Short takes: what to do when Outlook won’t open HTTP(S) links; how to disable Outlook Clutter; and don’t run externally-facing mail servers in Azure!

Once again, my PC is running out of memory because of the number of open browser tabs, so I’ll convert some into a mini-blog post…

Outlook forgets how to open HTTP(S) links

I recently found that Outlook 2016 had “forgotten” what to do with HTTP(S) links – complaining that:

Something unexpected went wrong with this URL: […] Class not registered.

The fix was to reset my default browser in Windows. Even though I hadn’t changed it away from Edge, a Windows Update (I expect) had changed something and Edge needed to be reset as the default browser, after which Outlook was happy to open links to websites again.

Globally disable Outlook Clutter

I had a customer who moved to Exchange Online and then wanted to turn off the Clutter feature, because “people were complaining some of their email was being moved”.

Unfortunately, Clutter is set with a per-mailbox setting so to globally disable it you’ll need something like this:

get-mailbox | set-clutter -enable $false

That will work for existing mailboxes but what about new ones? Well, if you want to do make sure that Clutter remains “off”, then you’ll need a script to run on a regular basis and turn off Clutter for any new users that have been created – maybe using Azure Automation with Office 365?

Alternatively, you can create a transport rule to bypass Clutter.

Personally, I think this is the wrong choice – the answer isn’t to make software work the way we used to – it’s to lead the cultural change to start using new features and functionality to help us become more productive. Regardless, Clutter will soon be replaced by the Focused Inbox (as in the Outlook mobile app).

Don’t run externally-facing mail servers in Azure

I recently came across a problem when running an Exchange Hybrid server on a VM in Azure. Whilst sending mail directly outbound (i.e. not via Office 365 and hence Exchange Online Protection), consumer ISPs like Talk Talk were refusing our email.  I tried adding PTR records in DNS for the mail server but then I found the real issue – Azure adds it’s IP addresses to public block lists in order to protect against abuse.

It turns out that Microsoft’s documentation on sending e-mail from Azure compute resource to external domains is very clear:

“[…] the Azure compute IP address blocks are added to public block lists (such as the Spamhaus PBL).  There are no exceptions to this policy”

and the recommended approach is to use a mail relay – such as Exchange Online Protection or a third party service like SendGrid. Full details can be found in the Microsoft link above.

Tools for troubleshooting Outlook autodiscover

In my post last week about Office 365 and proxy servers, I mentioned issues with Outlook autodiscover.  These were not exactly easy to troubleshoot, often with multiple subject matter experts looking from different angles (network, client applications, Exchange, firewalls, etc.). During the process, we used a few tools (as well as examining the traffic hitting the proxy servers) and I thought I’d highlight them here (if only for my own future reference):

Short takes: Shrinking Outlook OSTs; locating and removing “stale” Yammer users; editing GPS tracks

Some more snippets of blog posts…

Reducing the size of your Outlook offline store

Tim Anderson commented recently that he’d noticed how recreating his Outlook offline store (.OST) file was more effective than compressing it.  I decided to give mine a go (especially as my recently shrunken Inbox means there wouldn’t be much to re-sync).

Unfortunately, my IT admins appear to have locked down my configuration via group policy so I couldn’t disable/re-enable cached mode. @p3rfact came up with a suggestion that worked though:

As it happens, my file was not that large – although recreating it did reduce the size by around 25%.

Clearing out users from Yammer

Yammer  networks can be synchronised with Active Directory using Yammer Directory Sync but ours is not (for various reasons). There is a pretty simple workaround though for clearing out users from Yammer who have left the company (credit due to @AlanPurchase for working this one out):

  1. From the Network Admin view in Yammer, export a .CSV file with all the users in the network.
  2. Open the .CSV file in Excel and filter on the state field to show active users and on the email field to include domains that you are interested in (for example, I only wanted those in our UK organisation).
  3. Cut and paste email addresses into a new email in Outlook, then use Ctrl+K to resolve the names against the Global Address List. Anyone that isn’t in the GAL will not have their email address resolved.
  4. In Yammer, remove each of the users that are no longer in the organisation – you have the option to remove their posts or leave their posts and remove the account (more details in Microsoft knowledge base article 2820235).

