ZeroConfigExchange – Automating the Creation of an Outlook Profile for Exchange Online Accounts and Exchange On-Premises Environments

Often we are asked if we can automate the creation or modification of new Outlook profiles, en-masse, for Exchange accounts... without user interaction. Typically, an Outlook profile (.prf) file, which is generated through the Office Customization Tool (OCT), can be used for most situations.

However, there are two scenarios under which the use of .PRF files are not supported:

  • Exchange Online accounts - this is because the .PRF file requires an Exchange server name to be hard coded. This is normally acceptable for on-premises environments, but for Exchange Online accounts, the server name contains a variable GUID that can change from time to time and from user to user.
  • Outlook 2016 - changes to how Exchange Autodiscover information is stored in parallel with an Outlook profile prevents the use of .PRF files to configure Exchange accounts in Outlook 2016

While you can still use a PRF for your on-premises environments and Outlook 2013 or earlier versions, it is recommended that you use Autodiscover, which is supported for creating Outlook profiles in both on-premises and Exchange Online environments.

So, how can we automate the Outlook profile creation?

ZeroConfigExchange (ZCE)

Enter ZeroConfigExchange (ZCE). ZCE can be used to create new profiles for users with minimal user interaction. That is, the user does not have to enter any configuration data... only data that every user should already know (account name and/or password).

ZCE is a registry setting that tells Outlook to create a new profile using the SMTP address from Active Directory and to then leverage Autodiscover. It's important to note that there are no supported tools for modifying an Exchange Online account.

Again, ZCE is used as a way to automatically configure an Outlook profile for one or many users with Exchange Online or Exchange on-premises accounts.

However, the underlying mechanism used to gather configuration data for your connection to Exchange is Autodiscover.

Implementing ZCE

Implementing ZCE is easy. It can be added (through a login script) to the user's registry or as a group policy setting for all users. Here's how:

1.  In the Windows Registry, navigate to the appropriate subkey for each version of Outlook that is in use:

For Outlook 2016:

As a policy:

For Outlook 2013:

As a policy:

For Outlook 2010:

As a policy:

2. Once the key is created, right-click in the right pane and click New, click DWORD Value and type in “ZeroConfigExchange” (without the quotes) and then press ENTER.

3. Finally, right-click ZeroConfigExchange, click Modify and then in the Value data box, type 1, and then click OK.

Note If you choose to deploy the setting using a Group Policy Object (GPO), see Managing Group Policy ADMX Files Step-by-Step Guide on the Microsoft TechNet Web site. For more information about how to use group policy, see the FAQ: Group Policy on the Microsoft TechNet Web site. The Office 2016 Administrative Template files (ADMX/ADML) are available from the Download Center.

ZCE User Experience

ZCE can be used in a couple of scenarios, with each behaving differently. It can be used in an initial Outlook Deployment for automatic profile creation, or when Outlook profiles already exist and a change requires a new profile to be created, such as a change to the target server. In either case, the user is not required to enter --or even know-- configuration details.

Initial Outlook Deployment

An initial Outlook deployment occurs when Microsoft Office or Microsoft Outlook is installed on the user’s workstation for the very first time. This means that no Outlook Profiles currently exist on the PC. As part of the deployment, ZCE could be configured via the Office Customization Tool (OCT).

In this case, Outlook starts and the Outlook profile is automatically created during Outlook's first-run process. In a perfect case, there are no prompts. However, there may be a prompt for a username and password, depending on the Exchange Online configuration. Again, the user will not need to know nor need to enter any configuration details.

When Outlook Profiles Already Exist

This scenario requires an additional registry subkey and registry value to be created or pushed out to the user.

First, change the DefaultProfile value to a profile name that does not exist (read, unique) and that matches your desired naming convention, for example MichaelR-ZCE1. The DefaultProfile registry value is located under the following registry subkey:

Outlook 2016 - HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Outlook

Outlook 2013 - HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Outlook

Outlook 2010 - HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows Messaging Subsystem\Profiles

Second, add a key under the same subkey above with a name that matches the new default profile name. This forces Outlook to create the new profile and the ZeroConfigExchange process to populate it with profile data.

If these registry settings are not set or created, Outlook uses the current default profile and bypass ZCE.

Again, in a perfect case, there are no prompts. However, there may be a prompt for a username and password, depending on your Exchange Online configuration.

That's it for ZCE. Create new profiles with minimal user interaction. Plain and simple.


Special thanks to Gerald Cozier for testing and providing details on the last scenario!

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