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-- by Tom Henderson
My love-hate relationship with Microsoft Exchange Server 4.0 has turned mostly to love. Although it took several service packs to smooth Exchange Server's rough edges, Microsoft managed to buff it up into a powerful communications tool.
Now, along comes Exchange Server 5.0. When I first heard about this new release (originally to be called version 4.5), I scratched my head and wondered what features or functional improvements merited the "5.0" upgrade tag. At first, I thought the 5.0 designation was somehow related to the forthcoming Windows NT 5.0.
When I got my hands on Exchange 5.0 and tested it, I realized its new version number was indeed warranted, thanks to several Internet-related improvements. To test the enhancements for yourself, download a 120-day trial version of Exchange 5.0 from http://www.microsoft.com/exchange.
Exchange 5.0 offers full native peer Internet access, and Internet/SMTP configuration isn't the quagmire it was in version 4.0. A wizard walks you through much of the process, and Exchange's Internet Message Connector can be modified later if needed.
Exchange offers additional Internet features in the box, including POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3), NNTP (Network News Transport Protocol) and LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) support. Microsoft Active Page technology is also included. (Considering Microsoft's growing library of "Active" technology-ActiveX, Active Server and so on-it's a wonder Exchange Server wasn't named Active Exchange.)
LDAP support, which exists as a low-layer directory-mapping protocol, should be of particular interest to Internet e-mail users. Today, e-mail typically lacks formatted information (your street address, phone number and other data). But with LDAP, you can choose just how much contact information is to be exposed in the e-mail you send. And, longer term, a recipient will likely be able to drag and drop your contact information from an inbox to a PIM.
Someday soon, LDAP will even let you send e-mail without knowing the recipient's name, just the person's job title. That's because LDAP can match titles with e-mail addresses and map multiple levels of contact information.
Unfortunately, LDAP-enabled applications are rare (Netscape Navigator 3.0 and Qualcomm's Eudora Pro are early LDAP converts). But with Microsoft and Novell among LDAP's strong supporters, additional apps should arrive soon.
Exchange 5.0 can be a store-and-forward mail server for POP3-compliant client software, such as Qualcomm's Eudora Pro, Netscape 2.01 (and later) and Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0.
Or, if you prefer, use Microsoft Outlook, a new multipurpose client. It comes bundled with Exchange 5.0 and also offers PIM capabilities. Think of it as a replacement for Exchange Client and Schedule+ 7.0. If you use Schedule+, I recommend throwing it in the trash where it belongs. It was a nice attempt at a shelled PIM, but Outlook offers superior performance.
Outlook can import a number of file formats, such as Act, Lotus Organizer and prior Schedule+ databases-including my own 21MB Schedule+ file. (Yes, I managed to tuck away every business contact I've made during the past 10 years.) Outlook required almost 2 hours to digest my Schedule+ database, but the result was impressive: It took only 3 seconds to scroll from one end of my new Outlook database to the other using the alphabetical tabs on the side of the Contact screen.
Discussion groups grow up in Exchange 5.0 via NNTP support. It lets you augment Exchange's public folders with Internet or intranet discussion groups. Users can also retrieve their messages via NNTP/newsreader software from a wide variety of vendors. Still, NNTP puts a moderate tax on server resources, and its user interface is weak compared to Novell GroupWise 5.0's discussion group interface.
Now that I've got nearly a month's scar tissue-er, experience-with Exchange Server, here are some administrative details to keep in mind.
Exchange 5.0 requires updates to either NT Server 3.51 or 4.0 (the exact service packs hadn't been determined at this writing). Exchange 5.0 also uses Microsoft's new Active Pages technology, a component that must be installed from service packs (or may be included in the final build of Exchange 5.0) if you want browser access to messages.
Exchange 5.0 loves RAM-lots of it. If browser, LDAP and Internet access are installed, you'll be pushing 32MB to its limits-as I discovered: After I installed the NT Server 4.0 service packs, Internet Information Server and Active Pages, I couldn't launch Internet Explorer 3.01 on the Exchange server. If you want all of the Internet extras, you'll need at least 48MB, and much more for some enterprise installations.
Microsoft makes no mention of an Internet firewall in Exchange 5.0's documentation and collateral material. Although Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) session encryption is available and Exchange features Windows NT Challenge Protocol, it's tough for me in good conscience to recommend a direct attachment of Exchange to the Internet. To be safe, place a firewall between Exchange and the Net.
So does the new Exchange Server merit its "5.0" designation? The answer is yes. Early adopters will likely shed more blood, sweat and tears than others, but Exchange 5.0's Internet support is worth the minor bumps and bruises associated with any software upgrade.
If you'd like to monitor Internet traffic, check out Optimal Internet Monitor 1.2 from Optimal Networks (http://www.optimal.com). The software can observe IPX and especially Internet access traffic by user and service. Although it requires a decent PC (at least a 133MHz Pentium), Optimal Internet Monitor's reporting capability and monitoring features provide interesting decision-support information.
For instance, it lets you track trends and bottlenecks (such as poorly distributed newsfeeds or frequently updated applications like PointCast). The upside is that it works as an additionally installed protocol on a Windows 95 or NT workstation and consumes few CPU cycles on faster machines. The downside is Optimal (as of this writing) doesn't support AMD network card chipsets, which made most of my Compaq PCs with Compaq network cards useless for monitoring. I compensated by dropping a 3Com network card into a DeskPro 6150 (heresy if you live in Houston). Within 5 minutes, I was trapping IP and IPX traffic. It's a stunning application that I highly recommend.
Of course, some PC users consider network monitoring a Big Brother activity. Warn users before you begin any monitoring; that way, they can stop visiting any "questionable" Web sites.
By the way, I originally read about Optimal's software on Stardust Technologies' Web site (http://www.stardust.com). It contains numerous Winsock vendor member links and is a worthy pit stop on the Internet.
Contributing Editor Tom Henderson is vice president of engineering for Indianapolis-based Unitel. Contact Tom in the "NT Enterprise Administrator" topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe, or care of the editor at the e-mail addresses here.