GPS Track Editing

I’ve blogged before about how I log all of my bike rides, runs, etc. – it’s sad, but I like to see where I went on a map – and to know how I performed. Every once on a while, things go wrong though – like one time last summer when my Garmin suddenly decided I was several miles away and the route I was following became nonsense. The only answer was to reset the thing and start tracking again (breaking my ride into multiple tracks).

I found a free GPS Track Editor that helped me to merge/edit tracks (directly editing the XML in GPX files is a chore) and create something that at least represented the route I was on (although it does have one section that is a dead straight line “joining the gap” between my two usable tracks – it should actually follow the road via Whittlebury)!

Some tools in Outlook 2013 for diagnosing Exchange connectivity issues

I’ve just been looking at some of the diagnostic information that’s available for Outlook connections to Exchange (including Exchange Online in Office 365) and one “hidden” feature (actually, it’s not hidden but it’s not very well known) is the ability to Ctrl+right click on the Outlook icon in Windows’ notification area to bring up two extra menu options:

The first of these is handy for bringing up information about the various client-server connections open between Outlook and Exchange (for example the connection protocols being used, port numbers, session types, etc.):

The second allows testing/diagnosis of AutoDiscovery functionality – again, providing a host of information to track down issues:

Combined with the Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer, these are a few tools to help IT admins track down the cause of connection issues.

Synchronisation with your WP8 failed for … items

For the last couple of days, I’ve been getting strange messages from our mail server telling me that

“Synchronization with your WP8 failed for 1 items.
Microsoft Exchange was unable to send the following items to your mobile device. These items have not been deleted. You should be able to access them using either Outlook or Outlook Web Access.”

I thought this was odd – why just this one appointment? And then the penny dropped.  I’d marked the item in my Calendar as “Working Elsewhere”.  This location wasn’t available in earlier versions of Outlook and presumably Windows Phone 8 (or Exchange Server 2007) didn’t know what to do with it, so stopped attempting to sync the item with apparently-invalid data.

Microsoft has always had a good/better/best model when it comes to functionality available when combining different versions of software. Our Exchange servers are due for an update but this may be something to watch out for with my combination (Windows Phone 8, Exchange Server 2007, Outlook 2013)…

Publishing an Exchange calendar from Outlook to Outlook.com – not as simple as it should be

Despite the existence of standards, Calendar synchronisation is not easy.  I did once have a convoluted system that worked (sort of) but it fell apart when I switched away from using Google products.

Last night I was trying to work out why an old recurring calendar appointment from years ago was still popping up in the Windows 8.1 Calendar on my family PC.  It turned out to be quite simple: my outlook.com account was still subscribed to an old Google calendar that I don’t keep updated.  Unfortunately, what followed was about an hour of trying various solutions to get my calendars in sync again when I should really have been sleeping…

Removing old calendar subscriptions from outlook.com was fairly straightforward but I wanted to allow my work calendar (on Exchange) to be visible in Outlook.com (and hence on my family PC).  Access controls mean that a “pull” approach won’t work but, in the past, I’ve “pushed” a calendar using Outlook’s publish to a WebDAV server feature. When I had this working before (probably several PC rebuilds ago), I used a private URL for a Google calendar in the format  http://www.google.com/calendar/ical/user@domain.com/private-longstring/basic.ics but Outlook 2013 refused to use that location last night, telling me that “The address you typed is not valid. Check the address, and then try again.”

I could just maintain two calendars and overlay them in Outlook, but, whilst that will show me my personal and work appointments in a single view, it doesn’t help with free/busy time (i.e. stopping someone from booking an appointment with me at work when I’m not available to work). So my work calendar has to be the “master” and I simply sync it to another location so I can view it on other devices.

