The unhappy mixture of Office 365, Outlook Web App, and Windows XP

Those who cling desperately to the notion that a white knight will arrive to save Windows XP from the evils of being cast into the darkness of unsupportability are due to be disappointed. It's already obvious that Microsoft is disinterested in doing anything that might make life better for Windows XP users, including not fixing the performance issues that afflcit Outlook Web App when used with Exchange 2013 CU3. Things are not going to get any better for Office 365 tenants that use Windows XP because "the service" is going to force them to use OWA Light. And that's not good.

On December 3, I blogged about some Outlook Web App (OWA) problems that users running Windows XP clients with IE8 had experienced. In a nutshell, browser was less than optimal. In fact, a sluggish snail was faster to paint pages than OWA could.

KB2871314 attributes the root cause to some JavaScript performance and memory usage issues in IE8. I guess it is very hard for a now-elderly browser to learn new tricks, especially the kind performed by the ever-willing-to-morph OWA interface as implemented in Exchange 2013. More modern browsers are happy to accommodate the demands of OWA but IE8 just fails to cope.

All of this won’t be a problem for you if you plan to phase out Windows XP clients before Microsoft’s April 8, 2014 deadline. Given the hype generated in some quarters, it’s entirely possible that PCs running Windows XP (including half of the ATMs in the developed world) will turn into pumpkins on that date. So it’s good if you will have gotten rid of those nasty Windows XP machines by then.

More realistically, because it’s hard to upgrade desktop systems (I imagine that there are few laptops running Windows XP today, if only because laptops tend to break more readily than their desktop counterparts), some Windows XP machines will cling stubbornly to life after April 8. Their users won’t get much joy if they expect to use OWA. Not only is Microsoft very unlikely to fix any of the performance and other issues that afflict IE8 in Exchange 2013 SP1 or any other future update, cloud users will find that their client experience is automatically degraded after April 8.

According to the Office 365 Client System Requirements:

“What does this mean for Internet Explorer 8? 
Office 365 is not designed to work with Internet Explorer 8, and the user experience sending and receiving email with Outlook Web Access and Internet Explorer 8 may be compromised, especially when used on Windows XP and/or with low memory machines. Office 365 will not offer code fixes to resolve problems using the service with Internet Explorer 8, and new Office 365 experiences will likely not work at all. We recommend you upgrade to Internet Explorer 11 as soon as possible.

You should also expect the quality of the user experience with Internet Explorer 8 to diminish further in the near future. For example, after April 8, 2014, Internet Explorer 8 will only display Outlook Web App Light.

More guidance comes as:

"Office 365 is designed to work with the following software:

  • The current or immediately prior version of Internet Explorer or Firefox, or the latest version of Chrome or Safari.
  • Any version of Microsoft Office in mainstream support.

While Microsoft does not recommend that you connect to Office 365 with older browsers and Office clients, we will provided limited support so long as that software is supported by its manufacturer."

All of which means that on April 7 Windows XP users will be able to use OWA in all its premium, albeit slow, glory (above) and when they come to connect the next day, the client will automatically downgrade itself to the splendidly-named but much simpler OWA Light (below).

A world of difference exists between the two interfaces. One is bright, modern, and steadily improving as each update is made available for Exchange 2013. The other is stuck at least ten years back in a time when pads and smartphones didn’t exist and we were happy to interact with individual messages in a much more stilted manner.

The nature of life is that many people avoid reading the fine print for just about anything. The text quoted above shows that Microsoft is pretty clear in what they are telling Office 365 users will happen on April 8. I wonder just how well know this fact actually is and how many screams of horror will erupt on the Windows XP day of doom? Unless, of course, you install Chrome on your Windows XP clients…

With just nine weeks to go, you have been warned!

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On-premises and cloud-based Microsoft Exchange Server and all the associated technology that runs alongside Microsoft's enterprise messaging server.

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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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