Microsoft has released the second service pack for Exchange 2003, and aimed directly at the popular push e-mail technology from Research in Motion (RIM).

Service Pack 2 (SP2) allows for instant updates to e-mail, calendars, and contacts. Previously, Microsoft used SMS to notify a mobile device of new e-mail. But a new Direct Push Technology will see e-mail automatically pushed to the device using an HTTP connection maintained by the device.

SP2 also includes new spam protection features including support for Sender ID and updates to the Exchange Instant Message Filter, remote management including a Remote Wipe feature to clear data from lost devices, policy enforcement controls such as requiring a password to unlock a device, an increase in mailbox size limits to 75GB in the Standard Edition, and new address book and public folder support.

"Exchanage Server 2003 SP2 marks an important milestone in our efforts to provide customers with better protection, reliability and easier administration of their messaging infrastructure, as well as significantly improved support for mobile messaging," said Megan Kidd, senior product manager at Microsoft's Exchange Server Group.

Microsoft is touting SP2 as a superior alternative to RIM devices because users will not need any extra middleware and licenses on top of Exchange.

The catch, however, is that in order for SP2 to deliver its push capabilities it requires mobile devices running Microsoft’s Messaging & Security Feature Pack (MSFP) for Windows Mobile 5.0, which won’t be available until next month.

Current Windows mobile devices running Mobile 5.0 can be upgraded when MSFP ships if device manufacturers offer the upgrade for their devices. New devices that support the feature pack won't ship until early next year.

Early reviews of MSFP have been mixed. In June, Gartner said MSFP "does not go far enough with security for enterprise-wide deployment." And said end users would need "to use third-party vendor security add-ons to make Windows suitable for mobile use." Data encryption is also missing. Microsoft partners Palm and Motorola say their Windows Mobile 5.0-compliant devices with MSFP will be available in early 2006.

Users with current Exchange Server 2003 deployments can download SP2 as a free upgrade from Microsoft's website.