So, I set up an account with iCal Exchange (iCalShare is an alternative), creating a private calendar that Outlook was happy to publish to.  Result. Except it seems that outlook.com can only subscribe to calendars that are not password protected.  Meanwhile, Microsoft’s advice for sharing an Outlook calendar on Outlook.com would be better described as “export a point in time copy of an Outlook calendar to Outlook.com, and then share it”.

With my bed calling me, I set up a public calendar as a workaround but I’d rather keep my calendar private – even if I’m not sharing the full details of my appointments.  So, it looks like I’ll have to set up my own WebDav server (security by obscurity is not ideal either) just to publish from Outlook (connected to Exchange) to Outlook.com (and on to my family’s Windows 8.1 PC).

Incidentally, whilst working on this issue, I stumbled on an interesting post about “private” items in Outlook/Exchange – they may not be as private as you think!

Side by side installation of Office 2013 – watch out for Outlook

For a while now, I’ve been running two versions of Office on my corporate laptop with no problems – Office 2007 from our corporate “gold brick” image and Office 2010 (mostly for functionality I’ve got very used to in Outlook).  After a recent “Patch Tuesday” I started to see some strange behaviour whereby, depending on the method of invocation used, sometimes a 2007 version of an Office application would open, and sometimes a 2010 version.

I’ve had the media and keys for Office 2013 for a while (a properly licensed copy but not supported by our IT department) so I decided to remove 2007 and install 2013.  Because I figured the new UI would take a while to get used to (actually, it hasn’t) and because I wasn’t sure if any macros, etc. would run in the latest versions of Word and Excel (still a possibility), I elected to install 2013 alongside the existing 2010 installation.

It all went swimmingly, until I was having issues with Outlook, which is quite happily connected to our Exchange servers but telling me it isn’t when I want to update my out of office settings or view a colleague’s calendar.  I started to look for Outlook 2010, and found it wasn’t there any more…

Of course, being me, the first thing I did was tweet my bemusement and, being Twitter (and despite being 9pm on a Friday night) I quickly got some responses which told me why (thanks Aaron and Garry).

For those who can be bothered to RTFM, check out Microsoft knowledge base article 2784668 (“Information about how to use Office 2013 suites and programs (MSI deployment) on a computer that is running another version of Office”) or, for a workaround, there’s a TechNet forum post called Outlook 2010 gone in side-by-side installation with 2013″.

<tl;dr>

Outlook 2013 cannot coexist with any earlier version of Outlook. Unless you want to try a complex click-to-run setup…

Exchange and Outlook resource roundup

I mentioned that I’ve been attending an Exchange Server 2013 training course, when I wrote earlier in the week about creating dynamic distribution groups using custom directory attributes.

Our course instructor, Annette Gill, has curated a number of resources and links on her website for Exchange (2007, 2010 and 2013), Windows Server 2008, and System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM 2007 and 2012).  Of particular  interest to me right now are the Exchange Server 2013 Resources and Exchange Server 2013 Miscellaneous Links.

I also found something else of note during one of the labs. I don’t really use Public Folders and I was struggling to get one to display in the Outlook client after I’d created it and given access to a user.  Outlook MVP Diane Poremsky’s reply to a TechNet Forum post gave me the answer – Ctrl+6 refreshed the folder list (I already had it open) and the Public Folder came into view.  Incidentally, a full list of Outlook keyboard shortcuts can be found on the Microsoft Office website (that list is for 2010, but should work for 2013 too).

There are more “tips and tricks for Windows, Office and whatever” on Diane’s website.


Finally, one of the Microsoft consultants currently working with my team is one of the joint authors for the Microsoft Exchange Server 2013: Design, Deploy and Deliver an Enterprise Messaging Solution book that’s due to be published next month. Exchange 2013 texts are a bit thin on the ground at the moment but this book has been written by some of the best authorities I know on the topic – especially when it comes to designing, deploying and delivering solutions.

Short takes: searching in Outlook; duplexing in Excel; merging in Word; and going wild in Salesforce

This week I’ve mostly been… working in pre-sales. Consequently, this is perhaps not the most exciting blog post I’ve written… but hey, it’s a post and there haven’t been many of them recently!

