Bringing OWA to Your Desktop

When Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 launched over a year ago now, one of its selling points was the vast improvements in Outlook Web App, bringing the web client on par with the desktop version of Microsoft Office Outlook. In addition to getting the rich-client experience on multiple browsers (Firefox and Safari being added to Internet Explorer), OWA 2010 gave users their first look at Exchange 2010 features such as Conversation view and MailTips, which otherwise you need Outlook 2010 to access.OWA Desktop context menu

At the time, I wrote about the possibility that the improved nature of OWA would lead companies to adopt OWA as their standard for email and avoid upgrading to the latest desktop Outlook—and remember, Outlook 2010 wasn't available until about six months after Exchange 2010, giving early adopters of Exchange 2010 plenty of time to see if this could be a workable solution. I spoke recently with Messageware president and CEO Mark Rotman, and although he said he doesn't have hard data, he believes a significant number of companies are deploying OWA alone, at least to a segment of their users.

"With Exchange 2010 and enterprise class customers—5000 or more employees—that OWA is deployed as an external connectivity mechanism for them," Rotman said, "I think every single one of those companies has at least one department or one group of users that will be OWA-only, and in many cases 1000s of users that will be OWA-only." This situation of course works great for mobile or remote workers, but can be just as effective for regular office workers, and can save companies big money over deploying and managing desktop Outlook.

Messageware obviously knows a few things about OWA—they've been making products that both enhance security and add functionality to OWA for years. So perhaps it seems natural that, seeing this trend of companies deploying OWA without Outlook, the company would develop its own desktop client. The result, which at this point is still in beta, is OWA Desktop, and it's designed specifically to interoperate with users already on OWA but to provide a desktop experience—and do so at a price much reduced from purchasing the full Microsoft client.

Rotman walked me through a demo of OWA Desktop, and I have to admit it's pretty impressive. It gives you all the functionality you've come to expect and depend on from Outlook—calendar reminders, new mail pop-ups, and so forth. It also includes features that OWA and even desktop Outlook itself don't have. One of the nicest features is the full control you can get from the context menu in the Taskbar, including the ability to compose a message or schedule an appointment without going into the client window itself.

OWA Desktop lets an individual manage multiple email accounts. Importing and exporting contacts is also a simple procedure—and not something so easily done just with OWA. And it will work with on-premises Exchange servers or hosted versions of Exchange, whether from Microsoft's offerings or any third-party hoster—essentially, any version of OWA. As Rotman said, "It's all about convenience, all about working quickly, and all about having that full desktop-like functionality."OWA Desktop Edit Account dialog box

Messageware is planning a Q1 release for OWA desktop; when I spoke with Rotman, final pricing had not yet been set. An additional benefit over Outlook is a very small install size—less than 5MB. Take a look at Messageware's website if you're interested in checking out the beta or any of the company's other OWA add-ons. And in the meantime, what are you doing to provide your users with the best email and calendaring features? Outlook 2010? Outlook 2007? Just OWA? Or something else altogether? Leave a comment below to let us know.

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