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What is it?
Most people would settle for an e-mail/messaging platform that did its job reliably. But according to analyst firm IDC, over the past decade, standalone e-mail platforms have been replaced by integrated collaborative environments (ICEs) which use their shared directory and messaging capabilities to provide group calendaring and scheduling, shared folders, threaded discussions and custom application development.
This is the territory that Lotus/IBM carved out with Notes and Domino, but IDC said, "Microsoft has succeeded in positioning Exchange as a less complex, easier to use ICE product than Domino." It is ideal for organisations that only use e-mail and public folders.
Where did it originate?
Exchange arrived in two parts: Exchange client was part of Windows 95 and Exchange Server arrived one year later.
What is it for?
Microsoft has been steadily tackling the shortcomings of earlier versions of Exchange, including the relatively high cost of ownership and its appetite for server power.
Microsoft is pitching the advantages of migrating from Exchange 5.5 in terms of simplified operations, better availability and reliability and a reduced number of servers.
There are two versions: the Standard Edition for small and medium-sized businesses and the Enterprise Edition, which provides an unlimited message store, removing constraints on the amount of data. For dictionary compilers, "unlimited" now means "with a maximum size of 16Tbytes".
Enterprise Edition has clustering support for up to four servers on Windows 2000 and eight on Windows 2003.
What makes it special?
Exchange 2003 increases the number of users per server from one to 2,000 (Exchange 5.5) to three to 5,000. However, the two versions can coexist and interoperate. Like Outlook 2003, Exchange 2003 is designed to perform over slow, latent or poor network connections, including wireless.
How difficult is it to master?
Exchange 2003 comes with a suite of productivity tools for administrators who do everything from applying updates and implementing new hardware, to recovering e-mails deleted months previously.
Where is it used?
From small businesses up to large corporations.
Got any spare Exchange, please?
What systems does it run on?
You need Windows 2003 to make full use of the features of Exchange 2002.
Not many people know that...
IDC said Exchange is vulnerable to suppliers such as Clearswift and Samsung, which provide lower-cost, lower-administration alternative back-ends for Microsoft Outlook.
It also said Microsoft needs to present "a clearer, more unified vision" of how its various messaging products such as Exchange, Outlook, Instant Messenger, Exchange Conferencing Server and Sharepoint fit together.
What is coming up?
Exchange on Linux? After years of rumours, Microsoft may have to act to prevent organisations such as Samsung poaching its customers by offering cheap and easy migration.
Training is available from Microsoft and its partners. See the Technet page for details of Microsoft's autumn roadshow and free training events at the company's Reading campus. Free tutorials can also be downloaded from the internet
Rates of pay
Microsoft said administration of Exchange represents up to 25% of the total cost of ownership, so there are plenty of jobs.
Engineers, designers and consultants can look for £30,000-£35,000 or more in the City; support people can get £20,000-£28,000. A good deal less is offered in more far-flung places, where one employer offered £10,000-£12,000.