OCAT: Microsoft's Outlook Configuration Analysis tool

Following up on my recent articles covering the MFCMAPI and EWSEditor tools, both of which help administrators gain an insight into mailbox contents, I note that Microsoft has released the Outlook Configuration Analyzer Tool (OCAT), yet another program to help administrators. In this case, OCAT is designed to scan a PC and gather details from Outlook profiles and registry entries to pick up any inconsistencies or potential issues that might cause problems when Outlook 2007 or 2010 clients connect to Exchange.

OCAT looks very like the old Exchange Best Practice Analyzer (ExBPA) and was written by two Microsoft support engineers to help address what they perceived as a gap in the support infrastructure – how to extract reliable information from a PC running Outlook that can then be used as the basis for troubleshooting problems. Although OCAT comes with “as-is” (no) support, you can send problem reports to the OCAT development team at OCATsupp@microsoft.com . A Twitter feed is available to broadcast news of OCAT updates.

Obviously the OCAT team had to make some tough choices when they developed the tool, one of which was to exclude Outlook 2003 from the supported versions (an error message is generated if you attempt to run OCAT on a PC with Outlook 2003). This is a pity because Outlook 2003 is still in use in many large Exchange deployments. OCAT isn't designed to work on a Macintosh so it doesn't support Entourage or Outlook 2011 for Macintosh.

You’ll need to have .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1 installed on a PC before OCAT can be installed. Windows XP SP3, Vista SP2, and Windows 7 are the supported client platforms. One small issue at present is that OCAT is only able to print reports if you run it on a Windows XP or Windows 2003 client. This is an acknowledged issue that the authors say will be fixed soon.

Once installed (a matter of just a few minutes), running OCAT is simple. First, make sure that Outlook is running and then start OCAT. At the home screen, opt to create a new scan, give it a name, and start. The time required for a scan depends on the complexity of the profile being analyzed (for example, how many accounts, mailboxes, and archive mailboxes are opened), the version of Outlook that’s installed (hot fixes, service packs, and so on), and the health of the system registry. OCAT took about three minutes to run on my now-elderly HP EliteBook 8530w (Windows 7 Professional SP1, Outlook 2010 SP1 64-bit, connected to three Office 365 mailboxes). Once the scan completes, you can create reports based on the data that’s been collected (it would seem logical to make this step automatic).

However, OCAT’s run-time log showed that it seemed to miss some steps because it couldn’t contact an Active Directory controller. This is understandable because Outlook was connected to Office 365, which hides Active Directory domain controllers and global catalogs that would be exposed to client PCs in an on-premises deployment. OCAT does support the ability to input specific Active Directory credentials but this didn’t help with Office 365.

After the scan is complete, the reports generated from the extracted configuration show data in a list or tree view. Items are marked as “informational” (useful to know) and “issues” (things you should look at). In the screen below, you can see that OCAT considers that my Deleted Items folder is too large because it contains 6,167 items. This amount isn’t large if you understand that I use the Twinbox add-in for Outlook to import tweets, most of which are deleted immediately after I read them. The fact that I have a large Deleted Items folder is therefore very understandable. You can also see that OCAT reported that it couldn’t access a writeable global catalog – again understandable because Outlook was connected to Office 365.

OCAT2

You can also see that OCAT picked up that my Outlook configuration includes some non-standard registry settings. In this case, it reports the presence of the “DelegateWastebasketStyle” value, which is set to 4. Identifying non-standard registry data is a valuable feature of OCAT because a mass of different registry values are available to change the way that Outlook behaves. If a user can edit the registry, they might make a mistake after reading a “helpful suggestion” somewhere on the net and thus provoke a support call. OCAT can identify these issues pretty quickly.

After you’ve finished reviewing the data, you can export it in XML format to take away for further analysis or to maybe provide to a Microsoft support engineer for their investigation. I imagine that this will be a useful function in many instances. The XML data set can be imported into OCAT for viewing.

I didn’t find a way to change the rules set upon which OCAT bases its analysis to either add a new rule or alter the parameters of an existing rule. It would be useful to be able to do this in a future version.

The biggest problem that I can see with OCAT is the requirement for it to be installed on the target PC before you can run a scan. It’s understandable why this requirement exists and it’s true that you’ll install OCAT on only a limited set of PCs where users have reported issues with Outlook. However, in the longer term, it would be nice if Microsoft could transform OCAT into a web-based tool that could be run on a target PC by a remote administrator. In the meantime, I see a lot of good in OCAT and it’s certainly a useful utility to have in an administrator’s toolbox.

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Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and the author of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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