SBS 2008: Same old bundle with new Vista wrapper

Review of beta reveals lack of new applications

Unfortunately, with the attractive Vista icons came User Access Controls to interrupt the administrative workflow. They pop up with SBS 2008 almost as often as in Vista, saying "a program needs your permission to continue." Even worse, Microsoft has yet to understand the need for the administrator password to bypass these popups. Unauthorized users messing with the server can just keep hitting Enter to continue without providing a password without penalty, although clearing the screensaver does default to demanding the admin password.

Once the user definitions are in place, connecting PCs to the server over the network starts with typing "http://connect" into the Microsoft Internet Explorer address space. Downloads of client connection software go quickly, but the reboots don't. PCs without .Net 2.0 support will download and reboot even a few more times than those that do.

Server backup configuration - which you get to via a checklist in the Getting Started icon list -- didn't work well in our testing. Only externally attached hard drives are allowable backup targets. We tried two different Iomega REV drives, (the brand new 120GB and older 70GB models), as well as the Odyssey Removable Hard Disk storage system from Imation using ProStor RDX hard disk cartridges. All three systems, representing two leading players in removable hard disks, were accessible to the operating system but ignored by the Windows Server Backup utility.

Since this is beta, we can mark this as an easily fixable glitch. What we can't ignore is the inability to use network-storage devices as backup targets or Microsoft's goal of leaving all online storage options in the hands of resellers. For their own good, small businesses need to be pushed toward backup, but Microsoft seems to push away from the backup support they should provide with this SBS version.

Day-to-day with SBS

Client installation didn't add any mapped drives or links in Network Places on the PCs, probably because the focus from Microsoft is on browser-based connections. A link labeled Internal Web Site appeared on the desktop after installing the client software and connecting to the server. That led to an improved intranet experience with group workspaces already provisioned on the server, including shared documents, fax center, calendar, tasks, team discussions, photos, archived e-mail, and a user directory.. Even better, Macintosh users can play, even when using the Safari browser, which is a step up from previous version when they were excluded.

This intranet capability will set SBS 2008 above the lower cost NAS boxes that offer pure storage, and even the all-in-one systems like the recently reviewed Sutus Business Central 200. While the Sutus system has phones, a nice touch, there's nothing in the Sutus shared spaces to match the type of group calendaring and task lists services Microsoft provides. These Microsoft features aren't great or even real good, but they do address a glaring gap in the feature list of other products addressing this market. However, these shared workspaces lag behind multiple online collaboration vendors, even some of the free ones from Google. For instance, Microsoft lets you share documents, but not collaborate on them like Google Docs.

Continuing the outward-facing trend, an Exchange 2007 server comes as part of the SBS package. While we're not thrilled with the idea of administrators without any security training managing Exchange 2007 and not knowing how to lock down security holes properly, SBS 2008 does offer a "smart host" option to links with an e-mail host at an ISP or hosting provider so the company can download messages that way. This option offers protection from Internet attacks on the mail server, while still offering convenience and control to the company using SBS 2008.

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James E. Gaskin

Network World
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