Microsoft is previewing the first service pack for Exchange Server 2007, which will bind the company's email server closer to other unified communications products.

Those who belong to Microsoft's Developer Network or subscribe to the company's TechNet service can download a beta version of Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 1 as of Tuesday. The final version is scheduled for release in the last quarter this year.

Exchange 2007, released in November 2006 along with Outlook 2007, is the first major update to the mail server since Exchange 2003. It's the first version of the software that runs only on 64-bit servers and marks a major technology upgrade.

With the service pack, Microsoft has fixed an annoyance for administrators: the management tools for Exchange 2007 will now work with Windows Server 2008, the company's forthcoming server operating system upgrade, as well as with Windows Vista. The tools enable an Exchange 2007 server to be managed remotely from a desktop machine.

Also new is a feature called "standby continuous replication," where email data is continuously copied to a server on standby and activated if the primary server or datacentre fails.

"This is in contrast to Exchange 2003, for which database problems could necessitate restoration from tape backup, causing lengthy downtime was well as the potential loss of users' most recent messages and other data," wrote Peter Pawlak, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, in a research report earlier this year.

Other improvements are focused on tighter links to Microsoft's other communications products. The company has also strengthened links to Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007, an application for mobile devices that supports features such as instant messaging and VoIP.

Voice mail messages can be retrieved now in Office Communicator 2007 with one click, Microsoft said. The service pack also enables users to receive faxes and check their voice mail through Outlook 2007.

The company has also modified one of its security products to work with the new service pack. Forefront Security for Exchange Server SP1 should be available sometime in the last quarter of this year.