Exchange Server 2003 SP2 Ships

Yesterday, Microsoft released the long-awaited Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2). It might be more accurate to call it a "feature pack" (a term that I've always hated) because it includes new functionality in addition to the usual bug fixes.

Of course, I'm not discounting the bug fixes; service packs are always valuable because they aggregate a wide range of hotfixes and deliver them to you in one convenient, regression-tested package. Microsoft hasn't yet published the Knowledge Base article that lists the specific hotfixes included in SP2; I expect that in a day or two.

SP2 contains many features, and I could easily write a few months' worth of columns about all of them (in fact, I probably will). However, a few features are worthy of special mention.

The biggest noise about SP2 has been the announcement of its support for Microsoft's new Direct Push email technology. I'm going to save the detailed discussion of it for a future column, because as far as I know, you can't yet buy a device with the Windows Mobile 5.0 Messaging and Security Feature Pack (MSFP), which you need to take advantage of SP2's enhanced mobility functions. This limitation is a pain for early adopters like me, but it makes sense for Microsoft to deploy SP2 before the MSFP becomes available. (Also, MSFP deployment for wireless devices depends on cellular carriers.)

More interesting are some changes with SP2's message rules. I've written before about SP2 supporting Sender ID (see http://www.windowsitpro.com/articles/articleid/47140/47140.html ), and I'm happy to see Microsoft's implementation. First, let me reassure all the people who are worried that Sender ID will result in the death of Internet mail as we know it: Relax. By default, Sender ID marks messages that fail a Sender ID check, but that marking is only used as input to the Intelligent Message Filter (IMF). You can force Exchange to drop messages that fail a Sender ID check. However, messages from domains without Sender ID records, or messages for which the sending domain's Sender ID record can't be parsed, are always tagged and submitted for delivery. The only time Sender ID information will cause Exchange to reject a message is when both of the following occur:
- you've enabled Sender ID rejection
- the Sender ID check fails because the sender domain is bogus or because the sender isn't listed in the Sender ID record

Another change is that the IMF is part of SP2. No more separate downloads or configurations are necessary. You have to uninstall the original IMF version before you can install SP2, though, which is a bit of a hassle. The new IMF includes an automatic update mechanism that should speed the delivery of updates for the SmartScreen filter data set that provides the IMF's filtering capacity. In addition, the IMF has a weighted word list that you can customize; by adding terms to the list, you can tell the IMF that messages containing those terms are likely to be spam. This is a welcome improvement, because one of the common complaints about IMF is that users can't override its built-in corpus with customized filtering rules.

SP2 contains a host of smaller features, too; my favorite is the code that generates an event to record public folder deletions. If you've ever wondered who deleted an important public folder, now you'll be able to find out.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the small feature that will probably generate the most buzz in the SP2 release: Exchange 2003 Standard Edition now supports a maximum mailbox database size of 75GB, up from 16GB in previous versions. This change is a big one for the sites that are still using Standard Edition.

As I get ready to write more about specific features, I'd love to hear what your favorite SP2 feature is. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

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