Thursday, 15 July 2010

Outlook Web Access and Outlook 2003


This is an issue I resolved today, and it took quite a lot. Probably I am really a nerd when talking about Exchange Server and Outlook Web Access, but I had to bang my head against the pc screen more than usual before getting to any result.

What was I trying to do?

The General Manager wants to receive and send emails when he's in office, when he's at home, when he's abroad... basically he wants to be always connected to our Exchange Server (why not use a BlackBerry? Mystery...). It was a battle in the past months in order to let him try Outlook Web Access. A battle I said. Possibly a struggle, because problems were hiding everywhere: the OWA interface is slow, the address book is not working like the one in Outlook, and other trivial things.

In order to make things easier for him, I actually used a little application called OWANotify which is an excellent program (if you need something to keep you updated on emails please do not hesitate to look for it here owanotify).
Anyway that was not enough. Outlook was needed. So I began to crawl looking for a possible solution and kept finding that the only stable way of connecting Outlook to Exchange in a WAN environment was via RPC over HTTP ( - actually with many other implications like ISA server, tunnelling, vpn and other nice things. And that was not a solution for me... My Exchange Server is working perfectly and experience tells me that when a thing is working you should never try to change it! I have constant pressure from people with little stupid portable phones connected to Exchange (they probably would die instead of giving up on emails!) and changing something that I know is perfectly working is the last thing I want.
So I kept searching until I found something interesting: pop2owa (pop2owa)! Hurray!
After trying it... well... I was not so happy. Why? The application is very useful and smart, but not enough for my General Manager. I was already thinking about possible complaints like "It is so slow!", multiple Outlook instances around, support calls on Sundays and stuff like that. Another problem is related to the fact that I use Exchange Server 2003 and pop2owa seems to work perfectly with 2007 and 2010.
Then again I tried Evolution with no results (I couldn't even connect it to the Exchange Server).

What then?

Well, I decided to use Outlook 2003 with a simple http connection and - o la la! - it worked. When I created the account I used "HTTP" as server type. Then I filled in the usual account mask, using the complete OWA address in the URL field (when I say complete I mean complete like http://owaserveraddress/Exchange/mailboxname). Suddenly all the mail where downloaded locally. I played around a bit - sending and receiving, deleting, moving - everything seems perfect to me. I understand that it is not a lightning in terms of speed, but that probably will not be a real issue (my General Manager needs to give up on that!). Other restrictions apply to Contacts, Notes, Activities folders -  they absolutely do not work as in a normal Outlook account (let's say an IMAP or POP3 account). But again, I rebuilt the address book locally (he uses his own address book not the global lists in Exchange) and that is - according to him - the most important thing...

What can I say? The solution was easier than I thought, and it seems to me that nobody is reporting it on the web. I probably am retarded and maybe someone will tell me that it is a well known feature in Outlook 2003... well... maybe... I do not know.

In case you couldn't find the solution on the web like me, I hope you found this article useful enough.

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