Software

Users on the go? Download Microsoft's free Outlook Mobile Manager

Keeping up with today's mobile workforce can be a real challenge for a small IT department. Jim Boyce covers one alternative that can keep your users connected to their Outlook data via wireless devices with a minimal investment of time and money.


Microsoft’s Outlook Mobile Manager (OMM) is a free Outlook add-on that gives users with Exchange Server mailboxes the ability to send messages to their wireless devices, with or without Mobile Information Server (MIS). OMM is a good alternative to MIS in situations where you don’t have the technical resources on hand to install and manage MIS. Because OMM can interface with MIS, it’s also a nice add-on to MIS that gives users greater control over notifications. In this Daily Drill Down, I’ll take you on a tour of OMM with an eye on how it might satisfy some of your users’ growing hunger for wireless access (or just your own need to feed).

Outlook Mobile Manager in a nutshell
OMM supports Outlook 97 or later but requires Outlook 2000 or later to implement some of its features. As I mentioned, OMM doesn’t require MIS; it can work on its own to provide notifications (e-mail messages, tasks, and reminders) to wireless devices for any user with an Exchange Server mailbox. When used without MIS, OMM relies on SMTP to send notifications to wireless devices. The wireless carrier's SMTP server(s) and other back-end infrastructure transfers the messages to the user's wireless device, which then processes these notifications.

MIS supports both SMTP and Short Message Service (SMS), enabling it to support SMS-capable devices in addition to those that support SMTP. This means that when you use OMM in conjunction with MIS, you can support a wider array of devices and provide better integration between your carrier(s) and your own messaging infrastructure.

OMM offers several handy features that give the user a lot of control over the types of messages that get forwarded to their wireless devices: when they get sent and what they look like when they get there. OMM can also learn from the users’ actions in Outlook to tailor the way it handles notifications to wireless devices. It supports four profiles and gives the user the ability to work from any one of the four at a time, as needed. For example, the user can change his or her status from at work to at home and have OMM handle messages differently. I’ll cover these and other features in detail shortly. First, let’s go over the OMM installation.

Installing and configuring Outlook Mobile Manager
Before you download and install OMM, make sure your system is ready for it. You’ll need Windows 98 Second Edition, Me, NT with SP3 or later, Windows 2000, or Windows XP. Microsoft recommends a 166-MHz processor, 32 MB of RAM, and 10 MB of free disk space. You’ll also need Outlook 97 or later and a Microsoft Exchange Server mailbox. If your enterprise includes one or more MIS servers, you’ll need the name of the MIS server that will handle your wireless notifications. If you connect directly to a carrier that has MIS installed, you’ll need to know the wireless provider’s name.

First, download Outlook Mobile Manager from Microsoft’s Web site. Execute the downloaded file to start the Windows Installer and install the software. As with most Windows applications, you only need to specify the installation folder and a few other options to complete the installation. OMM then launches and runs the Mobile Manager Connection Wizard, which takes you through the steps to set up your wireless connection and other settings.

In the first step of the wizard, you’ll select the Outlook profile to use with OMM, which determines which mailbox OMM uses. You can then choose one of three connection options: connect to a wireless provider that has MIS installed, use an MIS server in your own organization, or work without MIS. If you choose the first option, the wizard will display a list of available carriers. If you choose the second option, you’ll provide the user name, MIS server name, and the mobile device number (which might be a number or an SMTP address). If you choose the last option, the wizard will connect to the Exchange server and prompt you for the SMTP address of your wireless device. The address takes the form of an e-mail address, such as jim@wireless.boyce.ws. If you don’t have an SMTP-capable device yet but still want to check out OMM’s features, just enter a valid e-mail address outside of your Exchange server. You’ll be able to receive messages to that address and see how OMM handles wireless notifications.

The last step in the wizard attempts to send a test message to the wireless device. If you’ve chosen the option to connect to a local MIS server and get an HTTP authentication error, you need to tweak the settings for the MMISNotify virtual directory on your MIS server. Open the IIS console on the MIS server, expand the Default Web Site, right-click the MMISNotify virtual directory, and choose Properties. Click Directory Security and click Edit in the IP Address And Domain Name Restrictions Group. Either give all computers access or grant access to the client IP or its subnet. You should then be able to connect to the server and send the test notification.

