I finally sat down and installed Exchange 2003 at home on a server. I haven’t played with Exchange 2007 yet as the only software I have of that one that’s 32-bit is the 6-month time limited version. I’ll have to wait until I’ve got a 64-bit VM system in place before I can migrate to Exchange 2007 on a permanent basis although I would love to do it now simply for the Managed Folders capabilities (to get away from — and stay away from — .pst files). Oh well, perhaps in a few more months.

I’ve been playing around with Exchange 2003, as well as ISA 2006 for a while now, but I figured the only way to get real experience with Exchange is to swallow the bullet and install it in my production environment at home. I chose a pretty good machine for it too – a Dell Precision workstation with dual Pentium III 700MHz processors and 768MB RAM. Yeah, that’s not that great in terms of today’s technologies but hey, you use what you have that’s available. Considering that it’s only doing e-mail duty for at most 5 people I think I should have enough horsepower.

Installation of the server software itself was easy and didn’t require a reboot. I also downloaded and installed SP1 and SP2 for Exchange Server 2003 which went smoothly as well. The catch is that I’m still not comfortable using Exchange 2003 as the front end system. For now, I’m leaving my current mail server in front and just redirecting my account to the Exchange Server. Eventually I’ll move everyone else’s over. Overall, my first impressions are that it’s nice. I’ve been having problems with Thunderbird on Vista lately where Thunderbird will see a message but won’t download the entire content of the message. So large attachments like a WMV file or an MP3 file or, in some cases, e-mail with large HTML content, will only be partially downloaded. The only solution to this is to restart Thunderbird and to try again. I figure that since I’ve got Office 2007 Professional installed on the system I’d give Outlook a try.

First off I can tell you that Outlook with IMAP is slow. Yes, I’m fairly certain this is because Microsoft wants you to use Outlook with an Exchange Server and MAPI but I didn’t have that until this weekend. I had setup my internal IMAP server using Dovecot with a self-signed SSL certificate (for IMAP over SSL). Ok…you might think I’m a bit over paranoid but I’ve worked for far too long in the network security to stomach the idea of unencrypted protocols even inside my own network. 95% of all communications internal to my home network are all encrypted — SSH, IMAP over SSL, RDP, WPA2 — the only thing I don’t encrypt is the POP communication for my wife to download her e-mail from the POP server (I’m still trying to figure out if Apple Mail even supports POP over SSL on Tiger). Anyway, the bottom line is that Outlook IMAP is too slow for my liking. So, in comes the Exchange server.

The other reason for going to Exchange was the desire to setup an easier way to read e-mail at home while traveling. I’ve always done it using Mutt (you’ve gotta love it when the tag line for Mutt (originally said by Mutt’s author) is “All mail clients suck…this one just sucks less” — how right he is) through an SSH session but my wife doesn’t like that — she’s a total Mac fan and while I could setup an L2TP/IPsec VPN for her when we travel I can’t always guarantee that it will work wherever we go. With a web interface I know it will work. Yeah, I could have gone down the SquirrelMail route or any one of a myriad of other web based e-mail systems but I figure with Exchange I get it (as well as Outlook Mobile Access for my phone) on top of the server and that makes it a little easier. With Exchange I can at least expose OWA (once I’ve gotten ISA 2006 setup in the production environment) to the Internet and then we’ll have an easy way to remotel get e-mail while traveling. At this point the only thing I need now is a way to bulk import my current mbox formatted mail from my UNIX server over to Exchange as I’d rather have it in the .ost file than in the .pst file.