No smartphone, no problem. Meet SP2’s OMA.

Sorry, every time I read OWA Mini I think "Mini Me."If you’ve been working with Exchange for several years, you might remember a little thing from Exchange 2003 called Outlook Mobile Access. This HTML only version of browser-based access to your Exchange mailbox was developed at a time when smart phones were mostly a dream, but web browser capable phones, Palm Pilots, and Windows CE devices ruled the portable space. In a world where bell bottoms are once again popular, it should come as little surprise that OMA is back, this time courtesy of Service Pack 2 for Exchange 2010.

The Exchange Team at Microsoft decided to bring back the mini version of Outlook Web Access because apparently there is still a large demand for mobile access to Exchange email in parts of the world where web capable, but not fully “smart” phones, are still in use. These devices have less horsepower, fewer features, and only a basic HTML web browser, but cost less and require less bandwidth as well, making them perfect for area with less infrastructure, and very popular amongst prepaid plan customers.

What is OMA?

Outlook Mobile Access (OMA), or more accurately in Exchange 2010 Outlook Web Access Mini (OWA Mini), is built on a series of forms and requires only HTML and cookie support in the mobile browser. To provide maximum compatibility, it is based on HTML 2.0.

What do you get in OWA Mini?

OWA Mini includes the following features:

  • Mailbox access, including all subfolders
  • Calendar access
  • Contact list access
  • Task list access
  • GAL access
  • Meeting request processing
  • Timezone
  • OOF

How do users access it?

There is no client detection for OWA Mini. In fact, it is just a vdir called \OMA under the \OWA virtual directory. Unless you provide users a better way to get there, they will have to enter the full URL https://mail.example.com/owa/oma, which is pretty lame, so do your users a favour and create a mobile friendly URL that will redirect them to the OWA Mini path. Try http://m.example.com and have that do a 301 or use a refresh tag to direct mobile users to the full HTTPS path.

Other things to know

OWA Mini uses basic authentication only, so you must support that in your IIS instance. If you are publishing OWA Mini through TMG, you won’t be able to use FBA. There is no authentication cookie or Javascript involved, so there is no logoff button in OWA Mini. It does use the “Public” timeout for sessions, so yes, users can go right back into their mailbox after closing their browser without authenticating again if they are quick enough. You can also enable or disable OWA Mini using the Exchange Management Shell. Use the Set-OWAVirtualDirectory cmdlet with the –OWAMiniEnabled Boolean parameter to turn it completely on or off, or use the Set-OWAMailboxPolicy cmdlet with the –OWAMiniEnabled Boolean to turn it on or off on a per user/group basis with policies.

OWA Mini may have limited use for a company that has Windows Mobile, Droids, Blackberries, and iPhones, but if your users are global, or just prefer less expensive web phones, OWA Mini is a great way to provide them access to their email while on the go.

Written by Casper Manes

I currently work as a Senior Messaging Consultant for one of the premier consulting firms in the world, I cut my teeth on Exchange 5.0, and have worked with every version of Microsoft’s awesome email package since then, as well as MHS, Sendmail, and MailEnable systems. I've written dozens of articles on behalf of my past employers, their partners, and others, and I finally decided to embrace blogging and social media, so please follow me on Twitter @caspermanes if you enjoy my posts.

3 Comments

  1. Mark Weber · January 2, 2012

    This is definitely a niche application, but any way you can still provide full, reliable email access to users no matter of their level or style of equipment. It’s nice to see Microsoft supporting these more legacy solutions still with the radical changes made to the mobile technology front.

  2. Lilly1983 · January 3, 2012

    I’m not a big fan of smartphones, although I own one of the first iPhones in the US a few years back. I love its computer-like features but I dreaded the most its poor battery life. Since then, I bought a simple Nokia handset with less features than my iPhone – and I never go back.

    When I’m away, I always bring my laptop or tablet with me so that I can still check my email accounts and calendars. But with this current update, I think it will be easier for me to check my emails just by using my “dumbphone”. I’m just not sure how secure it is or how stable its connection will be.

  3. Casper Manes · January 4, 2012

    Hi Lilly,
    It’s just as stable, and as secure, as OWA is; one could argue it is more so since no data can be saved on the phone at all!
    I still miss my Samsung flip phone. Small as a pack of post-it notes, battery lasted for days, and phone calls actually sounded good!
    Oh well, progress.
    Thanks for dropping by,
    Cas

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