Exchange 2013 console (EAC) dumps context-sensitive menus

On August 7, I wrote about the sad omission of the PowerShell learning features from the new Exchange Administration Center (EAC) as introduced in Exchange 2013 Preview. These features, which have been present in the now-discontinued Exchange Management Console (EMC) since Exchange 2007, give administrators an insight into the PowerShell code that Exchange will execute (or has executed) to do work such as updating a set of mailboxes, setting a property on a connector, or creating a new mailbox database.

Even after six years of exposure to the Exchange PowerShell cmdlets and its sometimes odd syntax (even for someone who worked extensively with VMS’s Digital Command Language for many years), I still find myself checking the PowerShell log to understand exactly how Exchange cmdlets work. Given that the cmdlet set has exploded in numbers since Exchange 2007, reviewing commands in the log has proven to be an excellent way to learn that is alas, no more.

Good as EAC is in terms of presenting a modern browser-based management interface that works well across multiple platforms (I’m not quite sure whether we’ll see many administrators running EAC on their iPads or Microsoft Surface devices, but time will tell), it also drops another important UI feature in that the right-click context-sensitive menus that EMC supports are not present.

ECP1

Sure, there are UI elements to take up the slack, usually in the form of buttons that you can click on to perform an action, but context-sensitive menus are a really nice way of exposing the appropriate set of actions that you can take to work with an object in its current state. For example, if you select a mailbox database, you can right click to see options such as “dismount the database.”

This doesn’t happen in EAC with the apparent logic being that all of the available options are clearly available as a set of icons (see the screen shot above – the icons are shown above the list of objects, in this case a set of retention tags) in addition to an information pane displaying details of the selected object on the right-hand side. I don’t buy this argument as the icons are quite small and might confuse novice administrators. But wait! (Blinding flash of insight occurs.) There are no more novice Exchange 2013 as they’ve all moved to Office 365. But wait encore! (Second moment of inspiration.) That theory is so much smelly horse manure because Exchange Online is slated to use EAC once Microsoft deploys Exchange 2013 in their Office 365 datacenters. It’s all very confusing.

Looking back, I have some “interesting” memories of the time that Microsoft first introduced context-sensitive menus into an Exchange administration console with the Exchange 2000 ESM. I was invited to give a keynote presentation at MEC 2000 in Dallas shortly afterwards and took the opportunity of mentioning just how much I approved of the new feature. The audience agreed. And then I made a mistake that every speaker has nightmares about: I made a huge verbal faux pas (more here) that many folks could have taken huge offense over. Fortunately the audience reacted with hysterical laughter that covered up my blushes.

In any case, I’m sure that the Exchange development team will reintroduce context-sensitive menus for EAC in due course, although perhaps not for the RTM version of Exchange 2013 as they have quite a lot of work still to polish existing features and make sure that the new Metro-style UI looks just right before the new version is released.

OWA1

But when you think about the situation, context-sensitive menus exist within Exchange 2013’s version of Outlook Web App (OWA – see above), which shares many common underpinnings with EAC, so it should simply be a mere matter of programming. Right?

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Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro. His latest books are Office 365 for Exchange Professionals (eBook, May 2015) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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