The OWA Plus Pack 2000 from Messageware is an enticing software add-on that offers users extended functionality to the standard Outlook Web Access client available on Exchange 2000. (Messageware also offers Plus Pack 5.5 for Exchange 5.5 installations.) With the release of Exchange 2000 (and OWA 2000 with it), it's becoming increasingly common for some companies to have employees—especially remote workers—use OWA exclusively. Whether used exclusively or not, OWA has become an invaluable Web mail application for many organizations.
We're going to take a look at some of the extra features available in the OWA Plus Pack 2000 that can make OWA even better. We’ll then examine the installation of OWA Plus Pack 2000 and look at licensing and pricing.
OWA Plus Pack 2000 features
Here are what I consider the most significant improvements available to OWA when you add the Plus Pack 2000:
- · Spell-checking: Much as with Word, this feature makes sure spelling is correct and suggests corrections when it’s not. It also deals with repetition and capitalization.
- · Thesaurus: This allows the user to see a list of synonyms of a selected word when composing a new message.
- · Outlook-style addressing (address books): This makes seamless use of the personal and public contacts and the global address list (GAL) in OWA 2000. Users can select from a drop-down list of contact folders (including the GAL) when addressing messages.
- · Personal distribution lists (PDLs): Many users like to create groups of their own distribution lists. This onerous task can now be accomplished from OWA with only a few mouse clicks. Plus, corporate clients can make use of their existing PDLs created in the full Outlook client.
- · Compressible attachments: This feature allows compression of any file attachments to a WinZip-compatible format. This helps to save time and conserve bandwidth. The OWA Plus Pack also allows administrators to create and enforce a policy during setup that bans the attachment of certain file types. A nice touch is that administrators can also choose to ban the compression and attachment of these banned file types, thereby maintaining the policy.
- · Signatures: Users can now create "rich" signatures that are appended to outgoing e-mails.
- · New mail notification: OWA will regularly poll the server to check for new message arrivals. Users have the options to enable this feature.
- · Multiple language support: This enables users to see the Plus Pack features in their national language. Currently, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German are supported.
- · Password override: This feature lets administrators manage the difficulties introduced by the Change Password button by optionally hiding the button or providing a custom message dialog to the user.
- · Folder properties: This feature displays summary information for a folder, such as the number of read and unread messages.
- · Default Outlook Bar view: As in the full client version, users can now select shortcuts and/or folders as the default view in the OWA interface.
- · Support for mailto links: When a user clicks a standard mailto link on a Web page, the browser typically passes the command to whichever mail application is selected in the Internet Options | Programs configuration on that system. The result is a new message box opening on-screen. This functionality is now available in OWA Plus Pack as well, and you can enable it by making a change on the client machine, like this.The other way to do this is to apply a .REG file.The .REG registry file needs to be customized to provide the correct server name or URL to access Outlook Web Access. Here is an example. After adding the mail handler with the .REG file, users will be able to select Outlook Web Access from the drop-down list in the E-Mail section of the Internet Options | Programs tab. After changing the default mail handler to Outlook Web Access, users clicking on mailto links on Web pages should see an Outlook Web Access new message window with the mailto information filled out.
OWA Plus Pack is only 3 MB. The package requires Exchange 2000 and, in a standard environment, you can install it directly onto the server. In a topology where Exchange mailbox services are provided via front-end processors and back-end processors (FEP/BEP), you must install OWA Plus Pack on every FEP that is designated as a provider of OWA services.
You can install OWA Plus Pack directly at the server or remotely via Terminal Services. In a cluster, install the package on passive machines first so there is the least disruption possible when services are stopped and restarted. Before beginning the installation, stop IIS. The package itself runs within the EXCHSRVR\EXCHWEB file structure. Appropriate administrative permissions are necessary to perform the install.
It's advisable to know which options will be selected for download to the clients when they first connect. Depending on these options, clients may or may not need to download components. For instance, the Spell Checker is downloaded through CAB files. Other features that necessitate a download are the Thesaurus and attachment compression.
The initial downloading of Plus Pack features is the only time network bandwidth will be significantly increased, so take the time of day into account with respect to the installation. During the installation, it's possible to specify how clients obtain the Plus Pack features. The options are No Download (users initiate download from Outlook bar) and Automatic Download (with or without prompts to users). The install process also presents various options for the use of address books and distribution lists.
When applying service packs and/or hot fixes to Exchange server, you need to first verify whether the Plus Pack can coexist with Exchange server or whether Plus Pack updates are required. In any case, if an Exchange service pack needs to be applied to a system, you must first uninstall Plus Pack and then reinstall the features once the service pack has been applied. Failure to do so may result in system instability and/or loss of functionality.
Licensing and pricing
Licensing for OWA Plus Pack 2000 is charged according to the number of mailboxes it services. Support is mandatory for the first year and accounts for 20 percent of the cost. The basic prices (in U.S. dollars) if bought direct are as follows:
- · 1-25 mailboxes: $594
- · 26-50 mailboxes: $834
- · 51-75 mailboxes: $1,074
- · 100-500 mailboxes: $1,074, plus $200 for every increment of 50 mailboxes over 75 and a 20 percent support charge
- · 750 mailboxes: $3,395 + 20 percent support
- · 1,000 mailboxes: $4,090 + 20 percent support
If you want to try OWA Plus Pack, you can download the 30-day trial version.