When configuring a new Microsoft Office Outlook-2003 mail profile, how can I configure an .ost file and set Outlook to prompt the user to either connect to the server or work offline? We don't use Cached Exchange Mode.

So, you want to set up Outlook so that it has an offline folders .ost file and presents the Connect/Work Offline dialog box you see in Figure 2, to the user at startup? Configuring Outlook for offline use is easy to do by using the tools in the Microsoft Office 2003 Resource Kit (ORK), but setting up the Connect/Work Offline prompt is another matter.

Let's tackle the offline folders first. As you probably know, the ORK contains the Custom Installation Wizard and the Custom Maintenance Wizard, two tools that can create and deploy the .prf files that Outlook uses to configure a new mail profile. On screen 17 in the Custom Installation Wizard or screen 12 in the Custom Maintenance Wizard, choose to create a new profile, and give it a name such as Outlook with Offline Support. On the next screen, choose Configure an Exchange Server connection, then enter the user and server names. You can use the %username% environment variable to specify that you want Outlook to set up an Exchange account for the current user's mailbox.

Next, click the More Settings button to display the dialog box that Figure 3 shows. This is where you'll select the Enable offline use check box and provide a path for the offline folders' .ost file. Figure 3 shows the default settings for .ost files. If the specified filename already exists, Outlook will add a number to create a new file (e.g., outlook1.ost). As you can see, Outlook supports the % userprofile% environment variable, which makes it easy to put the .ost file into the user's folders. Remember that Outlook doesn't support storing .ost or .pst files on network drives.

Configuring Outlook to display the Connect/Work Offline dialog box, however, requires editing the registry. The first time the user employs the new profile, Outlook can't offer the Connect/Work Offline choice because the offline folders have never been synchronized with the server. After you know that the user has synchronized, open the registry and navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\WindowsMessagingSubsystem\Profiles\ProfileName\13dbb0c8aa05101a9bb000aa002fc45a. You'll see a REG_BINARY value named 00036601; set that value to hexadecimal 16000000, and Outlook will display the Connect/Work Offline prompt at startup. You can also change this registry value by using a logon script, the Custom Maintenance Wizard, or any other method you use to configure users' registry settings.