Product Review: Messageware OWA Desktop

When you're planning a migration to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, don't forget to plan for the client through which your users will access email. Messageware OWA Desktop gives users desktop access to Microsoft Outlook Web App (OWA) in Exchange 2010, allowing you to forgo the desktop Outlook client altogether and avoid the cost of getting your users off older Outlook or non-Outlook client versions.

OWA Desktop runs on Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP, as well as on Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2003. Installation is simple and wizard-driven: The whole process took less than 1 minute on my Windows 7 laptop. The first time you run OWA Desktop, the Create New Account window opens so that you can connect to an Exchange email account.

You have the option of manual or automatic configuration. For automatic configuration, you give your account a nickname, and then enter your Exchange email address, username, and password. OWA Desktop retrieves your server settings, and you're set to go. If automatic configuration can't find your account, manual configuration lets you input your OWA server URL and configure other advanced options.

When OWA Desktop is running, its icon appears in the Windows system tray. You can hover the mouse over the icon to see how many unread messages you have. Click the icon to open OWA Desktop Commander, which gives you complete control over your email environment-everything from reading and composing messages, to adjusting your settings, to opening a full version of OWA.Figure 1 shows the Commander.

Figure 1: The OWA Desktop Commander

Part of the beauty of this product is the quick, easy access to email functions that might take several steps in OWA or in the full version of Outlook. By using Commander, you can select Compose Mail, Compose Appointment, or Compose Task to open a new email message, appointment, or task. Each function provides formatting controls, access to your Global Address Book (GAL) and Contacts, and other features that you'd get if you were logged on to OWA.

Also in Commander, you can select View Unread to open a window with all your unread messages. This window has controls for reading, replying, forwarding, deleting, and marking a message read or unread. The View Reminders function opens a window with all current reminders, including calendar appointments and any reminders that you've placed on email messages. From this window, you can open the original item or dismiss or snooze the reminder.

You can use Commander to open a full copy of your Inbox, Calendar, or Tasks list. You can even launch a full OWA screen. The launch is quick, and as for the Commander functions, OWA Desktop handles the sign-in in the background. The OWA screen gives you the complete OWA experience, including access to your account settings through the Exchange Control Panel (ECP).

The Commander pop-up has options for OWA Desktop account settings. You can run multiple email accounts, which each appear as an icon on the task bar, for individual control. You can set options for notifications and reminders, and you can access OWA Desktop Help, a well-written, interactive HTML file with plenty of screenshots.

A unique feature of OWA Desktop is the Import and Export command, which has two primary functions. First, the command lets you import holidays to your calendar. You can choose from an extensive list of nationalities and include multiple nationalities on your calendar -- handy if you work with international clients or coworkers. Second, the command lets you import or export Contacts. A wizard-driven interface walks you through the process of either operation.

OWA Desktop works with Microsoft Office 365 as well as traditional onsite environments. For enterprise deployments, you can work with Messageware support to get a custom Deployment Package that lets you control which features are available to end users. For instance, users with an Office 365 Kiosk Workers (K1 or K2) plan might need to access email but have no need for Tasks or Calendar. Or you might want to lock down account, import, or export functionality, even for onsite users.

While I was testing OWA Desktop, I traveled to a conference in another time zone. I reset the time zone on my laptop, expecting my calendar to pick up the change, as Outlook does. I realized that I had a problem when my smartphone (which automatically adjusts to the time difference) and my laptop notifications were out of sync. After a bit of research, I discovered that the problem was with OWA, not OWA Desktop. OWA, as a server-based system, doesn't get its time from my local computer, and I had to go into my OWA settings in ECP to reset the time zone. That action allowed OWA Desktop to pick up the change, and everything worked smoothly thereafter.

Similarly, any criticism I have of OWA Desktop ultimately goes back to the limitations of OWA itself (about which I wrote a separate post). You can't use an image in your email signature, for instance, or add words to the user dictionary. Outlook's advanced formatting features are missing as well. It would be nice to see OWA Desktop develop the ability to do some of the things that OWA can't.

Nonetheless, OWA Desktop provides an easy-to-use interface for OWA, and although it won't satisfy power users, it's a slick, cost-effective way to access OWA. If you're using Office 365 or moving to Exchange 2010 but don't want the expense of upgrading Outlook, OWA Desktop is a worthwhile option to consider.

Messageware OWA Desktop
PROS: Full OWA experience on the desktop without repeated sign-ins; quick access to most-used features; easy to install, set up, and use
CONS: Limited by OWA itself
RATING: 4 out of 5
PRICE: $1.25 per user per month
RECOMMENDATION: If you're using Office 365 or you're moving to Exchange 2010 but don't want the expense of upgrading Outlook, OWA Desktop is a slick, cost-effective option to consider.
CONTACT: Messageware • 905-812-0638 •

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