The New OWA Rocks Tablets and Phones!


Last week, we shared information about The New Exchange. Today we’re delighted to share some of the exciting new developments in Outlook Web App (OWA).

The primary purpose of OWA is to give Exchange users access to their mailboxes from anywhere through the same Outlook UI and functionality they already know and love. In this release, OWA has evolved to reach not only laptop or desktop computers, but also tablets and phones. As we did with desktop browsers, we’ll continue investing in wider and richer support for tablet and phone platforms in the future. You can try our latest release by signing up for the Office 365 Customer Preview Small Business Premium or Enterprise plans.

Figure 1
Figure 1: The new OWA on desktop, tablet and phone screens

Desktops, tablets and phones have different UI requirements. To ensure people get a consistent experience across all their devices and to make it possible for us to continue evolving the UI for all device types in parallel, we built one OWA application which knows how to scale the UI to different screen sizes and across touch, mouse and keyboard input:

  • For screens found on laptops or larger devices, OWA projects a UI optimized for mouse and keyboard input. We refer to this mode as Desktop.
  • For tablet size screens, OWA projects a UI optimized for touch input. We refer to this as touch-wide
  • For phone size screens, OWA projects a narrower UI for touch. This is touch-narrow.

The application logic running underneath the UI, representing >90% of the application code, is shared between the three UI modes. Because the modes are very similar in function and look-and-feel, users don’t need to relearn how to manage email or calendaring as they switch between different devices. Because the application logic is the same for the three modes, administrators can rest assured that the policies they put in place for this application applies on any device where it is used. And just as importantly, through OWA users get access to many Exchange features also on phone and tablet sized touch-screens. Much of that OWA functionality is now available in native phone and tablet email clients. For instance you can read and compose IRM-protected email, see shared calendars as overlays, scroll through all your email without a cut-off date or count in the list views, see all properties about a person from the corporate address list, ignore email conversations, and last but not least: get server-side search and calendar reliability.

Windows 8 style UI

OWA has a new design language that gives it a fresh, modern look that aligns to Windows 8, Windows Phone and the rest of the Office 2013 products. It’s a clean, light, and open approach that enables people to focus more on the communication content, with less distraction. The simplified visual language and interaction models elevate people and content in the experience, and aims to strike a balance between form and function.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Photos of people and attachment thumbnails

To help users avoid context switching, we also added email inline compose in the main window. Users can pop out certain compose forms, or change a setting to have all compose forms pop out automatically. Inline compose without losing view of the email list view you’re working your way through is a good time saver for most users.

Although we have spent a lot of time ensuring the default colors of OWA will feel great, different people have differing tastes, so the OWA capability of selecting a different theme has been enhanced with more themes that affect more aspects of the UI for a more delightful experience.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Some of the themes users can choose from in OWA

Offline support

In addition to the new User Interface, we made an additional major architectural change in OWA: offline support. You can now launch OWA in the browser and start working even if there is no network connectivity. The work you do while disconnected is automatically synchronized the next time connectivity is restored. This allows your users to be productive using OWA even when they have no network connectivity. It also makes OWA faster and a better experience from remote locations with slow or intermittently connected networks.

Our goal for OWA offline is to support the most common user actions, as far as HTML5 offline capabilities allows. This does not take us to the complete offline support of Outlook on the Windows or Mac desktop, but it matches or exceeds the offline capabilities offered by most Exchange ActiveSync phone clients. Most email triage and calendar management actions work in OWA while offline. You can send email and calendar invites, delete email, get reminders, decline meetings, flag and categorize messages, etc. If you access a folder often, its contents will automatically be made available offline. An example of something not yet possible with OWA offline, or HTML5 offline in general, is full-text indexed search. Over time as the offline capabilities of browsers mature, so will OWA’s offline capabilities. Users must enable OWA offline functionality on each computer where they want to be able to use OWA without network connectivity. Administrators have the ability to control which users can use OWA offline.

You can enjoy OWA offline in IE10+ (using HTML5’s IndexedDB for storage), Chrome 17+ (with WebSQL) or Safari 5 (also using WebSQL).

Outlook Apps

Past extensibility models for OWA have all relied on installing 3rd party code on Exchange servers. That model doesn’t work well for customers who rely on Microsoft to run Exchange servers for them through Office 365 and even on premises this model often meets with resistance from Exchange administrators who don’t want to risk the stability and security of their servers. As part of the new Office cloud app model, the new Exchange includes a platform for what we call “Outlook Apps”. These are web apps which a 3rd party can host somewhere on the Internet, and which Exchange end users and administrators can easily and safely integrate into the Outlook experience. The apps can show up in email and calendaring forms and are either always present, or more commonly, activate for a given email or calendar item when there is something special about that email or calendar item. For example, the Bing Maps Outlook App activates when there are one or more addresses present in the email or calendar item body text. Another example is the Groupon by PowerInbox Outlook App which shows up only for emails sent from Groupon. LinkedIn’s Outlook App activates on all email, showing information from the LinkedIn social network about the people on the email thread.

