Microsoft Outlook Web Access Light 2007


Hello. My name is Nathan Breskin-Auer. Some of you may already know me as the father of the kid that does the wicked Mr. Roboto number in “that accessibility video”, but – in fact – I am also the Product Designer and PM for Microsoft Exchange 2007 Outlook Web Access Light. OWA Light is the solution for all browsers and operating systems other than IE6 or IE7 on Windows. So for all of you Firefox users, like myself, all of you Mac users, like my wife (hi honey!), and everyone else using something other than IE6+, here’s a little preview of the improvements that we’ve made to “The Product Formerly Known as OWA Basic.”

The first thing you’ll notice in Microsoft Exchange 2007 OWA Light is the completely redesigned user interface.

We wanted to create an experience that felt open and inviting; an interface that would get out of the way and let you accomplish your tasks as efficiently as possible, while maintaining the richness of features that OWA Premium offers. We had a lot of challenges to address in such a design, including how to be the most accessible web-mail client possible for blind and low vision users, how to be quick for high latency connections, and how to keep as much feature parity with OWA Premium as possible in a flat, frameless UI with (almost) no pop-up windows. But, hey, what’s life without challenges, right?

Differences between OWA Light & Premium

First things first, I know there has been a lot of discussion wondering about the differences between OWA Light and Premium, so here are some things that you do get with Light, and some of the things you don’t.  Neither list is exhaustive, but both have a decent amount of information for either why to use OWA Light, or what it is that a user would be missing from Premium.

What you get in OWA Light:

– Faster logon times for slow connections

– Works across a diverse set of OS/Browser combinations, including the following (these are the combinations that we support and test against; other combinations may work, but are not actively supported):

Operating Systems: Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Window ME, Windows 98, Mac OS X, and Linux

Browsers: Firefox, Safari, Opera, Netscape, IE7, IE6, IE5.5, IE5.01 and IE5.2 on Mac

– Redesigned from the ground up to offer the best accessibility possible for blind (screen reader) and low-vision (high contrast settings) users.

– Works in locked down browser modes, such as kiosks and those with strict pop-up blocking policies.

– New, redesigned UI, for a cleaner look, and easier use.

The big things that you get in Premium that are not in Light (in no particular order and not exhaustive):

– Tasks module

– Only the text of the task items can be read through OWA Light; task specific properties will not necessarily be available.

– Search for mail items; For Beta2, OWA Light users only get search in Contacts and Address Book. We will have mail search for RTM.

– Reminders

– HTML composing of messages; compose in Plain Text only; Users still get HTML formatting for reading

– Flags and Categories

– Weekly view in Calendar; Light is daily view only

– Free/Busy grid in Appointment/Meeting Scheduling Assistant.  You do still get “Suggested Times”, which is much more pronounced in OWA Light, to help users, including blind and low-vision users, to schedule times that work well for everyone.

– Print

– Spell Check; There is a small mitigation here in that some browsers, like Firefox 2, have spellcheckers built in.

– Conversation View

– Account Quota information

Navigation

Some of the new improvements in the OWA Light for 2007 include the collapsible navigation area, the dropdown tree for viewing all folders, and the most often used folder list.

The navigation area can now be collapsed in the same manner that it can be in Premium, providing more space for the user’s folders.

The traditional tree control, missing in 2003 OWA Basic, has been compacted into a hierarchical drop down for OWA Light. This allows us to pack a large feature in to a small space in the UI, and – in the case of very large trees – only incur the performance hit when requested by the user. Hierarchy is related using a dots (.) and indentations, a layout that users of Outlook’s conversation view will already be familiar with.

The most often used folder list is a dynamic list of the folders that takes into account both the amount of activity a specific folder receives as well has how recent that activity was. This list resides beneath the “Click to view all folders” link, and can be seen in both sets of images above.

The list that is generated then responds to the real world usage of the user, such that a folder which may be critical during a specific business transaction or milestone, will naturally drop off the list once that transaction or milestone has passed and usage of that folder declines.

Mail

Message forms – both Read and Compose – for OWA Light, are displayed in a flat, in-frame experience, while maintaining many of the navigation and action metaphors that Outlook and OWA users are already familiar with.

Like Premium OWA, the message read form displays the content as formatted by the sender, including inline attachments.

Replying in OWA Light is still, necessarily, in plaintext. Inline images will be bubbled up to the attachment well on replies and forwards to keep the context of the message intact. Subsequent replies – those once the attachments have already been moved to the attachment well – will drop the attachments, as per normal replying behavior in Outlook and OWA Premium.

