Review: Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1

Here’s a helpful review for those who are thinking of updating their copy of MS Exchange …

The latest update brings plenty of admin-friendly additions and much better web access – but installing it has some annoyances

One of my bank holiday weekend projects, along with tackling the triffids in the garden, was upgrading my Exchange 2010 server to SP1, which Microsoft unleashed last week.

I’m running Exchange at home, so obviously it’s a lot easier for me to deploy as I only have a handful of users – myself and a couple of friends whose email I host – than it is for a corporate user.

Having said that, it was a pretty painless process, bar a couple of annoyances. First, the update hasn’t been pushed out to Windows Update – you have to download it as a standalone from here.

More serious, though, is the fact that it requires a bunch of hotfixes and an update to the Exchange language pack, none of which are rolled up in the installer or available through Windows Update. I’d suggest doing them in advance via the links here rather than waiting for the pre-flight checks that the installer runs to throw them up, as not all of the links it produces actually work properly. Also, each hotfix requires a server reboot, which adds significantly to the time it takes to do the upgrade, though you can do all the hotfixes and then do one final reboot.

Once all those are in place, the installer runs smoothly. It took 40 minutes on my machine, which runs Windows Server 2008 R2 and has all the server and Exchange roles on the single box (as I say, I’m a geeky home user rather than a corporate). And to my surprise, it didn’t require me to reboot the server when it was done.

There are a number of improvements in SP1, ranging from compliance stuff to high availability and site resilience, as well as support for playing nicely with Exchange Online – a Microsoft cloud-based service that it clearly sees as a significant revenue stream.

However, your users will most appreciate the enhancements to Outlook Web Access, the webmail client. It looks much cleaner, with more elegant fonts; and it’s much faster now that the client pre-fetches content. Users will also appreciate the ability to change the look of the client – it now includes 27 themes, which you as admin can either let your users pick and choose between or lock down as you see fit. So no more bilious yellow – unless you want it, of course.

Cross-browser support seems to have improved, too – you now get the full client in Chrome for Mac, though not yet in Safari for Windows. Though any server admin will tell you that adding Macs to Active Directory is probably more pain than it’s worth.

Also new is the ability to publish calendars to the wider internet, which streamlines meeting requests and suchlike – users are now able to look at the relevant calendar wherever they are without having to email back and forth about times, dates and availability.

Barring the irritation with the pre-requisites, I think Microsoft has done a good job with SP1. Though when you look at how ragged OWA looks pre-SP1 compared with the much sleeker version now, you do wonder why it couldn’t be that good first time round.

Pros: Lots of admin-friendly improvements, vastly better OWA, easy to deploy

Cons: Those wretched pre-requisites © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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