If you need to change your wireless options, such as changing from no MIS server to a local MIS server or changing your wireless device, run the wizard again. Double-click the OMM icon in the tray to open the OMM interface. In the left pane, expand My Device and choose Connector. Click Change Settings in the right pane. OMM will exit, and when you start it again from the Start menu, it will run the configuration wizard and enable you to change the connection and other settings.

Managing your wireless options
After the initial configuration, you can begin setting options in OMM to control the way it generates notifications to the wireless device. OMM displays an icon on the tray when it’s running; just double-click the icon to open the OMM window. The left pane contains links to OMM configuration pages, which appear in the right pane. The left pane also displays Help information.

Selecting Overview in the left pane shows the current online/offline status, the active OMM profile, and the number of pieces used since the last reset to deliver messages. This last item identifies the number of actual notifications sent to your wireless device since the last time you reset the counter. This is important information if your carrier meters the number of messages you receive and charges you for messages in excess of your basic plan. If you’re generating too many notifications, you can change the rules to reduce the number of notifications or change IntelliShrink settings (covered a bit later) to reduce the number of characters per message.

You can also use the Overview page to send a daily summary to your users’ devices. By default, the summary includes your appointments for the day, but you can customize the summary to also include tasks and the time the summary is sent. The Overview page is also where you can reset your message counter.

Configuring profiles
OMM has four profiles you can use to control the way OMM handles notifications: Work, Home, Out Of Office, and Do Not Disturb. Each profile offers the same settings, but with four profiles, a user can maintain four different configurations and easily switch between them. For example, while at home, a user might want to have only high-priority messages delivered to the wireless device, but have medium-priority messages delivered when the user’s at work.

Use the My Profiles page in OMM to configure profiles. Each profile contains three groups of settings: E-mail Delivery, E-mail Priority, and Reminders. E-mail Delivery lets you enable/disable notifications altogether and specify whether OMM delivers notifications based on message priority (which you set through E-mail Priority). You can also configure OMM to hold messages for a specified time before sending them to the wireless device, or hold them until a minimum number of messages have accumulated. This helps to avoid receiving a new message every few minutes and can help a user better manage his or her time and messages. You can also configure OMM to send messages to the wireless device only after the PC has been idle for a specified amount of time (indicating that a user is away from the desk).

The E-Mail Priority page lets you specify the lowest-priority message type that a user wants sent to the wireless device. For example, the user might want to forward only high-priority messages. OMM learns message priority from users’ ongoing selections, building the rule conditions as users respond to messages. Use the Reminders page to enable/disable the forwarding of reminders to the device and the frequency at which reminders are sent.

As you configure profiles, keep in mind that only one profile is active (or locked, in OMM parlance) at a time. So configure each profile to suit the different ways in which a user wants to receive notifications, and then employ OMM to lock the desired profile. Right-click the OMM icon on the tray, choose Lock Profile, and select the profile the user wants OMM to use.

Set a notification schedule
OMM can also switch to a different profile automatically. For example, if a user leaves work at 5:00 P.M. every day, you could set up OMM to switch to the user’s Home profile at that time. Use the My Schedule/Profile Schedule OMM configuration page to set the time period for the Work profile. When that time lapses, OMM will automatically switch to the Home profile unless the user has locked a different profile (such as Out Of Office).

The My Schedule/Daily Summaries page defines settings that enable/disable the daily summary and determine when the summaries are sent. By default, OMM generates a summary for Monday through Friday and excludes the weekend. Users can also specify that they want the summary sent the day before rather than the day of the summary (in other words, to summarize tomorrow’s schedule). Summaries are always sent using the Work profile.

Define rules for generating notifications
OMM supports several rules that control how and when notifications are sent. For example, OMM can generate notifications when a high-importance message arrives, if a user is the only recipient for the message, or when the e-mail is from a particular sender.

