Exchange SP2 has promised mobile e-mail improvements

Pack includes features to protect against spam and other mailbox enhancements

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday released the second service pack for Exchange Server 2003 with promised improvements for mobile e-mail, including new technology that pushes e-mails from Exchange directly onto mobile devices.

Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2) -- available as a free download for existing Exchange Server 2003 users from http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/downloads/2003/sp2/download.mspx -- also includes features to better protect users against spam and other mailbox enhancements, according to Microsoft.

As promised, Microsoft has included in the service pack new seamless Direct Push Technology that eliminates the need for an SMS (short message service) message to alert device users when they have new e-mail. Instead, SP2 allows e-mails to be sent directly from Exchange to Windows Mobile devices, giving users a faster and more efficient way of retrieving e-mail messages from Exchange, according to Microsoft.

With this e-mail push technology, Microsoft is going head to head against Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM), which already enables e-mails to be pushed from Exchange directly onto devices. However, RIM requires the use of middleware on top of Exchange to allow messages to be sent directly to BlackBerry devices, which costs businesses and end users extra license fees and resources to implement and maintain, company executives have said.

One caveat with the new Exchange e-mail push technology is that its ability to work is dependent upon the inclusion of the Windows Mobile 5.0 Messaging and Security Feature Pack on devices. An early version of this software is currently in the hands of OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that make Windows Mobile devices, but devices that come with the technology preinstalled will not ship until early next year. Palm Inc.'s Treo and Motorola Inc.'s Q Windows Mobile 5.0 devices will be the first devices available in early 2006 with the security pack that supports SP2, according to Microsoft.

However, customers will be able to buy Windows Mobile devices that can download the messaging and security feature pack starting around November, according to Microsoft.

Customers also can take advantage of improvements in Exchange Server 2003 SP2 on non-Windows Mobile devices offered by partners that have licensed Microsoft's ActiveSync technology, such as DataViz Inc., Symbian Ltd., Palm and Motorola. However, those companies also must support the Windows mobile security pack in order to leverage SP2's mobile e-mail push technology, but will do so through their own development on their own schedule, according to Microsoft.

Other mobile e-mail improvements in SP2 include better data compression for faster sending and receiving of messages and faster e-mail synchronization; features giving users better control over device security, including policy setting that can require a password to unlock a device and Web-based remote wiping of applications and e-mails on a device in case it should get lost or stolen; and added support for Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions.

Spam protection improvements in the service pack include an intelligent spam message filter, and support for Sender ID, a technology that helps companies understand where e-mail is generated in order to block phishing scams, according to Microsoft.

In addition, SP2 gives users a new Mailbox Fundamentals feature with improvements to the way public e-mail folders can be managed and tracked, as well as an increase in the storage limit for Exchange Standard Edition customers.