Exchange Server 2007 Out of Office (OOF)


The Out of Office (OOF) feature is commonly used by end-users to let other people know when they are not available to respond to e-mail.  Exchange 2007 Out of Office capabilities such as scheduled OOF, different external and internal OOF messages and the ability to control what kind of OOF to send on a per-domain basis improves the experience for both end-users and for administrators.

For End-Users

In Exchange Server 2007, some of the new Out of Office Assistant features are:

  • The ability to schedule OOF messages in advance.  If users are planning time away from the office, they can set their OOF to begin at a future date and time and do not have to worry about forgetting to turn on OOF right before leaving. 
  • Separate internal and external OOF messages.  This way, private information can be shared with co-workers without sending that information out to external senders. 
  • External OOF messages can be sent only to a user’s external contacts.  Some users want to send their Out of Office messages only to a limited set of external contacts, but not anyone who might email them – for privacy reasons. 

OOF messages can now be set as HTML instead of plain-text.

OWA and Outlook 2007 users who are hosted on Exchange 2007 mailboxes will see these new capabilities.  Outlook 2007 users who are on Exchange 2003 (or earlier) servers will have the same features as they have with Outlook 2003. 

This screen shots show the OOF configuration options available to end-users in Outlook Web Access (please click on the thumbnail to see the full size screenshot):

For Administrators and Exchange organizations

In Exchange 2007, Administrators can choose to control external OOF capabilities at a per-domain and per-user level. 

Some organizations do not enable external OOF messages today, because they do not believe they are “safe”.  Some users put personal information in their OOF message that should not be leaked externally, and some companies have expressed concern about OOF messages as a mechanism for spammers to validate users’ email addresses.  In Exchange 2007, we believe we’ve addressed these organizational concerns.

For other customers, they would like to enable some of their users for external OOF messages (such as the ones working directly with customers), but not all of them.

Per User Settings

Exchange 2007 lets administrators control per-user external OOF messages using the Monad command “Set-Mailbox” with the “ExternalOOFOptions” parameter:

MSH>Set-Mailbox -id <mailbox identity> -ExternalOOFOptions [InternalOnly,External]

By default, per-user external OOF option is set to allow external OOF.  By setting this to “InternalOnly” for a given mailbox, instead of “External”, that mailbox will not be able to send OOF messages outside the company, using any client, regardless of what the user selects.

Per-Domain Settings

Administrators can also control which (if any) OOF messages go to which external domains.  These per-domain settings are set via the Monad command  “Set-remoteDomain” using the parameter “AllowedOOFType”:

MSH>Set-remoteDomain -Identity <domain identity> -AllowedOOFType [None,InternalLegacy,Internal,External(Default)]

The AllowedOOFType values are as follows:

  • None:  This blocks all OOF messages to the target domain.
  • InternalLegacy: This allows either Exchange 2007 internal OOF or OOF set by Outlook 2003 or earlier clients to be sent to the target domain but blocks Exchange 2007 external messages from being sent to the target domain.  You would use this setting with a close partner company who you wanted to receive your internal OOF messages.  You would also use this setting in a cross-forest environment where one company had multiple Exchange deployments.
  • ExternalLegacy: This setting allows either Exchange 2007 external OOF or OOF set by Outlook 2003 or earlier clients to be sent to the target domain.  If you already allow OOF messages to flow outside your company, you probably want to use this setting, so that existing Outlook 2003 users do not see any change in behavior.
  • External (the default):  This setting allows only Exchange 2007 external OOF messages to be sent to the target domain but blocks internal OOF messages or OOF messages set using Exchange 2003.  If you currently block OOF messages to other domains, you probably want to use this setting in order to keep the same behavior for Outlook 2003 users but allow Exchange 2007 external OOF messages out for those who specifically choose them.

You can choose the wildcard ‘*’ for the target domain if you wish your per-domain OOF settings to apply to all external domains that don’t otherwise have a specific setting for them.

The following screen shot shows the per-domain OOF configuration settings in Exchange Management Console (please click the thumbnail to see a big version):

In addition, in Exchange 2007 OOF responses are more secure because of the following two checks:

  • OOF messages will not be sent out in response to server-detected Junk E-mail.  If Exchange 2007 detects a message as Junk or if the message sender is in the user’s block list, no OOF response is sent. 
  • OOF messages are not sent as responses to Internet mailing lists.  Exchange 2007 does not send OOF responses for incoming messages with the Precedence:bulk header set.  However, if this header is missing, it is possible that OOF responses may be sent out because there is no reliable way of determining that the message was sent to a mailing list.  OOF messages are also not sent as responses for incoming messages with the X-Auto-Response-Suppress:OOF header.

PS. If you ever wondered what “OOF” stands for – go read this post.

– Ashish Consul

Comments (20)
  1. Jules says:

    This is great news. Thanks for the thorough, well-written post.

  2. Petri says:

    What about centralized OOF message ? In case when user is sick and is not able to set OOF for own mailbox. These cases helpdesk should do it without opening user mailbox.

    End users might not know what is different between internal/external. So could you have three options: No OOF, OOF, Separate OOFs.

  3. Exchange says:

    Hi Petri,

    You need access to a a user mailbox to be able to set OOF.  OOF is per-user and in Exchange 2007, we do not have a way to let ‘helpdesk’ set OOF on behalf of a user.

    To answer your 2nd part of the question:

    We do have options you are mentioning. An end-user controls whether to send OOF or not (please refer to the UI in OWA/Outlook).  

    Internal OOF is sent by default when the end-user turns on OOF.  External OOF is optional for the end-user.