OMM also learns about a user’s notification habits to determine whether to send a particular message. It adds a Ranking column to the Inbox, two new icons to the toolbar, and a Mobile Manager menu. The user simply clicks on a message and selects Mark Message As Urgent or Mark Message As Non-Urgent. OMM forwards urgent messages but not others. Also, when the user deletes an unmarked message, OMM pops up a confirmation dialog box that lets the user specify the message’s urgency rating. Or, the user can simply delete it without marking it.

A user won’t be able to teach OMM about his or her preferences in just a couple of minutes. Microsoft suggests users process at least 600 messages before they turn off learning and let OMM work without interference. That probably means a week or so at least, but at the end of the process OMM should be able to do a reasonably good job of weeding through messages.

As a user marks messages, they’ll pile up in OMM’s learning queue. OMM typically waits until the computer has been idle for about 15 minutes before it processes the queued messages to learn from them. If a lot of messages are queued, the user can click Learn Now on the My E-mail/Learning Options page to flush the queue immediately. This page also displays the messages sitting in the learning queue and the cumulative total of learned messages in both the Urgent and Non-Urgent categories. When users get tired of having OMM prompt them each time they delete a message (and they will, trust me), they can clear the Warn Me option on this page to stop OMM from prompting about unmarked messages at each deletion.

It’s likely that, at some point, a user will want to move his or her OMM learning data from one computer to another. To do so, the user will back up the data to a file with the My E-mail/Advanced page. Then, after installing OMM on the other computer, the user can import the file with the same page on the new computer. If a user’s not happy with what OMM has learned and wants to start from scratch, he or she can reset the learned data here, as well.

Configure wireless device and message options
OMM doesn’t just spit out messages verbatim to the wireless device; it gives you quite a bit of control over the content. In particular, the IntelliShrink technology incorporated into OMM reduces the amount of data in the message by removing spaces and punctuation, long words, vowels, and so on. This reduction has a tremendous effect on the number of messages that get sent and can save a bundle on excess message charges.

IntelliShrink uses five levels to control message content, the first of which is No Compression. The others, in order, are Remove Extra Space, Replace Long Words, Remove Spaces/Punctuation, and Remove Vowels. Selecting a level applies all of the levels above it, for example, choosing Remove Spaces/Punctuation also replaces long words and removes extra spaces. You or the user can set the level with the My Device/IntelliShrink configuration page.

OMM also gives you control over message size, how (or if) OMM breaks up larger messages, and the maximum number of messages that it will forward to the wireless device in a given period. For example, let’s say the carrier gives your company's users 200 messages a month for a base rate and then charges 10 cents for each additional message. Your company is willing to pay an additional $5 a month for additional messages, but that’s the limit. So you configure OMM to a maximum of 250 messages—your company's 200-message plan plus another five dollars worth (50 messages).

You can use the My Device/Message Limits page to limit each message to one piece and specify the maximum number of characters for each piece. The default message size is 140 characters, and most wireless devices can support up to 150 characters. If a user can get the gist of most messages in the first piece, limit outgoing messages to one piece to ease the impact on your monthly limit. You can also use this page to set the maximum number of messages and set the way OMM resets the counter. For example, you might set it up to reset the counter on the day the carrier generates the bill so the two are synchronized.

Use the My Device/Message format page to control how OMM formats the notification for display on the wireless device. You can change the way the sender’s name appears, and have OMM add the phone number from the sender’s Contacts entry. This is a really handy feature when a user needs to call the sender to respond to the message and doesn’t want to (or can’t) browse the Contacts folder remotely to retrieve it. Finally, a user can choose the way he or she wants OMM to format the message body to suit the requirements of the device. OMM can send the subject and body in separate fields, combine them in the body field, or combine them in the subject field.

Give it a test drive
Your company doesn’t need to spend a penny to give OMM a test drive. The add-on is free, so you're not out any cash for the software. You don’t need MIS or the infrastructure it requires, so back-end requirements are nil. You don’t even need a wireless device to try it out—just specify an external e-mail account as the device address and use it as a simulated wireless SMTP device for testing. As you play with OMM and see what it can do, chances are good that you’ll be setting up a real wireless device in short order.

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