The administration interface for the Wave 14 (Exchange 2010) version of Exchange Online is a modified version of the Exchange Control Panel (ECP), also found in on-premises deployments. A radical change occurs when Office 365 tenant domains are migrated to Wave 15 as no trace is to be found (without looking) of the Exchange Administration Center (EAC), the on-premises admin interface for Exchange 2013. Instead, everything is done through a new admin interface specially developed by Microsoft for Exchange Online and the other Office 365 applications in the hope that it will help novice administrators by reducing the amount of application knowledge required to perform management tasks.
I have no problem with change and like the idea of a task-oriented administration interface, which is what Microsoft provides for its Office 365 tenants. I also understand the need for the change. Office 365 is a different beast to on-premises applications, whose administrative interfaces like EAC have developed over multiple versions and have some history (or baggage) firmly attached. That baggage influences how the interface presents tasks and data because an almost inherent assumption is made that those who use the interface understand the application. An Exchange administrator understands how mailboxes work while a SharePoint administrator has an appreciation of the finer points of sites. The simplified interface is a fresh approach designed to make it easier for people to perform tasks that they might not do very often, which is a laudable venture.
Another factor is that the initial batch of Office 365 applications had radically different management interfaces that created the impression that each application was singing off a very different song sheet. Exchange Online used ECP, SharePoint Online did its own thing, and Lync Online was just Lync. The new interface provides a commonality and consistency across applications and so delivers another advantage.
Unfortunately, I dislike the dumbed-down way that some tasks are approached. This might just go to prove that you cannot satisfy all of the people all of the time, an adage proven valid over many years.
For instance, ActiveSync settings are found under “device security settings”. This is fine, but the options are limited to setting the device security policy. There’s no trace of other interesting information such as quarantined devices or the device types that people can use to connect to their mailboxes as presented by EAC.
Or take the small matter of managing users. The new admin interface is straightforward and unifies the task of creating a new user for the tenant domain, setting up a mailbox, and assigning an appropriate license. But then you find that there’s no way to do something like assign Send As or Send On Behalf Of permission for a mailbox, or assign a new retention policy, or even assign an alternate email address.
Of course, there’s always PowerShell, but I fear that administrators who take fright when presented with moderately complex interfaces will die of terror when confronted with shell commands.
Fortunately, you can get to EAC if you need to. Simply start up Outlook Web App and then replace the /OWA string in the URL shown by the browser with /ECP and Exchange Online will display EAC in all its glory. Well, in its truncated glory anyway because the on-premises options are obviously removed. Once EAC is up and running, you can use it to your heart’s content, including the opportunity to set up new public folder mailboxes, something curiously omitted by the new admin interface.
Microsoft has certainly made progress in creating a more approachable management interface that unifies the set of Office 365 applications in a way that didn’t exist before. The good news is that they have not barred a route to EAC for those who need to use the more extended features of Exchange. I hope that Microsoft leaves EAC in place while they work on improving the new admin interface, perhaps by introducing an “expert mode” that reveals more of the inner workings of Office 365.
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