For the message compose form, we’ve replaced the secondary navigation for the module with a Most Recent Recipient list. The list is built using the auto-complete cache that Premium uses when resolving a name as you type it into the recipient well.

When a name entered into the recipient well can’t be recognized, OWA Light will present the user with the possible options for the user to select the intended recipient or, if so desired, to remove the entry completely, using the [remove] link next to the name.

Address Book

The Address Book is where a user can find people, groups & resources from various company/organization specific address lists. There are multiple entry points to the address book in OWA Basic, the primary path being the ‘Find Someone’ search field in the Options bar and the Address Book icon in the Options bar.

A user can also access the address book from any of the recipient well buttons on the various compose forms, which will display the address book with recipient wells so that the user can add members of the address book to their mail or calendar item.

The user simply selects the name using the checkboxes and moves them to the appropriate recipient wells, as they would in Outlook.

A cool new feature found on the details page for address book entries is Organization section, which displays the reporting hierarchy of the person being viewed.

Contacts

The Contacts module is where a user manages their personal contacts and Personal Distribution Lists (PDL*). It functions much like the address book, though here the user is able to create and edit information about the contacts.

As that OWA Light is constrained in the number of lines that can be displayed in the main view, and can only show one number at a time, the user can set a default number when creating or editing the contact, ensuring that the phone number the user is most likely to be looking for is the one that is presented first.

The compose form is displayed by either creating a new Contact, or by clicking on Edit Contact on the details page.

* Note that PDLs cannot be created or edited from within OWA Light, only viewed and used if they are created outside of OWA Light

Calendar

The Calendar module is where the user can view their appointments, navigate the days, weeks, and months, and create appointments and meeting requests.

A user can only view a single day at a time in OWA Light. The scheduling area displays in one (1) hour increments, with half-hour markers. We’ve worked hard to ensure that the basic layout of the scheduling area is the same as that found in Premium, including coloring the background of the scheduling area to reflect the Free/Busy information (such as Tentative, Out of Office, or Busy) for the dominant event of the day. Category coloring is not available in OWA Light at this time.

New for OWA Light in Exchange 2007 is the Scheduling Assistant which is available when creating or editing an appointment or meeting request. The big difference for Light vs. Premium is the lack of a Free/Busy grid. Instead, Light displays a detailed breakdown of suggested times and rooms, including quality of suggested time (Great, Good, Fair, Poor), and a detailed listing of who is/is not available at the suggested time.

Folder Management

OWA Light folder management has been simplified for Exchange 2007. Utilizing the same hierarchical dropdown used in place of the folder tree when browsing all folders, creation, renaming, moving , deleting folders has never been easier (unless, of course, you’re using Premium’s oh-so-hot inline folder creation… but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.)

Options

The Options page allows the user to set their preferences for behavior of OWA Basic.

All options, with one exception, for OWA Basic are shared with Premium. The one exception is ‘Number of items to display per page’, found on the messaging tab, which is independent of OWA Premium to allow users in a low-bandwidth scenario to request fewer e-mails per page, helping keep their load times as fast as possible so that they can get to the data they need.

The subset of options that OWA Light has are:

– Regional Settings

         – Language

         – Date and Time Formats  

– Messaging

– Message Options

         – Number of items to display per page: Basic Only

         – E-Mail Signature

         – Message Tracking Options

         – E-Mail Name Resolution

         – Deleted Items  

– Junk E-mail

– Calendar

         – Calendar Options

         – Calendar Work Week 

– Out of Office Assistant

– Change Password 

– Accessibility

– Mobile Devices

– About

Accessibility

In OWA Light, we have ensured that we have a strong story in place for the majority of screen readers for blind users, as well both user and system scalable fonts and layout for low vision users.

As part of this work, we’ve not only improved on the existing work done in OWA 2003, we’ve also added new features, including area labels for screen reader navigation and header tags to subjects on mail and calendar items to make them easier for blind users to navigate to.

For more information, check out the Exchange 2007 OWA Light Accessibility Improvements video.

Why doesn’t Premium work on Firefox?

Before I wrap up, I’d like to address the question we often receive about why OWA Premium doesn’t work in non IE browsers. The following is heavily plagiarized from others who have answered this question as well (thanks Kristian!), and if after reading this you are still unclear as to why Premium doesn’t work on Firefox, please feel free to post your questions here and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Shockingly, the decision to make OWA Premium only work on IE6+ has nothing to do with forcing people to use other Microsoft products (sorry to have to dispel the conspiracy, and just when Oliver Stone and Kevin Costner were starting pre-production on “OWA: The Movie “). The decision was made, simply enough, due to costs, time, and customer need.

