Microsoft Exchange 2010 is light on wholesale changes and heavy on refinements.

The last big release of Microsoft Exchange, Exchange Server 2007, marked a major change from the previous edition. Exchange 2007 introduced unified messaging, a completely new management client, and improvements to almost every aspect of the mail server, but at the cost of a whopping learning curve for administrators. Admins will have an easier go of it this time around.

Due the latter half of 2009, Microsoft Exchange 2010 is light on wholesale changes and heavy on refinements. On top of noteworthy enhancements for Outlook users, new features also make the operator's life easier - without introducing entirely new ways of doing things.

So if the standby continuous replication feature in Exchange 2007 SP1 improved your operations, or you've been migrating your contractors' email accounts from in-house Exchange 2007 servers to Exchange Online to reduce costs, you'll find much to like in Exchange 2010 as well.

The improvements in EMicrosoft Exchange 2010 fall into three "pillars", as they are described in Microsoft marketing-speak: flexibility and reliability, anywhere access, and protection and compliance. While we've listed all the new features of Exchange 2010 in the table below, there are a few that stand out.

Top new Microsoft Exchange 2010 features

Our number one pick is a small thing with a high impact on users: OWA (Outlook Web Access) support for Internet Explorer (IE) 7 and 8, Firefox 3, and Safari 3. When I was involved in administering an Exchange server for a client, the most frequent issue to come up had to do with the requirement to use Internet Explorer for OWA.

Users typically ran OWA rather than an Outlook client when they were at home or on the road. Users with Macs wanted to go with Safari or Firefox, and only reluctantly accepted the need to run IE in a Windows VM. Users with Linux wanted to use Firefox, as did Windows users, because IE didn't have multiple page tabs at the time, only multiple windows.

Outlook Web Access now supports Firefox and Safari as well as Internet Explorer. OWA and Outlook also have a new conversation view that greatly reduces mailbox clutter.

Our number two pick is the improved storage reliability. This lumps together several discrete enhancements, but the short story is that you can now run Exchange reliably without dealing with Windows clustering, RAID arrays, or fancy Enterprise-class disks. It'll be cheaper to store mailbox databases and faster to recover mailboxes in the event of failures.

Our number three pick is MailTips. Are you about to accidentally send a personal email to the whole company? A time-sensitive email to someone who is on maternity leave for six months? A 30MB attachment to people who have 20MB attachment size limits on their mailboxes? MailTips tells you before you send the message.

And our number four pick is conversation view. Have the arrangements for a company party Friday night cluttered up your mailbox to the point where you can't find the approval email for the urgent customer visit that you need to book today? Switch to conversation view, and collapse those 50 party discussions into one expandable node. This isn't a new idea; we were doing threaded conversations on bulletin board systems 25 years ago. But it is new to Outlook and OWA, and it's more than welcome.

NEXT PAGE: smoother ops


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