Microsoft Outlook Web Access 2003 Web-based Administration


When Outlook Web Access (OWA) was first introduced it was more like a kind of ‘backup’ client, to be used perhaps in situations where the user’s main Outlook installation wasn’t available, or maybe when travelling on business. The latest incarnation, OWA 2003, makes full use of client-side scripting to provide a client that can rival desktop Outlook, and some organizations are beginning to use it exclusively for their Exchange mail access. When it comes to administering the features of the interface, however, things haven’t been so straightforward. Themes support (from the OWA Options page) allowed quick and easy changes to the overall visual appearance, but anything beyond that generally required manipulation of the registry. Direct manipulation of the registry is not, it has to be said, something that should be done as part of the normal day-to-day duties of the Exchange administrator, since a simple mistake can cause a lot of damage, so a more user-friendly approach would surely be a most useful product enhancement.

Happily for us, in May 2004 Microsoft released the Exchange 2003 Outlook Web Administration tool, which provides a Web-based user interface allowing the administrator to change those features of OWA 2003 behaviour that had hitherto required the use of the less-friendly regedit utility.


Since the administration tool is Web-based, it doesn’t actually have to be installed on the machine from which you are going to use it. The main requirements are a server or a workstation that is part of the domain to be administered, that has Internet Information Server (IIS), the .Net framework version 1.1 and ASP.Net installed. It also requires an SSL certificate, but if this is not present at install time, the setup package will create a certificate for you. If you rely on the automatically created certificate, however, you need to be aware that it will expire after three years.

The setup package for the utility is (at the time of writing; June 2004) located here:

Once installed, the setup package creates a Virtual Directory called OWAAdmin on the IIS server, so you access it by navigating to https://servername/OWAAdmin. The client browser must (according to the readme document) be Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1 , or higher.


When you first access the utility you see the main screen shown below (in figure 1). It is clear from the appearance of the interface that a lot of thought has been given to its aesthetic qualities (unlike the usual ‘purely functional’ approach to such things).

Fig. 1:
The OWA 2003 Web-based administration interface

Clicking on any of the main menu hyperlinks will reveal a further page containing more configurable items.  Here is a list of the parameters that are available to the administrator:


            Address book

                        Maximum Find Names Result List

            Attachment handling

                        Disable Attachments
                        Accepted Attachment Front-end Servers
                        Level 1 File Types
                        Level 1 MIME Types
                        Level 2 File Types
                        Level 2 MIME Types
                        Enable Freedocs

            Automatic signatures

                        Maximum Signature Length

            Character handling

                        Use Regional Character Set
                        Disable NCR Conversion
                        Use GB18030
                        Use ISO-8859-15

            Client notifications

                        New Mail Notification Interval
                        Reminder Polling Interval

            Forms-based authentication

                        (Settings effective after server restart)
                        Public Client Timeout
                        Private Client Timeout
                        Allow SSL Offloading

            Junk E-mail

                        Maximum Jun E-mail Contact Addresses
                        Maximum Blocked Junk E-mail Senders
                        Maximum Junk E-mail Safe Recipients
                        Maximum Junk E-mail Safe Senders
                        Advanced Junk E-mail Support

            Public folders

                        Resolve Foreign Users
                        Maximum Public Folder Attachment Size
                        Maximum Public Folder Reply or Forward Size


                        User Context Timeout
                        Enable Change Password
                        Enable Basic Authentication to Back-End Server
                        Enable Logoff Warning

            Spell check

                        (Settings effective after server restart)
                        Maximum Spell Check Document Size
                        Maximum Spell Check Errors Per Item
                        Maximum Simultaneous Spell Check Requests
                        Maximum Unique Errors
                        Disable Spell Check on Send
                        Update Spell Check Language List


                        Check CRL on Send
                        Distribution List Expansion Timeout
                        Use Secondary Proxies when Finding Certificates
                        CRL Connection Timeout
                        CRL Retrieval Timeout
                        Disable CRL Check
                        Always Sign
                        Always Encrypt
                        Clear Sign
                        Include Certificate Chain Without Root Cert
                        Include Certificate Chain and Root
                        Encrypt Temporary Buffers
                        Signed E-mail Certificate Inclusion
                        BCC Encrypted E-mail Forking
                        Include S/MIME Capabilities In Message
                        Copy Recipient Headers
                        Only use Smart Card
                        Triple Wrap Encrypted Mail
                        S/MIME Encryption Algorithms
                        S/MIME Signing Algorithm
                        Use Key Identifier


                        Minutes In A Day
                        Minutes In A Week

            User Privacy

                        Content Filtering Options
                        Filtering Mode

            View Settings

                        Maximum View Rows


            Apply a default theme to this server

                        Force a Default Theme For Your Users

            Server-wide feature support

                        Public Folders
                        New mail pop-up
                        Premium Client
                        Spell Check
                        Search Folders
                        Auto Signature
                        Junk E-mail filtering

Here, in figure 2, is an example of one of the other screens that can be reached via these hyperlinks.  In this case it is the ‘Server-wide feature support’ menu item.

Fig. 2:
The ‘Server-wide feature support’ options

Most of the settings under the main page heading ‘Administration’ are likely to be used only for troubleshooting email issues, and I would suggest that it is better to leave most of them alone until you really need to change something. The ones under the heading ‘Customization’, however, are more interesting, since they provide an easy way of setting the default OWA Theme, and selectively hiding certain folders and messaging features from the end user.

Here (figure 3) is a screen capture if the ‘Apply a default theme’ page. You can choose from the list of available themes, and your selection is even previewed so that you can see what it will look like in use.

Fig. 3:
The ‘Apply a default theme’ option

Both the ‘Features’ page settings (an OWA feature known as Segmentation), and the Default Theme settings have previously required manual manipulation of the registry.

So, in conclusion, if you need to make changes to your OWA interface, then this new utility is the way to go. The list of configurable options covered by the utility may not yet seem comprehensive, but it covers all of the currently known OWA 2003 registry ‘tweaks’. I feel sure that many more will appear in future releases of the tool.

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