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MS pushes new Exchange 2003 service pack

Features include delivery of e-mail directly to mobile devices and an authentication protocol Microsoft says will help filter spam.

A long-awaited update to Microsoft's Exchange 2003 mail server has been released, with the key enhancement being the ability to push new e-mail directly to mobile devices.

The so-called "Direct Push" technology eliminates the need for Microsoft mail servers to notify remote users of new e-mail via text messages. New calendar appointments, contacts and task notifications can also be automatically sent out.

The feature is aimed squarely at allowing the software behemoth to compete more evenly with handheld e-mail giant Research In Motion, which sells the popular BlackBerry device line.

Another significant new feature included in the update is support for Sender ID, an e-mail authentication protocol that Microsoft is backing as a solution to spam. Microsoft's rivals in this area including offerings such as DomainKeys, which is being pushed by companies like Yahoo and Cisco.

Sender ID verifies the Internet address of the server that sent an e-mail against the known IP address of the domain it claimed to come from. This helps to thwart a technique known as "spoofing," in which spammers send e-mail from fake address to avoid being caught.

Also included is the ability to wipe data from remote devices using the Windows Mobile operating system, which is designed to integrate closely with Exchange 2003. The technique is aimed at stopping sensitive data from being retrieved from stolen devices. A similar wipe can also be automatically initiated if the wrong password is given too many times on a device.

A whole host of additional minor updates are included with SP2 for Exchange 2003. For example: better data compression techniques, the ability to support the S/MIME standard for encryption on handheld devices, improved anti-spam filtering and an increase in the size of mailbox storage limits to 75GB.

Apart from the new features, SP2 for Exchange 2003 fixes a huge list of bugs found in previous incarnations of the software. In one serious case, e-mail addresses found in the blind carbon-copy field of a sent e-mail (which are normally hidden from recipients of an e-mail) could be disclosed if the e-mail was forwarded as an embedded attachment.

The update can be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site and installed over the top of SP1 and the previously released technology preview of SP2.

To take full advantage of the new mobile device features, users will need to be running Windows Mobile 5.0 and the additional Messaging and Security Feature pack.

Renai LeMay of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.