Using Non-Windows Systems to Access Exchange Server 2010 : Understanding Non-Windows–Based Mail Client Options

2/18/2011 2:20:52 PM
In most enterprise network environments today, the need to support non-Microsoft Windows client operating systems is almost guaranteed; administrators must plan and support alternative means of access to Exchange Server mail information.

To accomplish this goal, administrators can use several options available to provide Exchange Server data and calendaring information to a variety of alternative non-Windows–based clients systems. Leveraging the built-in compatibility and functionality of Exchange Server 2010, access can be accomplished using any one or combination of multiple familiar client options, depending on the operating system being used and the functionality needed by the individual client.

One of the huge improvements an administrator will find when working with Exchange Server 2010 is the enhanced support for non-Windows-based mail systems. With a movement away from a proprietary WebDAV standard to a broader industry supported Web Services standard for Outlook Web App, users running Apple Mac Safari or FireFox for Windows will experience “Premium Client” support that was previously provided only to users of the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser. This, along with a number of other improvements, provides a better experience for non-Windows mail client users.

Using Exchange Server client options such as Mac OS X Mail, Entourage 2008, Outlook Web App, Windows-based Remote Desktop,  administrators can identify the best solution available to provide Exchange Server 2010 server connectivity based on the operating system being used and functionality of each solution.

In addition, because these types of clients are usually the minority in most Microsoft Exchange Server environments, administrators can evaluate the functionality available with each of these client solutions and implement any specific one based on the requirements of the client accessing Exchange Server information.

Supporting Mac Clients with Microsoft Solutions

When determining which Exchange Server client is best for supporting Mac users and desktops, the most important consideration is the required functionality of the client user and the limitations involved with each available option.

To support Mac desktops with Exchange Server 2010, Microsoft provided a few options, including Entourage 2008 and Outlook Express clients designed specifically for the Macintosh desktop operating system. A very popular option for Macintosh support to Exchange Server is to use the built-in Mac Mail, iCal, and Address Book client that comes with OS X and fully supports access to Exchange Server.

Using any of these options, administrators can support internal network access and remote connectivity to Exchange Server 2010 using applications installed directly on the client desktop using protocols already enabled to support their Windows-based Outlook client cousins.

Supporting Outlook Options

For additional information on Entourage 2008 and support for Mac clients in an Exchange Server 2010 environment, Microsoft provides comprehensive information and instructions through the Mactopia support website at www.microsoft.com/mac/default.mspx.

Though most Windows users are familiar with the name Outlook and Outlook Express, Microsoft also provides another very powerful client option for connecting Macintosh clients to Exchange Server 2010. Using the Entourage 2008 client, Mac users can get a robust set of client options, such as mail and calendaring synchronization, junk email filtering, and contact management with the look and feel more familiar to Macintosh users. Not the Outlook client, this alternative to Outlook is available individually or as part of the Office 2008 Mac client suite or can be downloaded independently.

Providing Full Functionality with PC Virtualization and Remote Desktop for Mac

What is probably the simplest and most popular option when supporting Mac clients in a predominantly Windows-based environment is using the PC virtualization tool (such as Microsoft Virtual PC for the Mac, Parallels, or VMware Fusion) and Remote Desktop Client for Mac. Using these Mac client options provides any Mac user with the full functionality of the Windows-based Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003 clients on the Mac desktop. These are two options that can be easily implemented and allow Mac users full access to Windows client tools and functionality. Using this option, administrators can not only provide access to Microsoft Outlook, but they can also provide full functionality to Windows desktop applications and tools directly to the Mac client.

Using PC virtualization for the Mac, users can launch and work in a fully functional virtual Windows-based PC loaded on the Mac desktop. Effective for Mac users with Windows experience, PC virtualization provides cross-platform functionality for users by allowing features such as access to Mac desktop peripherals, cut-and-paste features between the Virtual PC and the Mac OS, no-configuration printing, and access to Windows network-based shares.


Unlike the RDP client, PC virtualization runs the applications on the local Mac client. This means that any data, including saved files and offline folders, is also stored on the local Mac desktop.

Using the Remote Desktop Client, Mac users can access a Windows desktop functionality through sessions based on Terminal Services functionality, allowing full functionality in Windows through a remote connection. This function also gives Mac clients the ability to cut and paste information from the Remote Desktop Connection to the Mac operating system, full printing functionality to local connected Mac printers, and the ability to provide network access to shared Windows resources. The difference in these two options is the default storage of Exchange Server data and saved work; with the RDP client, when the RDP session is disconnected, all saved information remains on the network and not on the attached client.

Using the Internet for Exchange Server Connectivity

When access to Exchange Server information is all that is required, the most effective option available is leveraging the Outlook Web App (OWA) functionality built in to the Exchange Server 2010 operating system. Because using this option is normally enabled for standard Windows-based remote access from the Internet, Mac users and UNIX/Linux users can also access OWA as they access a web page from both the internal network and the Internet.

By using web-based access to provide Exchange Server 2010 client functionality, administrators can consider this solution for a variety of different non-Windows–based client systems with Internet browsing enabled. With the release of Exchange Server 2010 and its support for Web Services, Outlook Web App 2010 provides full “Premium client” support for Apple Mac Safari users. This provides Mac users with full Web access just like Windows Internet Explorer users. This includes more than 90% of the capabilities of a full Outlook 2007 or Outlook 2003 client with Outlook Web App features, such as spell checking, calendar appointments, the Rules Wizard, and more. Even more important, this option requires no additional client software to be installed on any non-Windows–based client.


Microsoft initially released support for Apple Mac Safari and FireFox for Windows; however, additional browser support will continue to expand the platform support for the Premium Client experience for Outlook Web App users.

Comparing Client Functionality and Compatibility

With each option and method of access to Exchange Server 2010, different options and functionality are available. As mentioned in the review of each method of access, some methods enable full functionality and others are limited.

Review the operating system requirements in Table 1 to determine whether the Mac operating systems meet the required revision for the method of access being considered.

Table 1. Client Functionality
RequirementOutlook ExpressRemote DesktopEntourage 2008OWA
Directory searchxxxx
Offline accessxxxNo
PST archiveNoxxNo
PST import/exportNoxxNo
Junk mail filteringNoxxx
SSL securityNoxxx

Determine the required functionality by using this table to compare the features of each client access method. Review the functionality of each method and compare the result with the Mac OS you are working with.

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