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Microsoft Issues Test Version of Outlook Web App for Android

Microsoft has published a "prerelease" version of its Outlook Web App for Android at the Google Play store.

The release is still at the test phase. However, Microsoft had said back in March that Outlook Web App for Android would be arriving sometime this year. This release is just designed to deliver test data to Microsoft prior to product launch, which hasn't been announced.

Reviewers at the Google Play store have described Outlook Web App for Android as an "early beta" release. It comes with a lot of restrictions, too. It currently just works with Android 4.4 KitKat or higher operating system versions. It also just works on "small" or "normal" sized devices, as determined by the Android OS. Lastly, the user has to have an Office 365 subscription for business users. The prerelease doesn't work with Office 365 Personal edition or Office 365 Home edition, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Not all Android device makes are supported at present. At press time, supported devices included the Google Nexus 5, Motorola Moto X, Samsung Galaxy S4, S5 and Note 3, and the Sony Xperia ZL and Z1 models. Microsoft is tallying requests in its forum page on which Android device it should support next.

Google Play reviewers are saying that alerts indicating new mail arrivals or calendar items aren't being indicated by playing a sound on Android devices. Nor is the screen rotation capability supported yet with the prerelease. Others have suggested they are experiencing sluggish message loading with the new Outlook Web App for Android.

No Exchange Support
At present, there's no support for on-premises Exchange servers, although Microsoft plans to add such support in a future release. The lack of Exchange support may mean that the app can't be tested yet by many organizations. In addition, the Outlook Web App for Android prerelease currently doesn't work with Outlook.com, which is Microsoft's free e-mail service for consumers, formerly known as Hotmail.

Outlook Web App for Android can carry out the same functions as Microsoft's Outlook Web App for iPhone, according to Microsoft's announcement. Outlook Web Apps for iPhone and iPad got released back in July. Like Outlook Web App for Android, the iOS versions of those apps are also limited in not being capable yet of tapping Exchange Server 2013 traffic.

Microsoft indicated that Outlook Web App for Android can update the user's contacts in the app "if you've enabled the app to sync your contacts to your device." For instance, updated info sent via a text message can be synced into the Outlook Web App's contact information if such synchronization has been set up.

Outlook Web Apps are considered to be a "native apps" with regard to Android and iOS. The "native" part means that they are better integrated with the device's hardware than browser-based Web apps would be, enabling various capabilities, such as storage and camera access, among other features.

Exchange ActiveSync Not Required
Outlook Web App for Android doesn't require Exchange ActiveSync to see contacts on a device. Exchange ActiveSync is Microsoft's protocol for synchronizing Exchange data (mail, calendar, contacts and tasks) with mailboxes, including Outlook. The ability of the app to function without Exchange ActiveSync appears to be one reason why Microsoft mandates an Office 365 subscription to use the Outlook Web App. Office 365 is capable of using various push notification services to deliver content across platforms, Microsoft explained in a blog post and presentation about Exchange ActiveSync's evolution in supporting Outlook Web Apps.

Microsoft's presentation explains that it is "more tricky" to use Exchange ActiveSync with on-premises Exchange messaging. That setup requires a certificate for end users to receive push notifications. The notification service is needed to tell the end user that there are unseen messages since the last device synchronization with the mail service.

Microsoft's ActiveSync protocol evolved from an earlier AirSync technology used in Exchange 2000. With Exchange 2003 Service Pack 3, Microsoft added policy controls in Exchange ActiveSync for bring-your-own device scenarios, including support for PINs, encryption and remote wipe capability. With Exchange 2007 Service Pack 1, Microsoft added e-mail search and "always up to date" (AUTD) technology that showed alerts. Exchange 2010 Service Pack 1 brought "level block quarantine" technology for address entropy, as well as the ability for IT pros to decide which devices can connect to Outlook, according to the presentation.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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