New Exchange Reference Guide Available

If you're an "old-timer," you probably remember the days when paying $500 for a major software product also got you a 500-page manual in the box. Those days are long gone. Now, we typically get some Help files, which are more or less integrated into the software. If we're lucky, we might get Web-based updates that modify those files to reflect changes or updates to the software.

Microsoft often catches flak for its documentation, but I don't think that's entirely fair. The company spends an enormous amount of effort trying to figure out what people most need to know, then making that information accessible. (That task is difficult enough for programs such as those in the Microsoft Office suite, and it's darn near impossible for programs such as Exchange Server.) The company does a good job reaching its goal; compare the quantity and quality of the Exchange Server 2003 documentation with what existed at the same point in the Exchange Server 5.5, IBM Lotus Notes, or Novell GroupWise product cycles. Still, even good documentation these days often leaves something missing: deep technical detail. Many administrators are content simply to know which buttons to push to achieve a desired effect, and for that, the product documentation is usually sufficient. A hardy few, though, want to understand exactly how those buttons actually do what they do and why those buttons are included in the software whereas other buttons are left out.

If you're the type of administrator who wants detailed technical content, you'll be happy to learn that the Microsoft Exchange Team has been working steadily to provide deeper technical guidance about Exchange's internals. The team's most recent product, the "Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Technical Reference Guide," is now available at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/exchange/2003/library/techrefgde.mspx . The guide, which is a little over 400 pages long, provides an extremely detailed look at several particulars. For example, the "Message Routing Architecture" chapter explains exactly what's in the link state table, how those data items get there, and when they change. Other chapters discuss how the Information Store (IS) works on clustered servers and exactly what Exchange System Manager (ESM) manages via Messaging API (MAPI) and WWW Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) calls.

The question that popped into my mind when I first saw the guide was "What does this mean for the Exchange 2003 resource kit?" Earlier Exchange versions had resource kits that included tools and detailed documentation about configuration, management, and deployment. Now, we get the tools directly from the Web and the documentation is available from the Exchange technical library. I prefer the approach of releasing documents when they're ready instead of holding them back for inclusion in a super-mega-resource kit release, but I hope we also eventually get an all-in-one combination package, which can be easier to use. In the meantime, though, the new Technical Reference Guide should keep even the most die-hard Exchange 2003 administrator occupied.

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