Setting up Outlook for remote use

Ron Nutter walks through a process of setting up Outlook to run in local and remote modes that requires a minimal amount of work on your part.

Just about everyone who runs an Exchange Server knows how to set up local users. Setting up remote users can be a little more involved. You have several options: POP, IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), and Remote Mail. POP can be a challenge for the local user who occasionally needs to run remotely. Ever try to explain to a confused user why e-mail that he saw remotely is no longer in his mailbox? IMAP can be just as bad as POP, if not worse. Unless you have a very good connection at both ends, your remote user can start the e-mail transfer process, go out and have breakfast or lunch, and come back in time to just see the transfer finishing. In this article, I’ll walk you through the process of setting up Outlook to run in local and remote modes with a minimum amount of work for both you and the user.

Checking your version of Outlook
In this article, we’ll assume you’re using the Corporate/Workgroup version of Outlook. In Outlook 98—assuming you’re running Windows 95/98—go into Control Panel, click the Add/Remove Software icon, and double-click Outlook 98.

In Outlook 2000, the process is a little different than in prior versions. Select Options from the Tools menu, then click the Mail Services tab. Next, click the Reconfigure Mail Support button. On the window that follows, choose the Corporate/Workgroup implementation. (Before selecting this option, you may want to have either your Outlook 2000 or Microsoft Office 2000 CD on hand.)

Setting up the remote mail function in Outlook
The first step in setting up the remote mail function in Outlook is enabling the offline work function. This sets up a special file that gives you the appearance of working online without the full-time connection. With Outlook open, select Services from the Tools menu. Highlight the Microsoft Exchange Server Service option and click the Properties button. Then, click the General tab.

In the When Starting box on the next window, select Manually Control Connection State. Select the Choose Connection Type When Starting option, then select Work Offline (in Outlook 2000, choose the Work Offline And Use Dialup Networking option).

At this point, click the Advanced tab to begin the process of setting up offline access. First, click the Offline Folder File Settings button. The default path for the offline folder will show a file with an OST extension. This means that the file created in this process is for offline storage use only. You will be given the option of deciding what type of compression, if any, you want to use on the offline storage file. Go with the Compressible Encryption option—it causes the offline storage file to be encrypted in a manner that allows you to compress the file to save space when possible.

When you click OK, you’ll see a message informing you that the file doesn’t exist, and asking whether you want the file to be created if offline services haven’t been set up on this system before. Click Yes to create the offline services file. Once you return to the previous window, the Enable Offline Use option should be selected. If it isn’t, select that option now before clicking OK. Click OK until you see the main Outlook window.

To be able to send messages to other users on your Exchange Server, you‘ll need to have a local copy of the Address Book. Select the Remote Mail option from the Tools menu, then choose the Download Address Book option. If you’re using the Outlook 2000 client, you need to select the Synchronize option from the Tools menu to access the Download Address Book option.

When the Download Offline Address Book window appears, select Download Changes Since Last Synchronization, then click Full Details. Click OK to start the download process.

Setting up the Hosts file
When set up in the Corporate/Workgroup mode, Outlook references the server only by its machine name (for example, MAILSERV) instead of its fully qualified domain name (such as MAILSERV.MYDOMAIN.COM). Therefore, you will need to set up a Hosts file so that Outlook can find the Exchange Server when not attached to your network.

Begin by opening an MS-DOS window and changing to the Windows directory (on NT, go to the \WINNT\SYSTEM32\DRIVERS\ETC directory instead). Type copy con hosts and press [Enter]. Provide the IP address of the Exchange Server, press [Tab], and type the name of the Exchange Server. Press [F6], then [Enter]. You should see a File Copied message, then the command prompt again.

If your network is like most, you have a firewall between you and the Exchange Server when you’re using the Internet to get your mail. In that case, you may want to rename the Hosts file you just created to something like Hosts.rem. Depending on how your network is configured, you may need to have another Hosts file with nothing in it or the internal IP address of the mail server (that is, the address of the Exchange Server inside the firewall). Once you’ve decided how to set up the second Hosts file, name it

To keep things simple for the remote users and yourself, you can create two desktop shortcuts to aid in switching the proper Hosts file into position. Name the first batch file Local.bat and have it copy the file to Hosts in the appropriate Windows directory for your OS version. Create a second batch file, called Remote.bat, that copies the Hosts.rem file to the Hosts file in the appropriate directory. Be sure to spend a few minutes with your users to show them which Outlook desktop icon to use when operating remotely, and which one to use when running locally on the network.

Speed versus performance
When working remotely, speed can be critical. Sometimes, as in this case, you must choose between speed and performance. The ultimate in remote mail performance usually means that you use POP3 (Post Office Protocol). Typically, slow performance means you’re using IMAP. You should find Outlook’s performance in remote mail configuration to be somewhere between the two. While Outlook is faster, Outlook in remote mail mode offers some additional flexibility in terms of being able to recover e-mail inadvertently deleted. Take into account how PC savvy your users are when deciding which version to use.

Ronald Nutter is a senior systems engineer in Lexington, KY. He's an MCSE, Novell Master CNE, and Compaq ASE. Ron has worked with networks ranging in size from single servers to multiserver/multi-OS setups, including NetWare, Windows NT, AS/400, 3090, and UNIX. He's also the help desk editor for Network World. If you’d like to contact Ron, send him an e-mail. (Because of the large volume of e-mail that he receives, it's impossible for him to respond to every message. However, he does read them all.)

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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