Microsoft overhauls Outlook Web Access in Exchange 2010 SP1

Exchange Server 2010 SP1 now ready for download

Exchange 2010 Service Pack 1 is now ready for all customers to download, Microsoft announced Wednesday.

Microsoft previewed the first major update of Exchange Server 2010 back in April, and then made it available in beta form in June. Microsoft says nearly 500,000 Service Pack 1 mailboxes have gone into production since the beta launched and that number will surely increase now that the software is more generally available.

With Service Pack 1, Microsoft says it has improved archiving and discovery, built a new management interface, improved mobile access and brought more functionality to Outlook Web Access.

Microsoft trotted out a few beta customers to talk about how much they love the new features in Service Pack 1. For example, Microsoft quotes Steve Goodman, server engineer at Aston University in England, praising cross-browser support and other improvements to Outlook Web Access.

"One of the most common criticisms from our customers regarding Exchange and OWA had been its lack of cross-browser and open systems support," Goodman says. "Although we saw major improvements in Exchange 2010, SP1 has built upon this and taken things to the next level."

Microsoft's cross-browser support only goes so far, however, as the April announcement's discussion of Information Rights Management capabilities in Outlook Web Access illustrates.

OWA now lets you "read and compose IRM-protected messages just like you've been able to do with Outlook in the past," Microsoft says. "In SP1, you'll be able to add Web-Ready Document Viewing of IRM-protected documents as well and you'll be able to do so in Safari on a Mac as well as in Firefox or IE on a PC."

There's no mention of Google Chrome there, as you can see. That doesn't mean Outlook Web Access doesn't work in Chrome - I use it every day, in fact - but Microsoft ensures that the Web service works best on its own browser. (The ability to send and receive IRM-protected mail was also improved on mobile devices in SP1, by the way.)

In general, Outlook Web Access should be faster after Service Pack 1 is installed. "With new work to pre-fetch message content, the OWA reading experience becomes faster," Microsoft says. "With delete, mark as read, and categorize operations running asynchronously, these actions feel instantaneous to the user."

For some end users, the ability to share their calendars through Outlook Web Access may be the most important change in Service Pack 1.

"The addition of open standards calendar sharing is a feature we've been asked for many times," Goodman of Aston University says. "With SP1, our users can choose to share their Calendar in HTML and iCal formats, enabling real time sharing with external colleagues or access to their calendar from platforms and clients without Exchange support."

On the discovery front, improvements to multi-mailbox search will make it easier to conduct searches of email for legal reasons. And for archiving, Service Pack 1 lets IT "provision a user's Personal Archive to a different mailbox database from their primary mailbox," Microsoft says. This makes it easier to implement a tiered storage strategy that can save organizations money by placing rarely accessed e-mail on cheaper storage.

"We've also added new server side capabilities so you can import historical e-mail data from .PST files, directly into Exchange, as well as IT pro controls to enable delegate access to a user's Personal Archive," Microsoft says.

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