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, a .PRF file, which is generated through the Office Customization Tool (OCT), can be used for most situations.
However, with Exchange Online, the .PRF file is not supported to create or modify an Exchange Online account. This is because the .PRF file requires an Exchange server name to be hard coded. This is normally fine with an on-premises environment, but in Exchange Online, the server name contains a variable GUID that can change from time to time and from user to user.
While you can still use a PRF in your on-premises environments, 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?
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) or with which to create a profile (a simple name).
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 way that things have evolved, Autodiscover is the mechanism used for gathering configuration data for your connection to Exchange.
Implementing ZCE is easy. It can be added (through a login script) to the user's registry or as a GPO 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:
For Outlook 2007:
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.
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 is requiring a new profile in an automated fashion, such as a change to a different server. Either way, the user is not required to enter, or even know, configuration details.
Initial Outlook Deployment
An initial Outlook deployment would be where Outlook is installed on the user’s machine for the very first time. This means that there are no Outlook Profiles already on the machine. ZCE can be configured through the OCT.
In this case, Outlook starts and the Outlook profile is automatically created during Outlook's first-run process. In a perfect case, there will be no prompts. However, there may be a prompt for a username and password, depending on your Exchange Online configuration. Again, the user will not need to know, or enter, any configuration details.
Creating a New profile with Profiles already in existence
This scenario can be a little tricky and will require another registry key to be created or pushed out to the user. Education and communication are key to this scenario because the user will need to answer some prompts, but again, without the need to provide any configuration information.
We must have the user set to prompt for a profile to be used. They registry value to push out is:
String Value: PickLogonProfile
If we do not have this registry setting set, Outlook will use the current default profile and the ZCE process will be bypassed.
With the registry setting in place, Outlook will prompt the user for a profile to be used:
The user will need to click on the "New" button, name the profile and then, once the profile name appears in the "Profile Name:" box, click "OK" (see below):
Again, in a perfect case, there will be no more 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.