ActiveSync problems with iOS6

Online forums have many reports about ActiveSync problems encountered by Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 users after upgrading their Apple devices to iOS6. One issue is when a user apparently “hijacks” a meeting by being made its organizer after they open a meeting request, sometimes associated with delegate access to the organizer’s mailbox. A related issue might be when a user edits a meeting on their device only to send a cancellation message to all involved, even when the meeting request isn’t sent by a delegate.

Some reports indicate a connection with devices that synchronize with the Apple iCloud, others say that this isn’t a factor. What’s confusing the issue is that, aside from working with meeting requests on an iOS6 device (and potentially only devices that have been upgraded to iOS6 rather than coming fresh from the factory with iOS6 preinstalled), there doesn’t seem to be great commonality across the reported concerns.

Microsoft Support and Apple are involved to drive to a solution but there’s no word yet whether the problem lies in the ActiveSync protocol or in Apple’s implementation of ActiveSync in their email client. Remember, Microsoft licenses ActiveSync to other companies such as Apple; Microsoft does not test, measure, approve, or qualify the implementation of ActiveSync thereafter. Sure, they work with partners to resolve issues when they arise, but there’s no big ActiveSync control organization testing partner code before clients are provided to end users. The openness of ActiveSync is one of its charms as it encourages innovation from partners to build really good email clients. The downside is that sometimes bugs creep through the development process and are only exposed in production.

Meeting and other calendar data have always been an issue for mobile clients, mostly because the code that manipulated calendar data was scattered throughout different parts of Exchange. One set of business logic was used when an Outlook client updated a meeting; quite different code might be called when an ActiveSync client updated the same meeting. To Microsoft’s credit, they have been busily consolidating the business logic for calendaring into the mailbox server role for quite some time. Exchange 2013 is the purest implementation because the mailbox server role is the only place where data is manipulated now.

But what can you do if users report an ActiveSync “funny” and you don’t know whether to call Microsoft or the device provider? The first thing to do is to understand exactly what device and operating system is being used to connect to Exchange. Checking with the user is one way to get this information, but you might want to check by running the Get-ActiveSyncDeviceStatistics cmdlet to reveal details of what the user’s been up to. For example:

Get-ActiveSyncDeviceStatistics –Mailbox “John Smith” | Format-Table DeviceID, DeviceType, DeviceOS, DeviceActiveSyncVersion

DeviceID                      DeviceType DeviceOS               DeviceActiveSyncVersion

1140B5A5508D422741F2E87CE1... WP         Windows Phone          7.10.8773 14.1

We can see here that the device type is Windows Phone (WP) running a pretty recent version of the O/S and that it has last synchronized with an Exchange 2010 SP1 server (ActiveSync 14.1). 14.2 is Exchange 2010 SP2. Correlate this data with what’s been reported by the user and you have a consistent story. There's lots more you can do with PowerShell to manage ActiveSync clients - Steve Goodman's book on managing iPhone devices provides a good insight into how to go about the task.

Next, we need to understand what’s actually supported by the various implementations of ActiveSync clients. The most comprehensive listing is available on Wikipedia and it’s easy to see from this information just how different the implementations are across client families.

Finally, we need to know whether the problem is known. It’s possible to find this out with a search using your preferred search engine, but a good place to start is the Microsoft Knowledge Base article (KB2563324) that describes the current issues with third party ActiveSync clients. You might be lucky and find that the problem is known and being worked by Microsoft and the third party, or unlucky in that your user has encountered a brand-new never-before-met ActiveSync problem. In which case you can write the problem up and become famous!

ActiveSync has become the de facto standard for mobile connectivity with Exchange. Its popularity is growing all the time with the result that any problem invariably affects many users. Success breeds success, but it sometimes also causes problems, especially when a different variable like a new operating system is thrown into the mix.

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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