 days, from Microsoft, or 30 days, from a different provider, Verio. I opted for the 7-day version. You only get 5MB of storage, and that's for everything: messages, attachments, contacts, calendar, etc. Messages are limited to 2MB each. If you exceed the 5-MB storage limit, you won't be able to send or receive until you delete some messages.

Once the trial period is over, everything you have on the trial server gets erased.

I found this a really simple way to get the Exchange 2003 experience with OWA. I already had the Outlook 2003 client, so didn't have to get it. You'll need it, and it costs $109. Once that's done, you're in business. You might like it.

David Gabel has been testing and writing about computers for more than 25 years.

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