The browser support we have for OWA Premium and OWA Light is due to usage share among our customers, and the development and test investment it takes to support additional browsers/versions. This doesn’t mean the browser statistics for “browsers hitting OWA”, which would be skewed based on our previous browser support. We look at the browser statistics for “browsers used on the Internet” and “browsers used within our customer organizations”, as well as listening to what customers are asking for, since statistics, surveys, site logs, and research firms never tell the full story. The browser matrix of OWA is about where we allocate our investments, and the need of additional browser support as compared to the need for all the other OWA features our customers want. We have limited resources, limited time, and a very large set of potential features. 

It’s pretty cheap for us to add support for additional browsers to OWA Light, since we don’t have many advanced AJAX behaviors in it. But OWA2007 Premium is among the most advanced AJAX applications on the planet and there are literally hundreds of small browser specific tweaks and modifications we would need to figure out to make it work flawlessly in Firefox. 

The cost of making OWA Premium work in Firefox is going down continuously because IE and Firefox are getting more in sync. If the collective Exchange customer benefit, across all our customer categories, of OWA Premium Firefox support outweighs the development and testing investment it would take for us to add that support, we would add Firefox support for OWA Premium. That’s the same framework we use to evaluate other potential OWA features. For example, we made the same tradeoff when we decided not to support OWA 2007 Premium in IE5.5.

With the posting of this blog today I hope that you’ll find that Firefox (and Safari and Opera and Netscape and…) users will have a pretty nice email and calendaring experience with OWA2007 despite OWA Premium being restricted to IE6+.

From all of us on the OWA Light team:

Nathan Breskin-Auer

Comments (33)
  1. Danni says:

    Very nice.

    I was at a 3 day long campus event in denmark, where MS introduced Exch2007 amoung other things. I thought about asking about support for other browsers, but never came to it – So this looks very impressing.

    Good job, You girls&guys.

  2. doughlaundry says:

    Display of inline images is a boon… given that our current Entourage 2004 users don’t get that (lots of white boxes with red crosses), because of proxy issues.

  3. Steven says:

    My company is a heavy user of OWA light and we’ve been in the RDP for awhile and one of the biggest things that people complain about is that there is no longer a month view in the calendar.  Is this going to be fixed in RTM?

  4. Nathan Breskin-Auer says:

    I’m glad to hear you’re using Light, Steven!  :)

    Unfortunately, month view will not be shipping in either Light or Premium for E2007.  This was one of many of the hard cuts we had to make for this release, and is on our radar for future releases.

    -n

  5. Steven says:

    however in premium there is a week view…how about that?  Future release?

  6. Nathan Breskin-Auer says:

    Yup; future release :)

  7. Andy Frost says:

    Please do not underestimate the importance of Premium Firefox support. I represent an enterprise which will likely be swayed towards a competing product, should our browser of choice continue to be treated second-class by Exchange.

  8. Daniel Olinger says:

    Andy, for some reason I doubt the word ‘enterprise’ is what you represent.  People slam IE all the time and it is not a horrible browser, 5.5, 6.0 or 7.0. If you use Group Policy and other freely available products effectively, your IE implementaion would be solid. No need to switch to a browser that simply isnt ready for enterprise use, because it has no central management. The structure of Firefox is meant to be used on an individual computer and have a profiles transfered if need be. Sure, redirect folders, that works too.

    My point is, I am an avid Firefox user, it gets 98% of my time while browsing, the extensions I install are invaluable to me and I can not live without it. To say you deploy an unmanageable product like this across your network kind of scares me. If you haven’t heard, Firefox is just as hole-riddled as IE. For an ‘enterprises’ security, I would rather use Internet Explorer and I think most admins would be too.

    As for the topic, I would love support for Firefox, because it is my default browser. I think, in time, OWA Premium will support Firefox.

  9. Andy Frost says:

    I am aware that group policy can be used to increase security. Our major concern is the fact that we use multiple operating systems across our desktops, and Internet Explorer is only available for Windows.

  10. Michael Morton says:

    So let me get this strait… Microsoft didn’t have enough resources available in order to make OWA Premium cross browser compliant yet they had enough resources available to create a new team and to design, develop, *and* test a new "version" of OWA that was cross browser compliant?

