Drilldown of the new OWA Direct File Access Feature in Exchange Server 2007: Part 2 (Client-side)

If you would like to read the first part of this article series please go to Drilldown of the new OWA Direct File Access Feature in Exchange Server 2007: Part 1 (Server-side).


In part 1 of this 2 part article series covering the new OWA direct file access feature, I took you through the available configuration settings on the server-side. In this article I’ll show you how the feature works seen from an end-user perspective.

This article will only show you how to access documents located on a Windows file share, as a SharePoint server isn’t deployed in the respective test lab. But the methods used for accessing a file on either a Windows file share or a SharePoint Services server are basically the same, only the path type is different.

Using the Direct File Access Feature

Alright we’ve been through enough boring configuration settings now, so I bet most of you are eager to see the OWA direct file access feature in action, so let’s get going by logging on to a mailbox using OWA 2007. Remember you need to use the Premium client in order for the feature to work. Also bear in mind that, unless you changed the default configuration settings, you need to select This is a private computer on the forms-based Authentication (FBA) page shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: OWA 2007 Forms-based Authentication Page

When we have logged on to OWA 2007, we need to click the Documents button in the left pane (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Clicking the Documents button in the left pane

This brings us to the page shown in Figure 3, which is where the fun begins.

Figure 3: OWA 2007 Direct File Access page

As you can see, I haven’t accessed any Windows file shares or Windows SharePoint Services server using this account, or at least I didn’t add them to Favorites in the left pane.

Any SharePoint Folders added in the Outlook 2007 client will also be visible and accessible via the OWA direct file access page.

Let’s try opening a file share on an internal Windows file server in the organization. We do this by clicking Open Location in the left pane, where after we specify the UNC path to the share (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Now let’s click open. As you can see all folders within the specified Windows file share is listed in the right pane (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Accessing a Windows File Share on an internal server

If you’re using OWA on the internal network or if the FQDN of the Windows file share server (not likely) or Windows SharePoint Services server is published on the Internet, you also have the option of opening the folder list in Windows Explorer by clicking Open in Windows Explorer in the toolbar. Right under the Open in Windows Explorer link, you can click Add to Favorites; so that the particular folder you’re currently located in is added to the Favorites list in the left pane (see Figure 6). If you’re the right-clicking kind of guy, you can also right-click a folder to bring up a context menu, from where you can select Add to Favorites.

Figure 6: Adding file shares to the Favorites list

Another neat feature is the breadcrumb navigation to the right of the Add to Favorites button, a feature that makes it easy to get back to, for example the top level folder, if you for example are located several levels down in the folder hierarchy.

Let’s take a look at the folder context menu I mentioned before. Let’s for instance right-click on the folder called MSExchange.org. This brings up the context menu shown in Figure 7 below. As you can see we have four options here, Open which will simply open the folder in the right pane, Open in New Window which (you guessed right) will open the folder in a new browser window. We then have an option called Copy Shortcut, this option will copy the folder UNC to the clipboard. Right-clicking MSExchange.org and selecting Copy Shortcut would copy an UNC called file://ehvms07/fileshare/MSExchange.org to the clipboard. We already covered the Add to Favorites option, so I won’t talk more about that one.

Figure 7: Folder context menu

Ok now let’s try to navigate to a folder containing a file, in this case a Word file. As you can see in Figure 8 the file context menu is slightly different from the folder context menu. Selecting Open would open the file in the associated application, in this example Microsoft Office Word.

Figure 8: Right-clicking on a file

But what if you’re accessing your mailbox from, for example, an Internet kiosk? Well it doesn’t really matter, because then you simply select Open as Web page instead as I did with a word document in Figure 9 below. In the top of the browser window you can see the full name of the respective file as well as how big it is. You also have the option of opening or saving the particular file by either left clicking (will open file in the respective application, if installed locally on the machine from which you logged on to OWA) or right-clicking (saves the file to disk) the file.

Figure 9: Opening a file in a web page

It’s the new OWA 2007 WebReady Document Viewing feature which makes us capable of opening almost any type of file in a browser window, instead of the associated application. As some of you may know the WebReady Document Viewing feature also can be used to open message attachments in ordinary email messages.

The third option in the file context menu back in Figure 8 is Send By Email, which will attach the selected file as an attachment in a new Email message (see Figure 10).

Figure 10: Sending a file from a remote file share as an attachment

The last option in the context menu which is Copy Shortcut is similar to the one in the folder context menu. It will provide a UNC like the following:


The new direct file access feature is an extremely welcome addition to OWA, and makes the best web mail client in the world even better. I don’t think I’m the only one who has attended a conference or simply been on the move, and suddenly had the need to access a document or some other file type located on an internal non-exposed SharePoint site or UNC file share on your corporate network, without having the option of establishing a VPN connection. With the new direct file access feature this is no longer an issue, since you can access documents as well as many other file types directly from within an OWA session. Not only that, it’s also possible to open these documents in a browser window, should you be using, for example, an Internet kiosk without the required applications (such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF reader etc.) installed. You can even send one of the files via the direct file access feature as an attachment in an email message, without downloading the file to your local machine!

In addition it’s worth noting that even though the direct file access feature only supports read access to files stored on either a Windows File Share server or a Windows SharePoint Services server, you always have the option of downloading the document to your local machine for further editing.

When speaking the configuration settings on the server-side, it’s great to be able to control what type of files your users should be allowed access to, as well as being able to configure the feature per virtual directory/per user.

If you would like to read the first part of this article series please go to Drilldown of the new OWA Direct File Access Feature in Exchange Server 2007: Part 1 (Server-side).

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