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Exchange Online Getting E-Mail Internationalization Support

Microsoft plans to add limited support for e-mail internationalization sometime this quarter for Office 365 Exchange Online Enterprise plan users.

Sometime in Q1 of this year, these Office 365 users will be able to send and receive messages from e-mail addresses composed using international characters, according to Microsoft's announcement. These "internationalized" e-mail addresses typically might use the UTF-8 character set rather than ASCII, allowing names in the Chinese alphabet or the Russian alphabet to display, for instance.

Oddly, though, when Microsoft applies this Office 365 update, IT pros still won't be able to add end users with internationalized e-mail addresses. Microsoft is taking a slow approach, it seems, because of the glacial pace of the general e-mail address internationalization (EAI) effort.

Here's how Microsoft described that limitation in its announcement:

Please note that this new release [of Office 365] will not support adding EAI addresses for Office 365 users, or IDN [Internationalized Domain Name] domains for Office 365 organizations. We will continue to evaluate these features as the standards are more widely adopted. We will also keep you posted on the plan to release this to Exchange Enterprise version.

IT pros, though, will be able to use internationalized addresses in certain Office 365 features, such as "mail flow rules" or "outbound connectors to Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) domains," the announcement clarified.

The overall e-mail address internationalization effort is being spearheaded by the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG), supported by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The problem with getting systems to use EAI is somewhat stuck, though, because of how older e-mail software handles e-mail addresses, both the local mailbox names and the domain names, where 7-bit ASCII text may be required. The UASG has summarized its recommendations for both software developers and service providers to follow in its "Quick Guide to Email Address Internationalization" document (PDF).

In addition, four Request for Comments (RFC) documents were produced in 2012 by the Internet Engineering Task Force to spur the internationalized e-mail effort. There's an overview (RFC 6530) document, a proposal for an SMTP extension for e-mail transport and delivery (RFC 6531), a proposal to use UTF-8 in message headers (RFC 6532) and proposal for specifying e-mail return messages (RFC 6533).

The aim of the EAI effort is to make e-mail transmissions more user friendly for people around the world whose language doesn't use the Latin alphabet. It's done by adding UTF-8 character support. However, as Microsoft's announcement noted, "changes in standards are difficult to implement in the world of technology due to the millions of legacy systems that are still out there."

About the Author

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

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