Top five OWA 2013 improvements that benefit mobile users

OWA 2013 offers several improvements that target users and admins who are frequently on the go. Here are the top five.

When designing Exchange 2013, Microsoft had several areas it wanted to improve. One of those areas was mobility.

Since just about every professional uses a mobile device, Microsoft decided it should offer a first-class experience for OWA 2013 users and admins who find themselves frequently on the road. Below you'll find the top five OWA improvements in Exchange 2013 that benefit mobile users.

1. OWA Offline in Exchange 2013

This is by far my favorite new feature. The idea behind OWA Offline is simple: Mobile users don't always have Internet access, but that shouldn't stop them from accessing their mailbox. With Exchange 2013, users now have the option to use a cached copy of Outlook Web App (OWA). This allows them to continue to work in OWA 2013 even when they're not connected to Exchange. It works much like Outlook does in cached mode.

Note: According to Microsoft, users can only use OWA Offline if their mailbox is stored on an Exchange 2013 mailbox server and if they're using a compatible Web browser. This includes Internet Explorer 10, Safari 15 and Chrome 16. Additionally, the organization must be running Exchange 2013 on its client access server.

2. Wider Web browser support

Another improvement in Exchange 2013 is that mobile users can view OWA on a wider variety of browsers, not just Internet Explorer. There is a chart that outlines the type of OWA experience users should expect, depending on which Web browser they are using.

According to the chart, the full OWA experience is available to those using newer versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome. In other words, if your users prefer a Web browser other than IE, they needn't settle for a second-class experience any longer, as long as they're using a reasonably current browser version.

3. Application support in Exchange 2013

Another big change in the Microsoft Wave 15 products is that many of them can be augmented with applications. For example, Windows 8 comes with its own app store. Also, SharePoint sites can use apps as well. Microsoft also designed Outlook 2013 and OWA 2013 to take advantage of apps.

This concept might seem strange, but it should work quite well for Exchange 2013 mobile users. For example, Microsoft offers a Bing Maps application that OWA 2013 users can use to create maps of their contacts' addresses.

4. The Exchange Administrative Center

Although not technically an OWA 2013 feature, you can still think of the new Exchange Administrative Center (EAC) in Exchange 2013 as a mobility feature.

Exchange Server 2010 includes three primary management tools: The Exchange Management Console (EMC), the Exchange Management Shell (EMS) and the Exchange Control Panel (ECP). The only tool that provides full Exchange Server management in Exchange 2010 is the EMS. The EMC is an interface to the EMS but only exposes limited management features. The Web-based ECP only exposes a small set of management features as well.

Because the EAC is Web-based and contains more features than the ECP, it allows busy administrators to effectively manage Exchange 2013 from a Web browser while they're on the go. Additionally, end users can still perform a certain degree of administration on their own mailboxes, just as they were able to do through the ECP.

5. Interface display scaling in Exchange 2013 OWA

Something that always bothered me about OWA is it doesn't work that well on cell phones and other devices. Microsoft attempted to appease mobile users with OWA lite, but it leaves a lot to be desired.

In Exchange 2013, Microsoft has acknowledged the fact that mobile device users want a first-class OWA experience. Rather than create a desktop version, a tablet version and a smartphone version, Microsoft created a single version of OWA and designed it to scale its interface based on the type of device it is accessed from.

OWA 2013 is fully supported on Windows 8 tablets, iOS 5 or later iPhones, iPads and Android 4.0 smartphones and tablets. You may notice that Windows Phone 7 isn't on the list, but Microsoft still provides OWA lite support on otherwise unsupported smartphones and tablets.

A final thought on Exchange 2013 mobility

Perhaps you noticed that ActiveSync is conspicuously absent from my list of mobility improvements. Although nearly every mobile device supports ActiveSync, it is almost always the actual device itself that limits ActiveSync's capabilities, not Exchange. Consequently, Microsoft has left ActiveSync relatively unchanged.

About the author
Brien Posey is an eight-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before becoming a freelance technical writer, Brien worked as a CIO at a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the nation’s largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.

This was first published in December 2012

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