On Digital Photos, Overseas Travel, and Outlook Web Access

1 Background


A few weeks ago, I returned from a two week bicycling adventure through the fjords of Norway.  Accompanying me on this trip was an old racing buddy and friend from grade school as well as a bit of his extended family.


Each of us was armed with a digital camera.


In those two weeks, I managed to fill the 128 megabyte SD card in my camera, and my trip mates had accumulated their own photos of which I was interested in having copies[1].  So, the more pictures that I wanted to take, the more critical I had to be of my existing shots so as to find one to delete in order to make room for the next one.  And the more pictures that my friends took, the more I was “missing” from the complete set from the trip.


For various reasons, I had decided at the beginning of the trip to just leave the laptop at home, which eliminated the obvious solution of copying everything there.


Finally, I was intent on gathering together all the photos before the end of the trip.  Waiting for everyone to return home, burn a CD, and mail that CD to me was fraught with the risk that people would return home and then get “busy” with their “lives”, resulting in my never seeing the CDs, the photos, or get so much as a returned phone call on my own birthday.  Thanks, guys.


I know what you’re thinking: email the photos to myself.  Wrong.  The problem with this isn’t storage space; it’s the level of tedium involved in separately attaching each photo to an email message and then sending that message.  As in, the process is so repetitive, laborious, and boring that I would have happily taken my chances with CDs via snail mail, instead.


Ok, I still know what you’re thinking: email the photos to myself with OWA.  Close!  But wrong.  With OWA, I could have downloaded the MIME control, which would have afforded me the possibility of drag-and-drop attachments, but the internet café I was using had its accounts running at a privilege level lower than admin, so installing the control was out.  Even had that been an option, I still would have been beholden to whatever size limits are imposed on individual email messages – this would mean that I’d be manually chunking sets of images in order to fit within this limit, which itself is error-prone and messy.


It would seem that a combination of issues both social and technical have conspired to ruin my vacation and my life.


2 The Solution


Since Windows 2000, the Windows shell has supported something called “web folders”, where you can browse the files and folders on a website in exactly the same way you browse your local disk.  You can do this today on SharePoint sites, in fact – if the URL http://server/sites/mysite/doclib points to a document library, you can enter \\server\sites\mysite\doclib into the Start/Run dialog and get an Explorer window just as if you’d typed “c:\” into that dialog.


Now, the underlying transport for web folders is DAV (“distributed authoring and versioning” – I guess “daav” would have looked too Dutch), which is a set of extensions to HTTP, and which happens to be one of the APIs for talking to Exchange.  So if Exchange is happy to service DAV requests, and if the Windows XP machine that I’m using at the internet café is happy to issue DAV requests in support of its “web folders” feature, how do I connect the two?


First, let’s assume that the URL that you use for OWA is:




Further, let’s assume that your user name is “sami”.  Seems reasonable. 

         Log into OWA using Internet Explorer[2].  Once you’ve logged in, press Ctrl+O in order to get the following dialog:


Check the “Open as Web Folder” box and then enter the following URL into the “Open:” field:





Hit OK, and you should see your OWA view replaced with what looks like a folder view.  The names of many of these folders will look familiar – they’re the folders that you’ve created in your inbox.  Others won’t look familiar; these are folders used by various system functions.  Right click somewhere in this view (but not on a folder), select New, and create a new folder.  That’s it.  You can double-click on this folder to open it and drag files into it in order to copy them up to your mailbox.


With this all working as advertised, all I did was get the storage card from each camera whose photos I wanted, copied their contents onto the machine I was using in the café, and performed the drag-and-drop.  Almost 200 megabytes over the international link between Oslo and Seattle took about forty-five minutes to transfer, but I had lots of email to read and was happy to have an excuse to sit still for a while.


3 Conclusion


Frankly, I’ll probably do this again on my next trip, if only to have backups of the photos in case my camera gets lost, stolen, or destroyed.  However, I agree that this method is completely undiscoverable – that I know about it at all is a result of my exploits as an engineer on the Exchange team.  I will prevail upon the OWA guys to make this a bit more seamless.  We’ll see what happens.


- Sami Khoury

[1] Not “email-friendly” copies – I wanted the full resolution originals.