You can go see what Outlook Apps are currently available for use with the Office Customer Preview in the Office Store. Administrators have a lot of control over what Outlook Apps they allow their users to use, or promote to their user populations. Outlook Apps work in Outlook 2013 for the Windows desktop and in the new Outlook Web App on desktop, tablets and phones. The exact same Outlook App code runs in both Outlook and OWA, so developers can quickly and easily target users of the two clients with the same extension.

Figure 4
Figure 4: The LinkedIn app for Outlook activated in OWA, showing information about all the people included in an email conversation

In addition to enabling developers to extend Outlook without putting code on Exchange servers, this new extensibility model also overcomes the challenge of Office plug-ins that worked with only one version of Office. We overcome that challenge by offering very simple version and platform-agnostic JavaScript APIs for the applications to use for all integration with the Outlook/OWA UI, avoiding scenarios where developers, on purpose or by accident, might hook into any version-specific aspects of the Outlook experience.

New in Email

Managing and sending email in OWA is more efficient than it has ever been. Inline compose, mentioned above, allows users to quickly compose and send messages without popping out a window. Inline compose also comes with an improvement in draft management. It’s now easier to see in the inbox which conversations have unsent drafts, helping you remember to finish and send that email you started working on yesterday before leaving work. Once you’re composing an email, the Forgotten Attachment Detector notices if you just composed an email which looks like it probably intended to include an attachment. When you press send without having added an attachment, it warns you that you might have forgotten to add one.

Figure 5
Figure 5: Improved draft indicators

Figure 6
Figure 6: Forgotten Attachment Detector in action

Drag-and-drop of files from the desktop to the compose form helps users of IE10, Safari, Firefox and Chrome easily attach files to emails they’re composing. For email triage, OWA, just like Outlook 2013, includes a quick delete button directly on items in the email list view. The ability to filter email according to whether they’re unread, flagged, or have your name in the to-line has been promoted to the top level of the UI for easier discoverability.


Figure 7: Quick delete buttons inline on items and all/unread/toMe/flagged filters above email list view

More efficient calendaring

Although some OWA users have dense calendars which are best viewed in day or week view, most of our users only have one or a few meetings or appointments entered for each day, making their calendar most suitable for viewing through a monthly or agenda view. To give a great default calendar experience to this majority of users, we have added the new “MOGENDA” calendar view to OWA, combining MOnthly and aGENDA view.

Figure 8
Figure 8: Mogenda calendar view

Meeting scheduling has gotten a significant makeover, making it easier to find times when all attendees can attend. Like Outlook, OWA now supports simple entry of calendar items and to-do’s by typing right on the calendar. Users get quick, glance-able day and item “peeks”.

Figure 9
Figure 9: Calendar item “peek”

All information about people in one place

The new OWA helps you get a clear view of all the information you have about people by linking all data about a given person to get combined views from a corporation’s Global Address List (GAL) and the contact folders in the mailbox. In Office 365, you also get LinkedIn integration. This makes the linking extend to LinkedIn contacts, enhancing the combined views of information about people even more. We aim to extend this linking to other networks in the future.

Figure 10
Figure 10: All information about a person from contacts, Global Address List and LinkedIn in one place

All this information compiled about people is also put to good use as you try to find the right people to communicate with. Search for people spans across all of your people – personal contacts, GAL and connected social networks. Search results are relevance based and contain photos, phone number, location, etc.

Accessibility

As we announced a little while ago, we have been excited about the Accessible Rich Internet Application (ARIA) standard for a while. In the new OWA, we use ARIA to make the OWA Premium desktop UI mode accessible through screenreaders, for high contrast needs, keyboard-only navigation needs, etc. We have focused on ensuring the experience with IE10 and JAWS or Win8 Narrator will be great for people with accessibility needs. Just as for people without accessibility needs, OWA Light is still available for interoperability with accessibility technologies we have not yet verified work great with OWA Premium.

A common challenge for complex web applications and accessibility, even when using ARIA, is how to provide convenient navigation within the application given that the browsers use the top level F6 key for navigation, making it impossible for the web application to also use the convenient F6 top level navigation mechanism. As a solution to this problem OWA and the other Office Web Access Companions are introducing the Ctrl+F6 shortcut for top level navigation within the web application. We hope others in the industry will follow along and make this a de-facto standard as more complex web applications add ARIA support.

