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Exchange 2013: Support for (non-Microsoft) Tablets, Laptops, Mobile Phones

Providing iPads, iPhones, Android, Mac, Linux Systems with a Full OWA Experience

As I mentioned in my Intro posting on What’s New in Exchange 2013, one of the big drivers for organizations to migrate to Exchange 2013 has been Microsoft’s support for non-Microsoft endpoint devices.  Exchange 2013 has full support for iPhones, iPads, Android tablets, Android phones, Apple Macs, Linux systems in addition to what you’d expect for Windows devices, Windows RT tablets, and Windows 8 systems.

The reality is that there are no special “apps” needed to be downloaded for multi-endpoint support, the full client support is facilitated by leveraging the native Outlook Web App (OWA) that is provided by Exchange 2013.  OWA is full featured and has a common user interface (UI) across all platforms.  The first thing people (wrongly) think when posed with OWA as the client software for endpoints is that OWA is Web-based meaning that it cannot be used offline, is slow, not full featured, not touch enabled, etc, but quite the contrary.  Exchange 2013 is fully leveraging the core capabilities of HTML5.

For those familiar with HTML5 is that it provides “offline” capabilities, you can effectively “go offline” with HTML5 written apps, so from your mobile phone or tablet or whatever, you can click “Offline” and you can still open emails, calendar appointments, create new emails, reply to emails, etc.  And then when you are back online, anything queued up will do a two-way sync.  A portion of your mailbox is cached on the system or device, similar to an Offline Store (OST), all enabled or disabled for security purposes by policy.

And since the content is cached locally, the responsiveness of accessing OWA content is instantaneous as the client does not have to fetch the content off the Exchange server each and every time typical of traditional Web-based access.  That, combined with comparable features between OWA and the full 32-bit/64-bit Outlook client AND auto-adjustment for various form factors (phone, tablet, full screen) makes OWA in Exchange 2013 a game changer in terms of support for virtually “any” endpoint device with a browser that supports HTML5.

Visually what users see is Outlook Web App in 3 different visual modes, what Microsoft calls 3-wide, 2-wide, and 1-wide format.  The 3-wide is the typical OWA view for a desktop or laptop with space on the left side for the navigation bar, the middle for a list of email messages, and the right side for preview.

The 2-wide is for tablet devices where the user sees emails and preview as the default screen, but at any point the user can tap the screen on the left side to bring up the navigation bar to move around their mailbox.

And on the 1-wide format for mobile phones, the user only sees their list of email messages by default and by tapping on the message, the user can open their email, or tapping on the navigation icon, the user can get to the navigation bar, so everything is accessible, it’s just show and/or exposed different based on the width of the screen format.

Because every device uses the same OWA framework, the “client software” looks identical from device to device minimizing the need to have special training to access mail (calendar, contacts, tasks, etc) from different systems.  Also customize and changes to the user’s user interface configuration are saved in Exchange, and so as a user makes changes to various configuration settings, they are saved and do not need to be modified from system to system.

Organizations that have implemented Exchange 2013 have really found users applaud the new OWA on every device experience as it just simply works!  No more ActiveSync configuration for users, no more calendar corruptiosn caused by bugs in various client mail apps, and no more “light mode” for non-Windows users.  Users get the full OWA experience with all of the modern browsers (Internet Explorer, Safari, FireFox, Chrome, Opera, etc) and for the HTML5 “offline” experience, that requires a browser version that supports HTML5 that includes IE 10+, Safari 5.1+, Google Chrome 18+, etc.

For those of you who want to fiddle with the Offline mode, view the 1-wide and 2-wide format but don’t want to setup mobile phone connections and just want to fiddle in your labs, you can force OWA into the various formats right from your browser.  To get to the Tablet / 2-wide mode, from your browser, type:

https://{servername}/owa/?layout=twide

To get to the Phone / 1-wide mode, from your browser, type:

https://{servername}/owa/?layout=tnarrow

That’s it, you’ll be able to see and try out the various modes, look and feel.  But remember, because this is simply OWA and you aren’t creating a particular “pairing” between Exchange and your tablet or mobile phone, you can actually just flip your device to Wifi and connect up to your lab or test environment and access OWA through the browser of the device without screwing up your day to day business email that is likely using ActiveSync, so it is a LOT easier to test out than in the past.

Just to note here, you CAN still use the native mail client (ie: ActiveSync mail app) with your mobile phones and tablets, Microsoft still fully supports ActiveSync in Exchange 2013.  Just this new OWA method of access provides a more universal (common) look, feel, and experience for users along with the benefit of taking your mailbox, calendar, etc offline.

Several other postings I’ve done on Exchange 2013, just click the Next Article or Previous Article buttons on this blog post to get to other articles I’ve covered, or http://www.networkworld.com/community/morimoto to see a listing of all of the various blog posts I’ve done over the years.  Hopefully this information is helpful!

Rand Morimoto is the author of the book “Exchange 2013 Unleashed” by Sams Publishing that was available worldwide in November 2012 based on real world implementation and migrations to Exchange 2013 involving thousands of user mailboxes.

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