Beat the Dial-Up Blues

I vividly remember a late 1970s editorial in which Wayne Green wondered why telephone engineers could provide only 1200 baud data communications on the available 4800 baud lines. Times have changed, but getting the most out of the phone lines is still a challenge. On a recent trip to the Gulf Coast, my family and I stayed in a rented condo that was nicely equipped with all the modern conveniences--except high-speed Internet access. The condo's slow dial-up connection didn't keep me from getting my email in a timely manner, though, thanks to Office Outlook 2003 beta 2, Exchange 2000 Server, and a few other products and services.

Some time ago, I installed a Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000 system on my network. One of my reasons for doing so was that I wanted to use ISA Server 2000's remote procedure call (RPC) publishing features to enable secure Exchange access without using a VPN. Using a VPN over dial-up connections adds a noticeable amount of latency. Exchange Server 2003 supports Messaging API (MAPI) RPC-over-HTTP, but the Exchange 2003 beta license agreement prohibits me from using Exchange 2003 on a production server, so I couldn't deploy that technology. ISA Server 2000 also offers a nifty feature that Exchange 2003 doesn't: ISA Server 2000 inspects the contents of RPC packets and drops any malformed packets--a valuable addition to your network security measures. (For more information about using ISA Server 2000 in this way, see "Use ISA Server to Secure Exchange," November 8, 2002,, InstantDoc 27260.) ISA Server 2000 was about to come in handy.

The real gem in my plan was Outlook 2003's cached mode, which insulates users from the vagaries of network connections. Cached mode can operate in three ways: online fast, online slow, and offline. In online fast mode, Outlook assumes it's working on a LAN-speed network and fetches full messages as they arrive. In online slow mode, Outlook fetches only message headers. When you mark a message for retrieval, Outlook fetches the entire message. This option gives you control over when Outlook pulls large messages from the Exchange server.

To access my email painlessly over the dial-up connection, my first job was to find a reliable national ISP. Before I left on vacation, I settled on EarthLink--it had an attractive rebate offer--but any dial-up provider would have worked. I was sure to look up in advance the local access numbers for the condo location.

After arriving at the condo, I started a routine in which I'd establish a dial-up Internet connection, launch Outlook 2003, securely connect to my Exchange server (courtesy of ISA Server 2000), then go for a walk on the beach with my kids. By the time I returned, I'd have an inbox full of email (and relatively little spam; Outlook 2003's junk-mail filter capably handled most of those messages). Cached mode worked as advertised even though I was running the client against Exchange 2000 Server rather than Exchange 2003. After a quick perusal, I selected the long messages that I needed to read immediately (versus those that could wait for a faster connection) and pressed Ctrl+Alt+M to mark those messages for downloading. Then, I hit the shower and got some serious singing done while Outlook slaved away over the snail-like 26.4Kbps connection.

If you're worried about being stuck with a dial-up connection while you're on the road, try the combination of ISA Server 2000, Exchange 2000, and Outlook 2003. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

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