Exchange Server 2007
Exchange & Outlook: Better Together
At a Glance:
- Setup simplified
- Integrating voice, fax, and e-mail
- Managed Folders for compliance
For a number of years, Microsoft Exchange Server and Outlook provided reliable e-mail for millions, helped people collaborate and manage their calendars, and made organizing contacts a breeze. Some might wonder what this combination would do for an encore. Well, Exchange Server 2007
and Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 are soon to be released, and together they offer a quantum leap in the realm of communication and collaboration.
The improvements offered by Exchange Server 2007 and Office Outlook® 2007 are apparent from the moment you start up the Outlook client. In previous versions, Outlook expected you to know the name of your Exchange mailbox server, something that stymied a great many users. The result was frequent helpdesk calls or complicated initialization scripts, both of which increased the cost and complexity of running an effective messaging environment. Now, with the Exchange Autodiscover Web service, Outlook can automatically configure the account if the client is joined to the domain. If the client is not domain joined, the user will need to enter only a name, e-mail address and password. Outlook and Exchange will figure out the rest (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Account Setup (Click the image for a larger view)
Similarly, in the (almost) old days, users not only set up Outlook for the initial use, but were also responsible for reconfiguring Outlook any time they were moved to a different mail server. Even if an e-mail went out warning users of imminent mailbox migration, busy workers paid little heed to anything having to do with the impending migration—until they came in one morning and found themselves locked out of Outlook. At this point, yet another helpdesk call ensued. The Autodiscover Web services solves this as well. When a user is moved from one mailbox server to another, Outlook recognizes that the old configuration is no longer valid, queries the Autodiscover Web service again, then reconfigures the client for the new mailbox. This whole process is completely transparent to the end user.
Reinventing the Calendar
In the past, most calendar logic resided in Outlook. Each meeting update was treated as a separate meeting invitation, which meant the notifications could be accepted out of order. If two meeting updates were sent in quick succession, and a recipient accepted the second meeting update before the first, he might have out-of-date information on his calendar. Furthermore, accessing Outlook information from Smartphones or PDAs could lead to differing free/busy information according to the method by which users viewed the data.
The solution was to move all calendar logic from the Outlook client to Exchange Server 2007. When a meeting request is received by the server the meeting is automatically placed on the calendar as tentative until the user chooses to accept or decline the appointment. If a time or location change to the meeting is received, the meeting will be automatically updated and the old invitation marked out of date so users will not accidentally accept it. This logic is consistent among all clients—Office Outlook, Outlook Web Access, Outlook Mobile, or another third-party client—so only the correct, most up-to-date meetings are present.
With the calendar so reliably accurate, it becomes possible to offer a new set of tools that can make users more productive. In the past, it was not easy to set up meetings with multiple busy employees. Users had to find free times for meetings manually, scrolling through days of information to find a suitable time for all attendees. Now the Outlook 2007 Scheduling Assistant, shown in Figure 2, will find the best time for everyone. After entering in the required and optional attendees and any desired rooms or resources, the Scheduling Assistant presents a color-coded view of the best days for a meeting. Once a day has been chosen, the same scheme is used to find the best time during that day.
Figure 2 Scheduling Assistant (Click the image for a larger view)
The Scheduling Assistant prioritizes first required attendees, then optional attendees, and finally rooms and resources to determine the most optimal time for a meeting. The Scheduling Assistant also makes dealing with issues like flexible working hours and different time zones easy. Users can set their own working hours, defining when they arrive each morning and when they leave at the end of the day. Therefore a late sleeper who doesn't arrive at work until 9 or 10 in the morning can set their working hours to begin at this time. When others need to schedule a meeting, an earlier time such as 8 A.M. will not be suggested. If two groups in different time zones—one in London and one in Los Angeles for example—need to meet, only times that overlap in their working days will be suggested. Londoners will get a late afternoon meeting and Angelinos one first thing in the morning as opposed to a meeting time that is 2 A.M. for one party or the other.
Finding the Needle in the Haystack
Over the years the number of e-mail messages that arrive in the average user's Inbox has been growing at an alarming pace. Whereas once a typical workplace mailbox might contain only a couple hundred messages, some people now get that many messages in a day. Buried in this avalanche of messages is a wealth of information critical to the operations of any business. Finding the right pieces of information when you need them can be a substantial challenge.
