Tip

Workarounds for OWA 2010’s Web browser limitations

Outlook Web App for Exchange 2010 opens in one of two modes: basic mode, which has a reduced subset of functionality, or premium mode, which includes Ajax-driven features. Even though OWA supports

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a range of browsers for premium mode in Exchange Server 2010, it doesn’t support all browsers on all platforms.

If Windows isn’t your primary OS, you’ll only be able to use OWA’s basic mode. The simplest workaround for this is to modify your Web browser’s user agent string, which is a key piece of how websites detect which browser someone is using. OWA is especially dependent on an agent string. If it detects that a user is connecting via an unsupported browser, the user will be dropped into basic mode.

According to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), some existing clients fail to restrict themselves to the product token syntax within the user agent field. Any client can supply a user agent string.

Many admins choose not to change the agent string, since that can sometimes be counterproductive. If you change the user agent string on your browser, you may see distorted Web pages from sites that you'd expect to look normal.

Modifying the user agent string is one way to spoof a connection from a non-Internet Explorer browser to OWA. It will convince OWA that it is dealing with a browser that can run premium mode. In premium mode, you’ll get all the OWA features that don’t show up in basic mode. There are a few advantages to this method:

  1. You don’t need to modify OWA, which means you won’t put other users’ OWA experiences at risk.
  2. You don’t need to be an OWA administrator; users can do this.
  3. Modifying the user agent string can be done on a per-instance basis. For example, you can configure your setup to launch an browser instance that uses the modified user agent string from a shortcut and still retain your original settings.
  4. These changes are not set in stone. If OWA starts behaving strangely, you can revert back to your original settings.

How you change the user agent string varies from browser to browser. With Google Chrome, you can use the --user-agent command line switch to override the user agent string. In Firefox, however, you set the general.useragent.override value in about:config in order to supply your own string.

You can also use a third-party add-on tool like the User Agent Switcher for Firefox or the User-Agent Switcher for Chrome to simplify the process.

Additionally, you can change the platform that the browser runs on via the user agent string. One blogger successfully accessed OWA through Chrome on Linux. He changed the user agent string to pretend that he was running OWA on Windows. You can modify this agent string according to your needs.

A second approach to the OWA/IE problem only works on Windows, but can be useful if you’re dealing with an older version of Exchange that doesn’t support newer browsers. Firefox and Chrome both have third-party extensions that place the IE-rendering engine in a tab. For example, you can use either the IE Tab for Chrome or IE Tab 2 for Firefox. In my opinion, these solutions are far from perfect because there are several limitations to how an embedded instance of IE interacts with the actual browser.

Some problems with non-IE browsers in OWA aren’t actually associated with the browsers, but instead have to do with add-ons that change native behaviors. One admin discovered how an ad-blocking extension in Chrome canceled OWA’s JavaScript rendering.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Serdar Yegulalp
has been writing about computers and IT for more than 15 years for a variety of publications, including SearchWinIT.com, SearchExchange.com, InformationWeek and Windows magazine.

This was first published in February 2011

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