Outlook 2003 features create new support issues

Outlook 2003 will require more enterprise technical support planning
The release of Office 2003 is scheduled for late October, and as the day approaches, it's time for tech support personnel to gear up for the questions and problems that will come with it. The more features a program has to offer, the more that can go wrong. Let's take a look at some of the new features that are most likely to result in support calls from users, including RPC over HTTP connections, the cached Exchange mode, and issues arising from the new Information Rights Management (IRM).
RPC over HTTP Connections
Outlook uses Remote Procedure Call (RPC) over TCP/IP to send and receive information to and from an Exchange server on the local network. When accessing the Exchange server from a remote location outside the LAN, you can now use RPC over HTTP. This is an easy alternative to connecting to the LAN through a VPN to access the Exchange server, and limits the remote user to accessing only Exchange data. (VPN users can access other network resources, and have to configure the VPN client software.)

Note that both the server and the user accounts must be configured to use RPC over HTTP. The Exchange Server must be running Exchange 2003 on Windows Server 2003. The client must be Outlook 2003 running on Windows XP with Service Pack 1 or later. Outlook does not use RPC over HTTP by default; you must configure the Exchange account (go to Tools | E-mail accounts | Change Or View Existing E-mail Accounts) in the More Settings dialog box on the Connection tab, by checking the Connect To My Exchange Mailbox Using HTTP option and entering the URL of the Exchange server in the Exchange proxy settings.

Because this is a complex feature, there are a number of reasons clients might experience difficulty in connecting, including the following:
  • If you try to set up Outlook for RPC over HTTP and find that the option doesn't appear on the Connection tab, and you know that the Exchange server is configured to allow RPC over HTTP connections, you need to install the hotfix that can be downloaded from Microsoft Knowledge Base article 331320. In addition, you cannot create a profile that uses RPC over HTTP or modify an existing profile to use RPC over HTTP unless the Outlook client computer has access to the Exchange server (that is, the client must be connected to the LAN or able to connect to Exchange via TCP port 135 over the Internet).
  • If you are able to select the option, but nothing happens when you try to connect, you might have incorrect settings for the Exchange proxy server. Ensure that the URL and the principal name for the proxy server are correct, and that you are using the authentication type that is configured on the proxy server.
  • Because RPC over HTTP uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) for security, issues might arise because the client computer doesn't trust the server's SSL certificate. In this case, you can use Internet Explorer to browse to the server's URL and add /rpc to the end of the address. If a message appears asking if you want to trust the certificate, click Yes.
  • If the client computer is behind a firewall, the SSL port must be open on the firewall to allow the client to connect.

Cached Exchange mode
If you provide support in an Exchange environment, user questions might arise regarding Outlook's new cached Exchange mode, which allows each user to store a copy of his or her mailbox on the local machine. This copy is stored in a .OST file, and there will also be an offline address book (stored as an .OAB file) on the user's hard disk.

Cached Exchange mode is designed to let users continue to work with their mail and contacts data even when disconnected from the network. Outlook checks for network connectivity and automatically reconnects and synchronizes the information when the network connection is available. Cached Exchange Mode is turned on and off through the configuration for the Exchange account (go to Tools | E-mail Accounts | Change Or View Existing E-mail Accounts), as shown in Figure A. Cached Exchange mode is not enabled by default.

Figure A
Cached Exchange mode must be turned on in the Exchange Server Settings.

Some problems that users might report when using cached Exchange mode include the following:
  • Only the mail headers are downloaded to the local computer—This can occur if Outlook is configured with the option On Slow Connections Download Headers Only, and the network adapter speed is detected as being 128 Kbps or less.
  • Delays in responsiveness when working in cached mode—This can occur if you are disconnected from the network and attempt to use features that require the Exchange server, such as delegating access, opening someone else's calendar, or accessing a public folder that isn't cached.
  • Full hard disk on the local computer—Because Outlook uses a format that is less efficient than that used by the Exchange server, the .OST file on the local disk can be up to 80 percent larger than the mailbox size on the server. Be sure to locate users' .OST files on a partition that has plenty of free space.
  • Error messages due to lack of .OST file space—You need to make sure users' .OST files are Unicode-formatted, because ANSI files are limited to 2 GB while Unicode files can be up to 20 GB.
  • Degraded performance in cached Exchange mode—This can be due to a .OST file that is very large. Archiving old files will reduce the size and improve performance. Turning off the synchronization of Public Folders Favorites can also help if this option is enabled.

Some Outlook features don't work well with cached Exchange mode and Microsoft recommends that you not use them together. These include instant messaging integration, the toast alert feature with digital signatures, and multiple address book containers.
Tip on Exchange mode
For information about how to configure accounts to use cached Exchange mode, check out this Microsoft Web page.

Information Rights Management
Like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2003, Outlook 2003 supports Information Rights Management (IRM), which works in conjunction with the Windows Server 2003 Rights Management Service (RMS) to allow users to limit what recipients can do with documents (in this case, e-mail). Using IRM, you can specify that messages can be read but not copied, printed, or forwarded, or you can set a time limit after which the message will expire and no longer to accessible.

If a user is unable to copy, print, or forward a message, IRM should be the first suspect. When restricted permissions are set on a message, a notice will appear at the top of the e-mail, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
Messages restricted via IRM cannot be forwarded, printed, or copied.

A user might not be able to open an IRM-protected message at all if he or she doesn't have Office 2003 Professional or the Rights Management add-on for Internet Explorer (which allows you to open protected messages in the browser) installed. The Rights Management client software is also needed, and the user must have obtained a certificate from an RMS server.
Learn more about IRM and RMS
For more information about how IRM and RMS work, TechProGuild members can read my article, "Control your documents with Office 2003's Information Rights Management".

New features bring new functionality for end users, but can also bring new troubleshooting issues for support techs. Outlook 2003 includes a number of new features that you need to be aware of if you provide support to Microsoft Office users. The new features I've discussed here may result in support calls, but I hope I've provided a little insight into how you can go about resolving such problems.