The search capabilities of Office Outlook 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 are vastly improved over previous versions. Whether a user is in cached mode or online mode, the same search algorithms are applied to the message. In online mode the search query is sent to the Exchange server, where the search is executed. The Exchange Content Indexer, which is up to 35 times faster than the indexer in Exchange Server 2003, is used to ensure messages can be quickly found and retrieved. In cached mode, Outlook uses Instant Search, based on Windows® Desktop Search 3.0, consolidating the indexing engines and reducing CPU time. Search can be performed for text found in the subject, body, to and from fields or even attachments, as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3 New Ways to Search for that Important E-Mail Message (Click the image for a larger view)
Anywhere Access with Unified Messaging
Exchange Unified Messaging, a built-in component of Exchange Server 2007, brings all types of business communications into a single Inbox, including e-mail, voice mail and fax. In traditional systems, voice mail is available through the telephone, e-mail through the computer, and fax through a dedicated fax machine. Exchange Unified Messaging allows the user to choose the best client for their needs at a particular time and place. Within Outlook, voice and fax messages appear in the Inbox right beside e-mail messages. The voice mail message, when selected, contains an embedded player so that the message can be played directly from the reading pane (see Figure 4).
Figure 4 Playing Voicemail Messages through Outlook (Click the image for a larger view)
Outlook also allows messages to be handled in context. Typically, when you listen to a voice mail, you jot down some notes on a piece of paper. These notes are not associated with the message and can be lost—hardly the model for efficient communication. With Exchange Unified Messaging, notes can be taken directly in Outlook. They persist with the message and will be indexed as searchable text, ensuring the notes always appear in the context of that voice mail message. Thus, they can be quickly found using the improved search of Exchange Server 2007 and Office Outlook 2007.
Outlook can also manage numerous voice mail options (see Figure 5), including allowing users to change their voice mailbox Personal Identification Number (PIN) from within the client. (PIN resetting is a major source of helpdesk calls for Voice Mail systems.) From their options in Outlook, users can have a new PIN generated and e-mailed to them. This PIN gives them one-time access into the Exchange Unified Messaging phone interface, Outlook Voice Access, and then they are asked to change their PIN.
Figure 5 Unified Messaging Includes a Pin Reset Option (Click the image for a larger view)
To Secure and Protect
Organizations today face many threats to their messaging environment. Outlook and Exchange work together to fight against these threats. Spam is just one of those threats, and Office Outlook 2007 adds support for Outlook E-Mail Postmarks, a new way of combating spam. Outlook performs a small computation puzzle on outgoing mail and appends the answer to this puzzle to the message. Exchange then checks the results. While these computational puzzles take fairly little CPU time when performed on a one-off basis, as is typical with legitimate mail, if a spammer's machine had to create these puzzles for a mass e-mail, the tax on their machine would be extreme. Therefore, a message with an Outlook E-Mail Postmark is far more likely to be legitimate than one without, and Exchange takes this into consideration when determining the validity of each e-mail message.
In addition to old threats like spam, new regulatory regimes are changing the requirements for messaging systems. Regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPPA, and Basel II dictate strict rules for the retention or destruction of records. To meet this emerging need, Exchange and Outlook introduce Managed Folders. These folders are set up by an administrator for messages of a particular type. In Outlook the end user sees these folders with a description of what should be stored in the folder (see Figure 6). Messages can also be sent automatically into a particular folder using Exchange transport rules. Once in a given Managed Folder, the messages retain the archiving, retention and expiration policies of that folder, and will automatically be treated in a way consistent with the policy of the organization.
Figure 6 Managed Folders Enforce Compliance Rules for E-mail (Click the image for a larger view)
Despite best efforts, occasionally compliance violations do occur. In these instances, quick identification and reparation is imperative. The fast search offered by Exchange becomes a pivotal tool for compliance officers to find messages that might be clues to identifying compliance violations. Searches can be done cross-mailbox in order to track down and correct such violations.
A More Manageable Environment
Together, Exchange Server 2007 and Office Outlook 2007 offer a much improved messaging system than previous versions. They bring all your vital business communications into one place, make them easy to find, easy to set up, and more secure and compliant out of the box. Together, they take collaboration and communication to the next level.
Michael Khalili is the Product Manager for Exchange Server responsible for Client Access and Unified Messaging. He is responsible for, amongst other things, Outlook-Exchange integration.
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