  11. Nathan Breskin-Auer says:

    That’s essentially correct, Michael, though as explained in the post above, “It’s pretty cheap for us to add support for additional browsers to OWA Light, since we don’t have many advanced AJAX behaviors in it. But OWA2007 Premium is among the most advanced AJAX applications on the planet and there are literally hundreds of small browser specific tweaks and modifications we would need to figure out to make it work flawlessly in Firefox.”

    This is not situation where we could have simply reallocated the OWA Light resources and make Premium work on Firefox and Safari.  We needed to invest in OWA Light for *all* multi-browser/OS support, including older and unsupported browsers like IE on the Mac and older versions of Windows, which can’t support rich AJAX behaviors, to ensure that everybody had access to the rich features available in Exchange 2007; features like the Scheduling Assistant, Ambiguous Name Resolution, and Search.  We also needed to invest in OWA Light to create the best possible experience for our blind and low-vision users, for whom much of the AJAX code in our Premium client would be rendered poorly, or not at all.  As such, Firefox and other browser support was both critical for us, and relatively cheap for us, to include in the overall client matrix for OWA Light, but prohibitively expensive in the other features that we would need to cut to add it to OWA Premium for this release.

    Personally speaking, my wife only uses a Mac, I’m an avid user of Firefox, and many of our team members our multi-platform users both in and out of the office.  As such our team has a passion to make the best experience that we can for *all* of our users, with the resources and time available to us.  :)

  12. Twet says:

    Crap, you want to force us to stay on Windows, no need to invent excuses for it. Google can, so why couldnt poor money strained Microsoft.

  13. enki says:

    Ok, take it from point of customer. You are selling windows only solution, there is no good client for Exchange then Outlook (sorry Evolution team, your work sucks).

    But there will be allways companies which are not 100% at windows. These companies don’t wont to buy solution for 80 percent of employees, they want groupware solution which works fine with all platforms. Think first.

  14. Advantage says:

    I have a little question…..

    Are there any capabilities for you to be able to view team calendars (individuals calendars collated together, possibly through AD groups?), through either outlook or OWA with exchange 2007?

    Thanks

    Victoria

  15. Nathan Breskin-Auer says:

    Great to see all of the activity continuing on this discussion!

    Twet:  Actually, while Google’s consumer mail solution does have a decent matrix for the premium client, they also have a “Basic” version for down-level browsers.  Also, their client is strictly an ad-based, hosted solution without an enterprise offering, so
    comparing them to an enterprise mail solution like OWA, which is fully administratively controllable, is kind of apples to oranges.

    enki:  If you read my posting above, as well as the last section of the blog, you will see that our release decisions were based almost solely on customer data and need; this is the primary thing that we think about as we plan our product releases – we wouldn’t
    sell many copies of Exchange if we didn’t think about the customer’s needs first.  ;)    That said, we are not selling a windows only solution; I’ve personally spent every day of the past two years trying to make the best possible solution for non-windows
    users, for low-bandwidth users, and for blind and low-vision users.  Trying to accomplish all of that in a single client has been a very exciting and rewarding experience, and I think that the OWA Light team has done an amazing job delivering a quality solution
    for the Exchange 2007 release.

    Victoria:  Outlook 2007 + Exchange 2007 will allow you do this.  :)

    You can go here for a screenshot:
    http://www.microsoft.com/library/media/1033/office/images/preview/programs/outlook/65533_800x597_calendar.jpg

    And  here to read more details:
    http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/programs/outlook/overview.mspx#E5C

  16. kevn says:

    This is the first UI I have seen from Microsoft in a long time that I actually like. Any chance of making Vista look like this?? please.

    I’m really- its so clean and neat, and best of all its not that damn light blue color! Come on, really, who like that blue color scheme in Office 2007?? (my guess is that only Bill likes it, and he likes it so much that no one is allowed to say that sucks more than anything has ever sucked before)

  17. Exchange says:

    Kevn,

    BTW – you can change the color scheme in Office 2007; example – press the Office Button (top left corner)  when in Word and then go to Word Options. On the “Popular” tab you can change the theme color, 3 choices ship in Office 2007 B2 tech refresh build…

  18. Viv says:

    Good information. I was wondering what Microsoft Light Mail is? Is it the same as this or something new?

