What is the ‘Outlook App for Exchange’ in Exchange 2013 Preview?

After digging into Exchange 2013 Preview ActiveSync in my previous post, I was making some Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies and just playing around. Yeah, I have a bit of a soft spot for ActiveSync Smile

Suddenly I noticed something very interesting in the Exchange Admin Center. I’ve made a screenshot:

Exchange 2013 - Outlook App for Exchange 2

Did you notice it? Maybe a close up?

Exchange 2013 - Outlook App for Exchange

Outlook App for Exchange.

Not Outlook Web App. Outlook App for Exchange. It took a while to sink in.

During and after writing my previous blog I was a bit disappointed about the current state of ActiveSync in Exchange 2013 Preview. Obviously this could change very much at RTM, but still. The new cmdlet New-MobileMailboxPolicy which was basically the same as the “old” New-ActiveSyncMailboxPolicy with all the same parameters without the word device in it.

Combined with this… well I couldn’t help but speculate and sprinkle it with wishful thinking. Warning *heavy speculating*, everything I write here is my own brain going wild. I have no actual knowledge of what this is and thus I could be completely wrong. But here goes:

It very much looks like Microsoft will release an Outlook App for mobile devices (phones, tablets etc.), perhaps or probably even for multiple platforms. We know that Microsoft is capable; OneNote and Lync Mobile are good examples.

The app probably will incorporate elements of ActiveSync, but it wouldn’t surprise me the app isn’t limited by ActiveSync features. Exchange Web Services could provide extra functionality, Entourage 2008 Web Services Edition / Outlook 2011 for Mac use this service for connectivity.

Making Mail, Contacts, Calendar etc. available via an specific app provides a lot of benefits. For one, the implementation of EAS features is not always optimal, especially Android devices have a poor track record (no, not going to add IMHO Winking smile). But even iOS devices aren’t exempt of the problem of lacking features, although they are part of the EAS Logo program. Heck, I still very much miss the SMS sync feature in Windows Mobile 6.x, which isn’t present in WP7… In any case, Microsoft itself would have control over which feature is implemented in the app, not device vendors.

Not only features, but currently there are also security issues present in EAS implementations or better: certificate handling by the device OS. This was recently demonstrated at the Black Hat 2012 conference and discussed further by Paul Cunningham and Michael Van Horenbeeck.

Another possibility with a dedicated app is the option for a Remote Wipe of the device to factory default settings or just the locally cached data within the app (just like the Windows 8 Mail app). It would be likely the app wouldn’t allow (via policy?) data to be cached unencrypted or outside the app (such as something like a SD card).

Via Allow/Block/Quarantine introduced in 2010, Exchange 2013 (perhaps even Exchange 2010 SP3?) could block every ActiveSync device, but not this specific app for instance. Yeah, this would give Exchange Admins a much better control of the data synchronized to company or personal devices. And users wouldn’t (possibly) have to worry that their personal device with personal data wouldn’t have to be wiped completely.

I’m seeing a lot of upsides to this. But would this app be available for free or is there an extra Exchange CAL necessary? And which device OS and version would get this app? What kind of functionality will be available, just the known EAS features or perhaps more? Shared Mailboxes / Calendars? Public Folders? Would ActiveSync still be present, will it be more consumer focused?

The question is whether I’m right, I’ve been wrong before (darn Public Folders! Winking smile ). We’ll just have to wait and see…

*UPDATE*: Michel de Rooij pointed me to this article which quotes a (unverifiable) source that somewhat corroborates my blog post.

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