    So, a user can be in one of the following 4 states:

    (1) No OOF

    (2) Send OOF responses to messages received from Internal users only

    (3) Send OOF responses to messages received from internal users and external users that are part of the user’s known contacts

    (4) Send OOF responses to messages received from internal users and all external users

  4. Petri says:

    So we still need use our own OOF for Helpdesk tool.

    I though more about options:

    [ ] No OOF

    [ ] Set OOF (like these days + plain/HTML)

    [ ] Cusomized OOF (separate messages for internal/external)

  5. Ed says:

    Will Outlook 2007 allow individual users to configure whether Out of Office goes only to internal or internal and external correspondents?

  6. Exchange says:

    Ed – the answer is yes… the Outlook 2007 UI allows for those things.

  7. Dean says:

    Some great new features there people.

    in regard to "centalised OOF"

    @ Petri, if you give helpdesk sufficent rights to the mailbox then helpdesk could go in via OWA and set status.

    @Exchange – what would be good is to be able to delegate OOF access in the same way you can delegate folder access, rehter than the need to give more rights then need be?

    It would be good to see such functionality in terms of an telephonist/helpdesk being able to change status, esp with the integration you are doing with phone systems. This assumes the OOF is setup/configured by the user,but not activated.

    This is a basic "presence state"

    If you (MS) are wanting to get into integration with phone systems then centalised status management is a key feature of current solutions.  

    Would you see it more likely that a third party phone system integrated with exchange would provide such functionality/ability rather than MS?

    i.e. the third party app has full access rights to the mailbox and controls what is accessed in the mailbox (i.e. the ability to change/config OOF only)?

  8. Juancho says:

    Thanks for this post!  I’d like to suggest that future OOF development include the ability to resend an OOF or stagger the delivery of the OOF to senders.  This way, after a week has passed and the recipient is still away, the OOF can be resent and the sender is gently reminded of such.  Without that, senders often forget that an OOF has already been sent.

  9. Gregski says:

    Will the new OOF feature work in a mixed mode Exchange environment, for example where your front end servers are 2007 but your mailbox servers are still 2003?

  10. Exchange says:

    Gregski,

    No, if your front-end servers are Exchange 2007 but the mailbox servers are still Exchange 2003, the new OOF features will not work.  For the new OOF features to work, you need all roles – CAS, Mailbox and Edge to be Exchange 2007 because the new OOF functionality is distributed across all these roles.  In addition, ofcourse, you need the Outlook 2007 client or OWA 2007.

  11. 3rdparty says:

    Two tips answering requests above:

    Symprex Out-of-Office Extender is a Windows service that resets the OOF sender list on all mailboxes (or a selected group of mailboxes) every midnight for example. This ensures that a sender will get a reply the first time on any day that he/she sends an e-mail to someone who is out of the office (and still avoids mail loops).

    http://www.symprex.com/products/oox

    Somebody also asked how to let a helpdesk manage out-of-office replies for other users. Symprex Out-of-Office Manager lets you do that. The great thing is that the product uses a small service (which must run in the context of a user with receive as rights on mailbox stores) to read/update settings. This means that the actual user does not need any special permissions to read/update OOF for other users.

    http://www.symprex.com/products/oom

    These products are as far as I know currently being updated for Exchange 2007.

  12. Dagon says:

    I agress with Petri, that not having a native way to administratively manage Out of Office messages is a miss.  I was hoping that Exchange 2007 would help here.  Seems like moving this data field from the mailbox to the AD record would be a quick and easy way to provide this flexibility.

  13. johnny.pettersson@valtech.se says:

    Is there a way to change the Subject "OOF" to something elsa?

    We are using it for sometimes for "job@vvvvv.se"

  14. Exchange says:

    Johnny,

    I checked with Ashish and here is what he said:

    No, it is not possible to change the "OOF" prefix to something else.  OOF is a system generated message and changing the “OOF” prefix to something else would effect all users on the system – not just job@vvvvv.se

  15. Binu says:

    Hi,

    just wanted to know something from you guys.

    Out of office message is usally send only once to a particular sender, and any subsequent email from the same sender will not get an out of office message, is there a way to disable this, or where is it that outlook stores the names of all the senders that it has send out of office messages in ?, the list which it check to see if OOF needs to be send or not ?.

    Please let me know if any one has answers to this in personal email

    My email is jgbrin@yahoo.com

    Best Regards

    Binu

  16. Exchange says:

    Binu,

    The OOF functionality, as described, is by design.  This design has been around since before Exchange 2007.  The OOF history is maintained in the store and we do not have a way to disable this functionality.   We want to avoid sending OOF responses to every message sent from the same user to avoid a OOF-flood.

  17. Anonymous says:

     Outlook 2007 is the latest version of the e-mail client for accessing an Exchange mailbox. To make…

  18. Anonymous says:

    To take full advantage of the new features in Out-of-Office auto-replies, you should use either Outlook…

  19. Mat Sutton says:

    Hi

    We have just completed our migration from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2007.

    We are now stuck without a central Out of Office Administration Tool (for when people call in sick to say they won’t be in the office and the Helpdesk set the Out of OFfice on their behalf) as we are not permitted to allow Helpdesk to see all Mailboxes.  I’ve also been emailing Symprexabout an updated version of their tool but no release date is forthcoming.

    Is there anything Microsoft can do to provide a tool to centrally administer each individuals’ Out of Office.

    Further, a nightly or weekly reset of the Out of Office (i.e. toggled off and back on again) so senders will at leastr get an Out of Office once per day would be advantageous given the three week holiday scenario and someone forgets they had an Out of ofice two and a half weeks ago.

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