Server Architecture

Managing OWA is very similar in Exchange Server 2013 to what it was like in Exchange Server 2010 and Exchange Server 2007, with OWA settings being set on the Internet Information Server (IIS) virtual directories on the Client Access Server (CAS) and in OWA mailbox policies. Internally there has been a big change in architecture for OWA though. OWA rendering logic runs on Mailbox (MBX) servers, whereas in the past this rendering logic ran on the CAS. The Exchange Server 2013 CAS only does user authentication, redirection and proxying. This architecture change results in a significant simplification in how load balancing needs to be deployed for OWA and all the other Exchange protocols. You can find more information on the changes for the CAS role in Exchange 2013 Server Roles.

Monitoring to ensure OWA service continues undisrupted has also changed significantly in Exchange Server 2013. We have made the monitoring and auto-recovery mechanisms we use in Office 365 datacenters also run on premises, giving all Exchange customers the most robust and feature rich monitoring and self-healing system we have ever had for Exchange.

Browser and Operating System support

Just like in the last release of OWA, the new OWA comes in two flavors:

  • OWA Premium is what serves up the new desktop, tablet and phone optimized UI. You can get to this UI from desktops using Internet Explorer (IE) 8+, and newer versions of Safari, Chrome and Firefox. To get to the tablet and phone OWA UI, we are starting out with support for Windows 8 tablets, and iOS6 on iPad2 and iPhone 4 or newer in our initial release. In the preview releases of OWA, you can use iOS5 since iOS6 isn’t released yet, but this will change since iOS6 includes several bug fixes necessary for the OWA experience to be great.
  • OWA Light, which largely remains the same as with the last release of OWA, is what you get on any browser not supported with OWA Premium or OWA Mini. It uses a very simple HTML4 based UI which works in pretty much any browser in existence. The most significant addition to the list of browsers which get OWA Light with OWA 2013 is IE7.

So what do you think we should do next?

We’re very excited to finally share the new OWA, its updated Windows 8 style UI and added tablet and phone support. We can’t wait to hear your feedback on where to go from here!

Kristian Andaker
on behalf of the OWA team

Outlook.com and the Outlook brand

Earlier today, you have probably seen the announcements around Outlook.com. This is a new consumer email service from Microsoft, offering a free Outlook experience for consumers. The Outlook.com UI will be familiar to users of the other Outlook clients, but is optimized exclusively for consumer use. It is a different web UI than OWA. You may have questions about what “Outlook” means since many different Microsoft products carry that brand.

Outlook is a family of products and services from Microsoft that are designed to help you manage your communications and calendar; all from one place. We think of it as a communications hub that can bring many of your different information sources together in one place. Our set of Outlook branded experiences are designed to help you easily stay in touch with those people you most care about, collaborate with those you need to get things done with, protect you from spam email, stay on top of the information that matters most, and manage your time more effectively.

We use the Outlook brand to refer to an experience which surfaces through several different products. Here’s an overview of the places where you can find an Outlook experience.

  • Outlook on the Windows desktop is what most people think of as “Outlook”. This is the workhorse of email and calendaring for most information workers around the world today.
  • Outlook for Mac is the counterpart of Outlook on Windows and delivers a comparable experience that is optimized for the Mac user experience.
  • Outlook Web App (OWA) is the browser-based companion and look-a-like of Windows desktop Outlook. OWA is used by Office 365 and Live@EDU users, as well as the many users of Exchange Server.
  • Outlook Mobile is the mobile version for Windows Phone.
  • As I mentioned above, today we added Outlook.com. We are excited about the new Outlook.com email service and the consumer targeted web UI it offers. Now you can use “Outlook” for both your personal communications as well as business communications!
Comments (16)
  1. GoodThings2Life says:

    I feel as though the web-based versions are starting to look better than the Outlook 2013 product, which has gone from being fantastic in 2010 to being very flat and dull in 2013. I understand the point of Metro, of course, is to focus on content and less on the UI, but Outlook 2013 is lifeless and all the pale whites and grays just blend together and make it difficult to read anything. I actually uninstalled the entire Office 2013 preview, because I was so frustrated with it. I'm happily back on 2010.

    Anyway, the point is that it seems like the themes and other color emphasis you've added to OWA makes it much cleaner to read, although the screenshots posted don't really do it justice. I'd love to see high-res versions. Just make sure that "clean" doesn't mean "lifeless" and hard to discern content from UI elements.