  19. Sean.Roberts says:

    Great work in developing a best of breed solution for multi-platform messaging.  I have not dug very deep, but can the components of OWA light be used as SOA building blocks?  This would allow Exchange be integrated with other SOA products and then using higher level business languages.  Custom ERP and CRM with Exchange as the messaging and calendaring core comes to mind.  Thanks.

  20. Nathan Breskin-Auer says:

    Kevin:  Thank you for the compliment!  :)

    Viv:  I believe you’re speaking of Microsoft Live Mail (http://mail.live.com), which does have a "Light" version for down-level browsers.  This is a separate product from OWA.

    Sean:  Microsoft Exchange 2007 includes Web Parts, which work in down-level browsers as well, and could potentially be used for your scenario.  I’m not a Web Parts expert, but you can find information about them in the product description for Exchange on the Microsoft site, and there will likely be a blog posting on them soon (if there isn’t already :)

  21. squirrel says:

    Will OWA ever have the capabilities of opening PST files?

  22. Chris says:

    Excellent work. From an admin at a college of 1500+ firefox users, we appreciate the work!!

  23. Nathan Breskin-Auer says:

    Sean:  I don’t know if you noticed, but there is now a web parts blog posted here:

    http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2006/10/26/429362.aspx

    Squirrel:  OWA 2007 will not have PST support; as for future versions, I really don’t know what the plans are around this area.

    Chris:  Thanks so much!

  24. KellyK says:

    We’re already using this bad boy in production, and the only think I miss from the full (fat and bloated) OWA is the availability stuff. We’re using it explicitly to deal with external users across a thin VPN solution and it works perfectly. I do have one question – can you modify the OWA install so that only the "light" version is running, or do you have to put up both and force the user to choose. We’d rather not let users choose – they tend to make bad choices…

  25. Nathan Breskin-Auer says:

    Kelly:  First I need to thank all of my more-technical cohorts for their answers to this…   :)

    As it turns out, the answer is yes, you can restrict OWA to offering only OWA Light for a specific Virtual Directory (vdir) or for a specific user.

    To set the restriction on the Virtual Directory for all users, you make the following call in PowerShell:

    Set-owavirtualdirectory –id:<id of virtual directory> -PremiumClientEnabled:$false

    To set it for a particular user, you could call:

    Set-CasMailbox –id:<id of mailbox> -OWAPremiumClientEnabled:$false

    It is worth noting that even if this bit is set, the user will still see both the "Premium" and "Light" logon options. However, they will always get the Light experience, regardless of which option was chosen.  The reason for this is because per-user segmentation over-rides the per-vdir segmentation, and when we render the logon page we don’t know who the user is yet.

    Glad to hear you’re using OWA Light!  Is the “availability stuff” that you’re referring to the Free/Busy Grid on the Scheduling Tab?

  26. Brian says:

    What is the status of accessing public folders via OWA?

    We have a LOT of customers that use this feature.

  27. mike says:

    I don’t see any mention of mail rules anywhere, too much to hope for?

  28. Nathan Breskin-Auer says:

    Brian & Mike:  Both Public Folders and Rules are being considered for a future release.  While these are known issues, and are taken very seriously by the OWA team, we cannot make any commitment to features, ship vehicles (Premium only vs. Premium & Light) or ship dates at this time (though we are *very* aware of both of these specific feature requests).

    Sorry for the “legalese” answer…  :)

  29. pete says:

    I am an Exchange admin at a university and it saddens me that the Exchange team is releasing a crippled, yes crippled, version of OWA in Exchange 2007.  The things that are missing such as rules, recover deleted items, Public Folders and Personal Distribution Lists among others are used regularly by my student user population.  The absence of these features will delay our Exchange 2007 deployment until at least SP1 when the features are said to come back.  If they don’t we’ll be forced to leave Exchange for another email system.

  30. Anonymous says:

    This is allways a big question with non IE browser support for OWA. Things have improved significantly

  31. Tu Vu says:

    We are K-12 schools and we have about 500 Apple computers and 1000 PC. The OWA light will give our Mac users trouble because the missing of Public Folders. I never thought the new version missing this feature. It will prevent many people from migrate to Exchange 2007.

  32. forced to love macs says:

    I am very excited to see MS putting resources behind the Light Client idea.  I have about 1000 users who are 70% Mac and our Exchange team constantly has to apologize for the various quirks and frustrations of Entourage/IMAP.  If Premium supported Firefox, we would have a mass adoption of OWA, my support tickets would drop by 70%, and MS would win the hearts and minds of 700 hardcore Mac fans.  I really REALLY want this to happen!

Comments are closed.