“words—
lonely written words—are all you’ve got”

—Virginia Shea

“communication happens when I know you know what I know”

—Me

Posting Outlook for Mac Exchange Setup script survey results

Microsoft released Outlook 15 for Mac 3-1/2 months ago to its Office 365 Exchange Online customers. Prior to that I had some foresight this new version would break a script I wrote originally for Microsoft Entourage and later Outlook for Mac. The script enabled administrators to help their users configure Exchange settings in environments where Autodiscover didn’t work.

In early September 2014, I posted a survey and solicited responses from Mac admins who used this Exchange setup script in their environments. My goal was to learn how many organizations and users may be impacted and then communicate that to my contacts at Microsoft who developed Office for Mac.

Below I describe the issue, present the survey results and include some information about what happens next.

What broke?

I designed the script to trigger via a schedule when a user first launched Outlook for Mac. This was important to me from a user-experience perspective. While I could have easily triggered the script the first time a user logged in to his Mac, that’s rude and invasive. Logging in to a Mac != “I want to use Outlook”. I could also have just plopped the script on every user’s Desktop. But that’s easy to delete and requires the user to know he must launch it.

Triggering the script after launching Outlook made a reasonable assumption that launching Outlook = “I want to use Outlook”. And it didn’t require distributing documentation to the user.

Outlook 15 no longer included a Schedules feature.

Was that the end of the world? Not at all. But it was a significant kink in providing a positive user experience where things “just worked”. And AppleScript was still the only scriptable solution for environments where Autodiscover didn’t work.

Survey results

I kept the survey open for two months and gathered some very interesting data. It was the first time I ever asked who’s using it and how much. Some of the survey results indicated Mac admins weren’t necessarily using the script I wrote but were still using AppleScript for configuration, which was very much in line with the data I wanted. Of those who responded during this two-month window, the basic results were:

Organizations
using the script
Total users affected
in these organizaions
96 175,434

Based on conversations and other emails, I knew far more than 96 organizations were using the script but I limited the survey time because I wanted data to take to Microsoft. My plan was to present this snapshot of data to the product manager for Outlook for Mac when I attended the Microsoft MVP Global Summit in November 2014.

While I didn’t get a chance to sit down and review the results with the product manager as I’d hoped (he was a new father and had to return early to California), we did briefly discuss the results later in email. I also compiled the survey results and an executive summary for him. The following PDF is a sanitized version of that document with all respondents and comments anonymized.

Outlook for Mac needs an alternative to Autodiscover for Exchange account configuration

What’s next?

In its announcement for Outlook 15 for Mac back in October 2014, Microsoft added it plans to release a public beta for the next version of Office for Mac in the first half of 2015 followed by the final release in the second half of 2015. The current Outlook 15 application, available only to Office 365 subscribers, does not include an alternative to Autodiscover. However, Office 365 correctly supports Autodiscover.

If Microsoft chooses to implement an alternative to Autodiscover in Outlook 15, it more than likely won’t do so until the version released with the beta. If administrators don’t see an alternative then, they should notify their Technical Account Managers (TAMs) and put the weight of their purchased licenses behind the request. Most respondents to the survey have just a few hundred users, but their combined numbers showed some real power.

In the meantime, I’m looking at scripting options with the current version of Outlook 15. The script still works. Only the trigger needs some rejiggering. After some work this weekend, I have a proof of concept that’s a little rough around the edges but works. Although I can’t work around Outlook 15’s requirement for online activation, I can use that as the trigger for initiating the script.

This movie shows the first launch of Outlook 15 under a new OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) user account. The script kicks in just after activation to close the remaining windows and display a placeholder message.

I’d still love to see Microsoft make the need for the script obsolete.

This post was late in coming. I apologize for taking so long to present the survey results. Thanks, Tim, for the prod!

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