  2. James Hendergart says:

    Great article! How does the new Outlook Mobile compare to Exchange ActiveSync? What guidance is Microsoft giving customers who are using or planning to use ActiveSync to provide email/calendar access to smart phones and tablets? Is Outlook Mobile intended to replace ActiveSync? Or this is an additional option for customers – for example – those who are 100% Office365 or a smaller company for whom deploying ActiveSync in addition to OWA might be considered too much? Many thanks!

  3. jakob.sjogren@srf.se says:

    I kind of agree with GoodThings2Life..

    All the grey/white in Outlook 2013 meshes together and makes it a bit hard to focus on the important bits.

    Also, on all mobile versions of OWA the theme should be way less white to preserve power.

  4. Karsten says:

    Would be nice, if the single line view would come back. It also would be interesting to see the size of a mail. On your screenshots I can't find it. Is the size of a mail not available?

  5. Nuno Mota says:

    I just tried it on an iPad and mobile phone and it is awesome! But it could allow some more customization like Karsten said. It would be nice to be able to reduce the font size, remove the preview line or see the e-mail size. Just some ideas   :)

    Really nice work!!

  6. paaja says:

    And what about the Android support for OWA? Is it possible to use OWA Premium? Thanks

  7. Andy says:

    Will OWA support the display of multiple mailboxes in a manner similar to Outlook (i.e. not just the inbox, but the complete folder structure)?

  8. Wlodzislaw says:

    Is there a way to add MS Exchange account? I can see only POP3. Also the name Hotmail appears all the time, so it seems like a half-cooked migration.

    Wlodzislaw

  9. Kristian Andaker (MSFT) says:

    GoodThings2Life & Jakobimon: I think you're being a little quick to pull the trigger judging Outlook 2013's whiteness based on the preview relased so far. This is good feedback which will be considered for the final RTM release.

    James: Exchange ActiveSync will continue to be the most frequently used way to access Exchange mailboxes from tablets and phones for now. It has offline sync which is important on unreliable mobile networks, whereas OWA for tablets and phones (for now) is an online only experience. OWA for tablets and phones is a great quick way to access your mailbox from someone else's tablet/phone, and it offers a set of functionality which most EAS clients don't (e.g. seeing lots of information from the Global Address List and other sources about a person; meeting scheduling).

    Karsten: single-line view is not in OWA2013. But thanks for the feedback. We'll consider adding it for future releases.

    Karsten & Nuno: We have prioritized showing data other than email size about messages since we, since E2007, see most customers deploying Exchange with large mailboxes (at the very least 5GB). Managing messages based on size has become much less important to most users today, compared to 5-10 years ago.

    Paaja: Unfortunately we don't offer OWA Premium on Android with Exchange 2013 RTM. But given the market share of that platform, we have it on the investments we are considering for the future.

    Andy: OWA supports display of data from multiple mailboxes today (even with Exchange 2010). This is called "aggregation". It sucks all the data from another mailbox into your primary mailbox, so you can see both when looking at your primary mailbox. OWA also supports userA looking at userB's mailbox directly (this is called "open other mailbox" in the OWA UI), but when doing this, you can't see multiple mailboxes in the same OWA window.

    Wlodzislaw: I think you're commenting on the new outlook.com service here, which is not the same product or UI as Outlook Web App (OWA) which this blog post is about. OWA only works against MS Exchange accounts.

  10. jakob.sjogren@srf.se says:

    Thanks for the reply Kristian, I understand it's a preview so my comment was more meant as feedback/suggestion than criticism :)

  11. clifsound@hotmail.com says:

    All I want to know is will smart/search folders finally work in 2013 OWA? So tired of adjusting Outlook locally only to have search folders in OWA just stop working again. Also, any news if ActiveSync will get any better integration w Android OS? I really dislike TouchDown for Android but it is the only game in town that offers full Exch support on the Android platform. At the very least MS could make their own Exch app and sell it- I would buy it in a second. I miss my BB in that regard tremendously.

    C

  12. Tr says:

    Hi , how do I get the tablet view mode on my surface ie10 , it is currently viewing on desktop view …?

  13. ankur@kothari.me says:

    @tr usercardtemplate – add ?layout=twide to the end of the URL. In addition, tnarrow is the mobile optimized view.

  14. Tr says:

    @Ankur , thank you so much it worked. however, the behavior is inconsistant on IE10 and takes a while to load..

    also , is there away to make it offline?

  15. Harry Hersbach says:

    The Windows 8 Outlook will not connect to our Exchange 2010 Server, we do not have certificate.

    But what is the reason that Ipad’s Iphones and Adroids all do work ?

    https://mail.hhtools.nl

  16. ankur@kothari.me says:

    @Tr – Not sure I can address the consistency thing over this medium, but perhaps you can help me understand the scenarios?  No for offline – it is only in full OWA.

Comments are closed.