The beta-test version of Microsoft's Exchange 4.5 is getting mixed reviews.
Most of the new features, especially support for Internet protocols, work as advertised, beta testers say.
But there are few enhancements to help large companies deploy the client/server messaging system across distributed networks. Those features won't begin to arrive until the middle of next year.
Early adopters of Exchange, who are awaiting the first major upgrade of the product since it shipped in April, have had beta versions for about two months.
The focus of the new release is support for Internet protocols. With Exchange 4.5, users will be able to access their Exchange mailboxes and folders from Post Office Protocol 3 clients.
The upgrade is also expected to support Lightweight Directory Access Protocol when it ships at the end of January.
Those Internet enhancements are a boon for organisations that didn't wish to roll out the Exchange mail client on their corporate networks.
"Exchange 4.5 solves a big problem for me," says Greg Scott, information systems manager at Oregon State University's College of Business in Corvallis, who supports about 2500 students on Exchange.
Until now, Exchange left students with older computers out in the cold because it was optimided for Windows NT, Scott says.
"Now, we don't even have to have Exchange running on the client," he says.
But beyond getting more mileage out of old hardware and having more handy World Wide Web access to mail, user are finding little to get excited about. There is a Lotus CC:Mail connector and the ability to segment large company
But Exchange 4.5 is seen as an interim product, says a beta tester who requested anonymity. Aside from the client choices and Internet stuff, very little has changed with 4.5, he says.
Microsoft officials concede that there aren't a lot of server-side enhancements in 4.5. But the company plans a release for the middle of next year that officials say will address some of the concerns of big companies rolling out large Exchange deployments.
Specifically, the release will boost the current 16b limit on server storage to 16Tb and improve Exchange's ability to support symmetric multiprocessing hardware and Windows NT clustering.
"We would have liked to see some of these things sooner, but we know that Microsoft had to address the Internet issue to keep pace with its competitors," says Kirk Reeves, systems engineer at the Kentucky Department of Education, which has moved about 1500 users to Exchange.