First up: searching Outlook

Since I changed jobs in April, my email volume has increased by 300x. My mail archive has more messages in it as we approach the end of June than it did for the whole of 2012, and most of them have been sent/received in the last three months.  In short, being able to quickly and accurately search Outlook is important to me.

Microsoft’s website has some good advice for narrowing search criteria for better results in Outlook – for example, if you’re looking for that email from Mark Wilson with the attachment you needed? Try from:"Mark Wilson" hasattachment:yes.

Next: opening two Excel workbooks side by side

If someone sends you a spreadsheet that you need to complete, and there’s information to pull from another spreadsheet, it can be a nuisance to keep switching back and forth between windows inside the application. The answer is to use Task Manager (taskmgr.exe) to open a new copy of Excel so you now have two running processes.  Each one can be used to open a different workbook (e.g. on different monitors) and contents can be copied back and forth.

Then: merging revision comments in Word

Perhaps you work in a team where instead of collaboratively editing one document, people each create their own versions with their own comments? Thankfully, Word 2010 (and probably other versions too) can merge the comments and changes into a single document. That single feature saved me hours this morning…

Finally: wildcards in Salesforce.com reports

My final tip from “Mark’s exciting week in pre-sales” (I jest) was gleaned whilst trying to create a report in Salesforce.com to show my team’s pipeline. I can’t rely on opportunities being correctly tagged, so I needed a report that used searches on a number of fields (and a filter to apply Boolean logic) but was picking up some false positives.  The problem was that one of the search criteria was also a partial match on some other results.  By changing the “contains” criteria from thing to thing*, I got just the results that started with “thing” and not the ones that included “thing” (like “something”).

That explanation is not as clear as I’d like, but I don’t want to spill the beans on some proprietary information – just take a look at the Salesforce.com advice for refining search using wildcards.

Could not read the calendar. Outlook cannot open this item. The item may be damaged!

Somtimes, I could cheerfully dump my corporate laptop* and this week has been no exception with abysmally slow performance, new software installs that require reboots and then, after working well (so nothing to do with the Cisco unified communications integration components that I installed yesterday), Outlook decided that it didn’t like my calendar any more. Other people’s calendars were fine; other folders (Inbox, etc.) were fine; and the calendar data was fine, as long as I didn’t want a day/week/month view.

Could not read the calendar. Outlook cannot open this item. The item may be damaged.

OK, but which item? I could take a guess that this was something to do with a corrupted offline folders (.OST) file but a bit of Googling turned up a fix.  In a TechNet Forum post Exchange MVP Rich Matheisen suggests deleting the OST file (the location of this can be found from Outlook’s Account Settings), then running outlook /cleanfreebusy to create a new .OST and pull down the free/busy calendar information.

One slight snag was that I couldn’t rename/delete the existing Outlook.OST file because it was in use. This time, Windows was a little more helpful with its error reporting, telling me that the Microsoft Windows Search Protocol Host had the file open. The answer was to open services.msc, stop the Windows Search service, then work on the Outlook.OST file, before restarting the Windows Search service.

Outlook is now happy again, but I’m not convinced it would have been any quicker to go via the official support channels (probably would have necessitated a visit to the office for the deskside support guys to take a look) than to self-support… which makes me wonder if corporate IT budgets would be better spent on providing cross-platform technology services, rather than maintaining and supporting standard PC builds?

* I make no secret that I’m not a fan of standard operating environments (“gold brick” PC builds) with layers and layers of “security” software. Even though I spent many years implementing such solutions (and reaping the rewards in terms of reduced support costs, etc.), it’s an outdated model that has no place in an age of consumerisation (for many knowledge workers at least – of course, there are exceptions, e.g. in heavily regulated environments). There are many who will say, “so what do you suggest instead?”, to which my response is: a) read this post; b) think about how to secure your data, not your devices; c) empower users to choose their own devices/apps where they wish (accepting that a bring your own model is not for all, but it’s time to move away from a device/operating system centric model to one that focuses on data and applications).