Messageware OWA Desktop Review

I don’t normally do product reviews, but I had the opportunity to work with Messageware’s new product OWA Desktop and thought I’d share my thoughts.  This software extends Outlook Web App’s functionality so that it behaves even more like the real Outlook client and integrates OWA into the Windows desktop environment.



OWA Desktop was awarded the prestigious Best of TechEd 2011 award by Microsoft TechEd attendees this year in Atlanta, GA.  Messageware, a Toronto based company, has been extending OWA functionality since 2003.  Their goal is to make OWA as close to Outlook as possible.  This makes it extremely useful for companies that can’t or don’t want to deploy a full blown Outlook client on desktop workstations.



OWA Dekstop runs in the Windows notification area whenever the user logs on and gives one click access to most OWA functions.

Right-click OWA functionality from the Windows notification area



With a single click users can open the full OWA application, compose a new email, create an appointment or meeting, change settings, etc.  Notice in the screenshot below that OWA Desktop opens like an HTA application.  There are no browser controls, such as the address bar, forward or back buttons, or browser menus.  This gives OWA Desktop a clean look and better use of screen real estate.



The OWA Desktop application



New message notifications come in two flavors.  One option uses balloon pop-ups in the notification area. Balloon pop-ups can optionally provide a text preview of the new message.  A single click opens the full message using OWA Desktop. 



Balloon pop-up with message preview

The other option displays a “View Unread” scrollable window that displays all the unread messages in the Inbox.  Here you can open an item, reply/reply all to an item, mark an item as read/unread, or open the full OWA Desktop application.



“View Unread” window pop-up



One of the other nice features is the ability for users to import and export data using OWA.  By right-clicking the OWA Desktop icon, you can import holidays for dozens of countries or import/export contacts.  This is very useful for Office 365 users.



OWA mport/export functions

The OWA Desktop MSI package is only about 6.5MB in size (much smaller than 258MB used by Outlook 2010) and is easily deployed using System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) or Group Policy software distribution.  There are no server-side components required.



User account setup uses Exchange Autodiscover for easy setup and configuration.  You can also configure multiple OWA Desktop accounts to be open simultaneously on the same computer.  The screenshots in this article show two different colored icons in the notification area, one for each Exchange email account.  Traveling mobile users will appreciate the ease of changing timezones in Options.



Account Setup uses Exchange Autodiscover



Because OWA Desktop runs in the notification area when users login to Windows, they are unlikely to close OWA accidentally.  OWA Desktop runs in a discreet browser window so users don’t need to continually login to OWA when they close their browser.



Messageware also created an OWA Desktop Deployment Pack which allows deployment customization and branding to personalize the look of OWA Desktop.



I’ve worked with Messageware for a few years, primarily with their OWA PlusPack product for OWA 2003 and OWA 2007.  This new product provides easy access to OWA right from within Windows.  You really should check it out.