Improvements to OWA in Exchange 2016 (Part 1)

by [Published on 10 Dec. 2015 / Last Updated on 10 Dec. 2015]

In this 2-part article series we will explore the improvements done to the new version of Outlook Web App in Exchange 2016 RTM.

If you would like to read the next part in this article series please go to Improvements to OWA in Exchange 2016 (Part 2).

Introduction

As you probably already know, Outlook Web App (OWA) has, for some strange reason, been renamed to Outlook on the web in Office 365 and Exchange 2016. The former OWA user interface has been updated and optimized for tablets and smart phones, in addition to desktop and laptop computers, and includes several new features. So let us see exactly what changed.

First, it is important to have in mind that the supported web browsers for Outlook on the web in Exchange 2016 are Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer 11, and the most recent versions of Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Safari.

New User Interface and Features

We cannot say Microsoft hasn't tried to deliver a rich email and calendar experience in OWA. Over the years, it has worked to improve OWA, and the new Outlook on the web is no exception with its enhanced user interface (UI) and new features that aim to help users be more efficient, stay on top of their inbox, and better manage their calendar.

New features include: Sweep, Pin, Undo, inline reply, ability to propose new time for meeting invites, a new single-line inbox view, improved HTML rendering, better formatting controls, ability to paste inline images, new themes, and emojis, just to name a few!

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Figure 1

Outlook on the web has a further simplified and cleaner UI to help users work more efficiently, starting with the new Action bar available across Mail, Calendar, People and Tasks:

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Figure 2

The action toolbar provides quick access to the most common commands, such as searching, composing a new email, clearing the folder, replying, deleting or performing other actions on the message.

Using the action toolbar, we can easily move emails to certain folders (if drag-and-drop is not a viable option):

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Figure 3

We can assign categories to emails:

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Figure 4

Mark emails as read, clear flags, pin them (which we will shortly look at), create rules, and more:

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Figure 5

As you saw in the screenshots above, Microsoft added new tools to help users sort through their emails and identify the most important items to deal with first, as well as improve the overall experience.

Pin - users can now pin any email in their inbox to have it highlighted in yellow and kept at the top of the inbox folder. Pins are a good way to keep important messages handy and prevent them from getting buried in between other emails.

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Figure 6

Pinned messages are kept at the top of your inbox and easily identified with a yellow highlight:

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Figure 7

Sweep provides a simple set of actions to manage emails from specific senders. It helps managing reoccurring messages like newsletters and other email received on a regular basis. With Sweep, users can choose to keep messages from a specific sender for a specified number of days, only keep the latest message, or delete all messages from the sender:

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Figure 8

In this case I selected the Always delete messages older than 10 days option:

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Figure 9

If I now go to my settings, I can see both Inbox rules and Sweep rules. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a way of editing sweep rules at this stage...

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Figure 10

Archive – a one-click archiving allows users to quickly move messages out of the inbox to a folder of their choice. In this case, as I haven’t configured an archive folder yet, it asks me to either create one or select an existing folder as my archiving folder:

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Figure 11

Undo – there is now a dedicated Undo button so users can quickly undo unintended actions with a single click:

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Figure 12

Improved single line view – to me the Reading Pane is indispensable, but some people do not use it either due to personal preference or maybe because their screen is too small. If you prefer the single line message view over the traditional reading pane, Outlook on the web now includes a preview of the message contents in-line with the subject. In addition, we can now perform common actions in bulk, which makes managing the inbox not only easier, but also faster. Additionally, when clicking an email in single line view, it gets opened in the same window with no pop-up or separate window.

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Figure 13

Images and Emojis

Outlook on the web finally provides the ability to insert inline pictures and easily resize images. However, unlike with Exchange Online, we cannot yet add custom borders, apply shadow effects, rotate images and more... But now we have a set of emojis :)

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Figure 14

Link Preview

When we open an email that contains a hyperlink or when we add a link to an email, Outlook on the Web inserts a preview of that particular website. If we don’t want to see previews, all we have to do is go to Options and disable this feature.

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Figure 15

Search

Finding the people we want to reach has also been improved. When we place the mouse cursor on the recipient line (To, Cc or Bcc), Outlook on the web shows a list of the most common people and distribution groups we have been emailing:

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Figure 16

As we type, the list of recipients is automatically refined to filter only those matching our search. This list of common recipients is intelligent and adapts as the people we email change over time.

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Figure 17

App Launcher

The Office 365 app launcher has made it to Exchange on-premises. It provides a new navigation experience where “all apps are available from the top navigation bar”:

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Figure 18

To me this makes more sense in Office 365 where you have a multitude of other apps such as OneDrive, Delve, Yammer, Office, etc. For on-premises with only Exchange, Lync and/or SharePoint, with the app launcher we have to perform two clicks to get to out Calendar, for example, while the previous navigation bar provided single-click access:

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Figure 19

Calendar

The Calendar has also experienced some improvements in an attempt to help users better manage both their work and personal life.

We can easily create a quick appointment simply by selecting a calendar section:

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Figure 20

Calendar now supports "charms", icons that we can apply to calendar items as a visual cue to help us quickly identify specific events or types of events. For example, we can add an airplane charm to an upcoming flight, or a knife and fork for a business dinner. There are a number of charms to choose from:

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Figure 21

Once added each charm appears in the lower right corner of the calendar event (only one charm per event is supported):

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Figure 22

Another improvement is around reminders. We can now create email reminders for any calendar event. We can specify the recipient list, include a quick message, and set the day and time we want the email reminder to be sent.

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Figure 23

Definitely a great way of keeping everyone updated on important events in case they did not set a reminder themselves.

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Figure 24

There is now also a Birthdays calendar by default to help us more easily manage our work and personal life. This works just as normal calendars that can be overlaid over our work calendar or viewed separately.

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Figure 25

If this is something that we are not really interested in, we can easily turn it off in Options:

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Figure 26

Or we can turn it off simply by right-clicking on it and selecting Turn off the birthday calendar option:

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Figure 27

Faster and Better Search

Even with all the alternative ways of communication and collaboration, the quantity of email in people’s inboxes continues to grow. As such, it is essential for users to be able to search through all those emails in a faster and easier way. By studying how users search for emails in Office 365, Microsoft was able to fine-tune Exchange's search architecture.

The overall speed of server-side search is improved in Exchange 2016, and Outlook now benefits from the power of server-side search. When Outlook 2016 is running in cached mode (and connected to Exchange), it performs an online search, in theory delivering faster and more complete results than desktop search.

But this article is about Outlook on the web, and here Microsoft also made some changes by implementing a new and more intuitive search UI:

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Figure 28

As we type, intuitive search suggestions appear, based on people we communicate with, our mailbox content and our query history:

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Figure 29

Conclusion

In the first part of this article series, we introduced the new Outlook on the web interface and all the new features from the previous Outlook Web App 2013. In the next and final part we will look at some further improvements such as around mobile devices.

If you would like to read the next part in this article series please go to Improvements to OWA in Exchange 2016 (Part 2).

See Also


The Author — Nuno Mota

Nuno Mota avatar

Nuno is an Exchange MVP working as a Senior Microsoft Messaging Consultant for a UK IT Services Provider in London. He specializes in Exchange, Lync, Active Directory and PowerShell.

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