If your organization uses Microsoft Exchange / Office 365 for email, then you're probably quite familiar with the browser-based email client called Outlook Web App, or OWA for short. OWA started out as Exchange Web Connect as the webmail service that was part of Microsoft Exchange Server back in the mid 90's, then was renamed as Outlook Web Access before being recently renamed once again as Outlook Web App. Over the past few years, OWA has gradually improved its interface, added some very nice features, and improved support for all of the major browsers and operating systems
, making it quite the contender against other similar webmail offerings such as those from Google Apps and Yahoo Business Mail.
OWA consists of 4 components: Email, Calendar, People (aka Contacts
), and Tasks. Each component is not a 100% feature match to its Outlook desktop client counterpart, but it should meet the needs of most users.
This will be a two-part blog. In part one, we'll look at what standard features are included, and what's missing. In part two, we'll look at some of the awesome features.
These are some of the standard features available in OWA:
Shared Mailbox Access Just right-click on your name in the left folder navigation, click Add shared folder, enter the email address or name of the user you have access to, then click Add. It'll show up under your mailbox along the left.
Click and Drag Support Easily move messages to folders or change the date and/or time of an appointment on your calendar by just clicking and dragging it.
Rules Right-click on a message to quickly create a rule. Customize it to meet your needs, then click OK. Edit your existing rules, or create additional ones by clicking on the gear icon at the top right of the page, clicking Options, then Inbox rules under Mail > Automatic processing on the left.
Notifications Sounds and Alerts If you keep OWA in a tab while you work or surf elsewhere on the web, you'll hear the same notification sound that the desktop client uses for new messages. If you are using any of the OWA components, you'll receive a pop-up notification message similar to the one below.
Recover Deleted Items If you delete an item, it goes to your Deleted Items folder which is easily recoverable by just clicking and dragging it back to its original location. If you delete it from your Deleted Items folder, it goes to something called the "dumpster." By default in Office 365, items in the dumpster are recoverable for up to 14 days. To recover an item, right-click on your Deleted Items folder then click on Recover deleted items. You'll get a pop-up window that will allow you to search for and select messages to recover.
Shared Calendar Access Open calendars you have access to and see them side-by-side with your own calendar. You'll also be able to modify those calendars if you have the appropriate permissions.
Again, OWA is a web app version of the Outlook desktop client and only has the most essential features available. Here are some things that are missing or not fully supported, in which case you'll need to fire up your desktop client or try a workaround.
- Outlook's own spell check. This is not that big of a deal as any modern web browser (IE, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari) has their own built-in spell checker. Misspelled words will be underlined in red. You can then right-click on the word and select the correct spelling.
- Multi signature support. Some users like to have a slightly different version of their signature depending on whether or not it's a new message or a reply to a message.
- Advanced signature options. There is no supported method to add images to your signature in OWA, but a workaround exists. You'll need to have any images you intend to use already hosted elsewhere online, bring it up in another tab in your browser, right-click the image, select copy, then go back to editing your signature and paste it in.
- Styles, fonts, etc. You won't have access to all of the fonts you may have installed on your local system, but there are 60+ fonts available to you in OWA. All of the standards are there - Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, etc. Just do your recipient (and the world) a favor and do not use Comic Sans.
- Notes. This doesn't seem to be fully implemented, and I think it's mostly due to the popularity of OneNote. I strongly recommend you start looking at OneNote if you haven't already since it's AWESOME. I have written some blogs about OneNote and the love I have for it. You can find them here. Anyhow, if you still have the old style notes in Outlook, you'll be able to view them in OWA, but editing and creating new notes just does not work.
- RSS Feed Integration. I'm a news and blog junkie, and I use RSS as a means to quickly parse items from multiple sources very quickly. You'll be able to read any feeds already synced to your mailbox via the Outlook desktop client, but you won't be able to subscribe/unsubscribe to/from any feeds.
- Contact photos. You won't be able to set/edit a photo for any of your contacts. A quick and easy workaround would be to use your smartphone if you are syncing your contacts.
To Be Continued...
Stay tuned for part two
where I'll go hands-on with some of the most awesome features in OWA that'll save you time, enhance your productivity, and more.