[2] Whether or not this all works under other browsers is left as an exercise for the reader.

Comments (23)
  1. Luke Edson says:

    AWSOME!! The only problem is: I haven’t been able to get it to work on two different Exchange 2003 OWA setups. (one http, the other https) I am using IE6, but I only see the OWA view, is there something I have to turn on at the OWA server?

    Thanks again,


  2. simplenomad says:

    Cool trick! Just tried it on a Ex2k3 server and it worked fine.

    Now, on behalf of all internet users I spite you for only having an 128MB SD card for your camera. That’s so 2001! :)

    Glad to hear you left your laptop behind. On my first bike touring trip I brought a palmtop type laptop. It lasted for two days, which was exactly one day after we started climbing the cascades…

  3. kclemson says:

    Luke – is there a firewall between you and the server when you try it? If so, try it without one and see if that makes a difference.

  4. Bob Hyatt says:

    Very Nice Tip..but i’ve tried it on two different Exchange 2003 systems and can’t seem to get it to work. I keep getting the error "Documents in this folder are not available. The folder may have been moved or deleted, or network problems may be preventing a connection to the server".


  5. Briam says:

    This works great. That is a great Tip!! (W2k3 with E2k3)

  6. Anonymous says:

    Read it here.  I will definitely try this at work tomorrow!

  7. Dirk Rombauts says:

    Cool! I’ll try this at work tomorrow!

  8. Jon Rehagen says:

    Works internally for me. I’ll check from the outside tonight!

    Sweet "feature"!

  9. Mohammed Athif Khaleel says:

    Awesome! This is so cool and pretty nice hidden feature. Who knows what’s all still hidden in Exchange. Keep blogging such stuff!

    It’s nice to see MS Bloggers to share such things which a knowledge worker would never discover unless is the biggest GEEK.

    Thanks again,



  10. MartinC says:

    doesn’t seem to work for me through a FE server, or going direct to the server itself internally.

    both URLs fail with "could not open folder as a web folder. would you like to see its default view instead?"

  11. I’ve tried this internally (we only have a single server, no FE/BE configuration) and nothing happens – I just get the standard OWA view.


  12. Wayne says:

    This is a really cool trick – if only we didn’t have enough problems already with users keeping their email storage under control. If users find out about this trick, kiss goodbye to hard drive space !

  13. Sami Khoury says:

    Those of you for whom it did not work, are you running Office on the client machine from which you tried to access your mailbox using web folders?


  14. Bob Hyatt says:

    Yes, i am running office 2003 from the XP workstation i tried it from.

  15. Yes, I’m running Office 2003 on my XP client.


  16. Rob D. says:

    I wish they would ditch SharePoint and build file-access into Exchange. My life would be sooo much easier.

  17. Mohamed Imran Noorgat says:

    Absolutely Amazing!

    Quick question – do file *have* to be retrieved in the same way?


  18. MartinC says:


    tried it with an Office 2003 box and that does now work.

    it doesn’t work on a xp box with office 2000 on it.

    probably requires some shared component, perhaps not office 2003 in its entirety.

    would be nice to know exactly what… its a great feature to give to users.

  19. brad says:

    Simple question(probalby there is a simple answer as well):

    how can we stop users from doing this (on an Exchange or OWA level)?

  20. Exchange says:

    Brad – by setting mailbox quotas according to what you can back up and restore while meeting your SLA.

  21. brad says:

    That is not a way of preventing users from doing this. That is a way to deal with the consequenses of their actions.

  22. Ewing says:

    For those with a problem opening and the returned message – "could not open folder as a web folder. would you like to see its default view instead?"

    You need to use the user portion of the default SMTP address for the mailbox in question.

    Example: Joe Smith has account name of joes and primary SMTP address of joe.smith@domain.com. The address he would use in the open dialogue would be


    Hope this helps.

  23. td says:

    Try opening as a webfolder, but don’t use "non_ipm_subtree", stop after your account name. You then get the root of what shows up in Outlook 2003. Adding a folder and throwing images in there made it so the images showed up in a list in Outlook when I clicked on my new folder which showed up in my Outlook root.

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