Protect users by suppressing Outlook's conflict resolution reports

Most of the time Outlook just gets on with the job of sending and receiving email. But then from time to time some odd items appear, like conflict resolution reports. These have the potential to make users very unhappy because they don't understand why the conflicts occur let alone what Outlook has done to resolve them. So perhaps the best idea is to suppress the reports. Seems to make sense!

Apart from Outlook’s ever-famous synchronization log reports, the item created in user mailboxes most likely to worry end users must be a conflict resolution report. Users don’t understand why conflicts occur (except in the hot spots around the world) and certainly have no appreciation of why Outlook would need to bother them about some internal machinations that have happened deep inside their mailbox. But these reports are created and, in most cases, they should be eradicated.

But before we discuss suppressing these reports, we should contemplate why they occur. It’s all to do with the nature of synchronization and the fact that multiple devices can access a mailbox. Synchronization happens when Outlook is configured in cached Exchange mode, first introduced with great success in Outlook 2003. In this mode, Outlook operates against a full set of replica folders stored in the OST and a process of “drizzle mode synchronization” keeps the replicas updated with whatever is held in the master folders within the user’s mailbox on an Exchange server.

Generally, synchronization works very well, but it can be the case that a concurrent change is made to an item by multiple clients. This is when a conflict occurs and the potential of such a conflict is increased as the number of concurrent accesses increases. Think of a mailbox that is accessed via Outlook, Outlook Web App, and a mobile device (or two) and imagine that the same item could be changed in multiple places at the same time.

Conflicts can happen within software too as multiple threads attempt to operate against the same item, but these conflicts seem to be far less common these days, largely due to the well-sorted nature of Outlook. Yes, it’s a big fat client, but it’s a well-sorted and mature big fat client…

And Outlook, in an attempt to be helpful, generates conflict resolution reports to tell users how much work it does behind the scenes to fix things up. It’s kind of like a puppy wanting to show its master how good a dog it really is. The horrible thing is that the resolution reports are mostly incomprehensible to anyone but a support engineer. More specifically, a support engineer who does a lot of work with Exchange and Outlook.

Looking through my mailbox, I found four conflict resolution reports, all created in the last month. Two were for appointments and two for mail items. The mail items reported a “mail conflict resolution” and an “incremental synchronization failure.” I wasn’t aware of any problems that these conflicts had caused and life pretty well went on regardless of the problems that had erupted within my mailbox. However, I was relieved to learn that all of the conflicts had been auto-resolved by Outlook.

I’m pretty sanguine when it comes to reading about conflict resolution but others might not be. For that reason, it’s probably best to follow the advice in this TechNet article and create a new registry value to suppress the generation of conflict resolution reports. To make the reports go away, create a DWORD value called EnableConflictLogging at HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ Software\Microsoft\Office\xx.0\Outlook\Options and set the value to 0.  Replace “xx” with 14 if you use Outlook 2010 or 15 if you use Outlook 2013.

It seems like the default situation should be to have conflict resolution reports disabled and that the reports should only be generated when the need arises, as in when a user notices that something odd is happening in their mailbox. Microsoft obviously doesn’t agree, so you have to make the change to protect your users. That is, if you have any conflicts, which perhaps you don’t.

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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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