Exchange Team Responds to Spam Problem; Laptop of the Month

Last week, I asked Windows & .NET Magazine UPDATE readers to respond to my call for more pervasive spam removal tools in Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 (formerly code-named Titanium), the next version of Microsoft's messaging server that will ship in mid-2003. As always, you responded in force, with hundreds of email messages. This week, I give you the Exchange team's response to my editorial and respond to some of the feedback. Also, I cover the first Laptop of the Month for 2003, a Compaq Tablet PC design from Hewlett-Packard (HP).

Exchange 2003 and Spam
After meeting with the Windows Server team at COMDEX in November, I was invited to visit the Microsoft campus for a series of meetings about Windows Server 2003 and related enterprise server products. Last week, I visited the campus with Windows & .NET Magazine's Editor in Chief Janet Robbins and Senior Technical Editor Michael Otey. We gained unprecedented access to the inner workings of the Windows Server team. (The results of these meetings will appear in a variety of UPDATE articles and other articles in the near future.) During my trip, I met Ed Wu, a product manager on the Exchange team. I'd spoken with Wu several times by phone, but I was glad to finally meet him. Wu demonstrated various Exchange 2003 features, but he was kind enough to address the spam problem right off the bat. In fact, he surprised me by noting that he had already read last week's editorial about spam.

"Spam is a hot issue right now," he said, "and we know that we have to deliver a solution in \[Exchange 2003\]. We have to make sure that we do the right thing, that our solution is flexible enough that when things change—and the spam adapts—our solution will have the delta to adjust. It should be flexible and adaptable, as are antivirus filters today. Our general philosophy is that we need to stop spam before it hits users' inboxes." Wu noted my mention last week of Bayesian filters and newer, more adaptable spam filters, and said that although he couldn't yet reveal how Microsoft plans to address this concern, the solution will be similar to the methods I described and will be a complete solution. He said that Microsoft plans to announce Exchange 2003's spam-fighting tools soon.

Addressing the Bundling Problem
Although most UPDATE readers who responded to last week's commentary agreed that Microsoft shouldn't consider releasing Exchange 2003 without pervasive antispam tools, several readers questioned this approach. "Isn't this exactly the kind of product bundling that got Microsoft in trouble in the first place?" one reader asked. "What about all the third-party companies that make antispam add-ons for Exchange?" In answer to these concerns, Microsoft doesn't have a monopoly on messaging servers, and it's hard to make the argument that the company would be illegally leveraging its dominance to force other companies out of the market. I suspect that Microsoft will provide a solution similar to the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) in Windows 2003 and Windows XP that provides a baseline of functionality while providing hooks for third parties to build on. Again, we have to take a wait-and-see approach.

Laptop of the Month: Compaq Tablet PC TC1000
This month's Laptop of the Month is HP's Compaq Tablet PC TC1000, an innovative Tablet PC that combines the best features of slate-type devices and convertible laptops. Technically, the TC1000 is a slate-style Tablet PC, in that it's a one-piece design in which the screen is wedded to the CPU and ports. But Compaq added an interesting clip-on keyboard base that swivels around and lets you use the machine like a laptop of sorts, if so desired. The problem with this approach, however, is that the TC1000 can't sit on your lap: Unlike a typical laptop, the keyboard sits right up against the front of the base, so the Tablet PC's screen-hovering, top-heavy-over-the-center-of-the-keyboard base causes the laptop to teeter backward unless it sits on a flat surface. That said, the TC1000 provides a good halfway point between true slate-type machines and true convertible laptops, and its beautiful industrial design is sure to win converts.

Another innovative touch for the TC1000 is the optional docking station—at just $300, it's a must-have—that lets you use the laptop at your desk with a regular keyboard, mouse, and external monitor, for a dual-headed display. The docking station sports a swiveling Tablet PC stand that supports portrait and landscape modes and a movable arm that lets you position the screen for writing, a VGA port for dual monitors, four USB 2.0 ports, and a Compaq MultiBay for compatibility with Compaq's laptop CD-ROM-type drives. Unfortunately, the docking station didn't ship with my test machine, but I tested it at the Tablet PC launch last fall and came away impressed.

The TC1000 Tablet PC that I tested had the standard array of features, including an underpowered Transmeta Crusoe TM5800 processor that's rated at 1GHz but feels about half that fast, a 10.4" screen running at 1024 x 768 resolution, 256MB of RAM (upgradeable to 768MB), a 30GB hard disk (a 60GB disk is available), integrated 802.11b wireless networking, and the standard complement of ports. Weighing just 3 pounds without keyboard base (or about 4 pounds with it) and with almost 3 hours of battery life, the TC1000 is extremely portable. In fact, combined with the docking station, one might argue that the TC1000 is a perfect mobile computing solution for people who also spend part of their life tethered to the desk (in other words, almost all mobile workers).

Unfortunately, the unit has two key problems that prevent it from achieving true excellence. The first is the aforementioned Crusoe processor, which is adequate for office applications but has trouble keeping up with me when I write quickly with the stylus. The second is the TC1000's unique glass screen, which makes this unit the only Tablet PC that doesn't use Wacom digitizing technology. The unit's screen doesn't support pressure sensitivity (i.e., pressing harder with the stylus doesn't result in bolder strokes) or an integrated pen eraser. Instead, you must select the software-based eraser tool and erase with the stylus's regular tip. Yuck.

These problems are easy to fix, however, and I'd like to see the company adopt a more powerful Intel processor and the standard Tablet PC screen in the next version. If the company does so, the TC1000 will be the top Tablet PC out there. Currently, the TC1000's design is still one of the best units available and an interesting and innovative approach that blurs the line between the standard slates and convertible laptops that other vendors supply.

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