Category Archives: exchange

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Fixing the Exchange 2007 quarantine – most obscure Outlook operation ever

I’ve been testing Exchange 2007 recently and overall I’m impressed. Smooth and powerful; and the built-in anti-spam is a great improvement on what is in Exchange 2003. One of the features lets you redirect spam to a quarantine mailbox. You know the kind of thing: it’s a junk bucket, and someone gets the job of sifting through it looking for false positives, like lotteries you really have won (still looking).

Sounds a nice feature, but apparently Microsoft did not quite finish it. The quarantine is a standard Exchange mailbox, which means you have to add a quarantine user. To view the quarantine, you log onto that mailbox. A bit of a nuisance, but not too bad once you have figured out the somewhat obscure means of opening another user’s mailbox within your own Outlook. You’ll notice a little usability issue. All the entries are non-delivery reports from the administrator. You cannot see who they are from without reading the report, making it harder to scan them for genuine messages.

Another issue is when you find an email you want to pluck out of the bucket. My guess is that you will need to Google this one, or call support. The trick is to open the message, and click Send Again. It is counter-intuitive, because the message you are sending again is not the one you can see – that’s the Administrator’s report – but the original message which is otherwise hidden.

So you hit Send Again. As if by magic, the lost message appears. Great; but there’s another little issue. If you hit Send, the message will be sent from you, not from the original sender.

Both issues can be fixed. The fix for Send Again is to log on as the quarantine user – opening the mailbox is not enough. Since it is not particularly easy to switch user in Outlook, the obvious solution is Outlook Web Access; or you could use Switch User in Vista to log on with Outlook as the quarantine user. Send Again will then use the original sender by default.

How about being able to see the original sender in Outlook? No problem – just follow the instructions here. I won’t bore you by repeating them; but they form, I believe, a new winner in the Outlook obscurity hall of shame. After using Notepad to create and save a form config file, you use the UI to install it, and here’s a screenshot showing how deeply the required dialog is buried:

A few more steps involving a field picker dialog reminiscent of Windows 95, and now you can see all those faked sender email addresses:

The mitigating factor is that the anti-spam rules themselves are pretty good, and I’ve not found many false positives.

The Exchange VSS plug-in for Server 2008 that isn’t (yet)

If you install Exchange 2007 on Server 2008, one problem to consider is that the built-in backup is not Exchange-aware. You have to use a third-party backup, or hack in the old ntbackup from Server 2003. Otherwise, Exchange might not be restorable, and won’t truncate its logs after a backup.

In June 2008 Scott Schnoll, Principal Technical Writer on the Exchange Server product team, announced that:

As a result of the large amount of feedback we received on this issue, we have decided to ship a plug-in for WSB created by Windows and the Small Business Server (SBS) team that enables VSS-based backups of Exchange.

He is making reference to the fact that Small Business Server 2008 does include a VSS (Volume Shadow Copy Service) plug-in for Exchange, so that the built-in backup works as you would expect. This was also announced at the 2008 TechEd, shipping later that summer was mentioned, and the decision was generally applauded. But SBS 2008 shipped last year. So where is the plug-in?

This became the subject of a thread on TechNet, started in August 2008, in which the participants refused to accept a series of meaningless “we’re working on it” responses:

This is becoming more than a little absurd.  I understand that these things can take time, and that unexpected delays can occur, but I rather expect that more information might be provided than “we’re working on it”, because I know that already and knew it months ago.  What sort of timeframe are we looking at, broadly?  What is the most that you are able to tell us?

Then someone spotted a comment by Group Program Manager Kurt Phillips in this thread:

We’re planning on starting work on a backup solution in December – more to follow on that.

Phillips then said in the first thread mentioned above:

The SBS team did implement a plug-in for this.  In fact, we met with them to discuss some of the early design work and when we postponed doing it in late summer, they went ahead with their own plans, as it is clearly more targeted toward their customer segment (small businesses) than the overall Exchange market.

We are certainly evaluating their work in our plan.

For those anxiously awaiting the plug-in, because they either mistrust or don’t want to pay for a third-party solution, the story has changed quite a bit from the June announcement. Apparently no work was done on the plug-in for six months or so; and rather than implementing the SBS plug-in it now seems that the Exchange team is doing its own. Not good communication; and here comes Mr Fed-Up:

Like most things from this company, we can expect a beta quality “solution” by sometime in 2010. We have a few hundred small business clients that we do outsourced IT for, and as it’s come time to replace machines, we’ve been replacing Windows PCs with Macs, and Windows servers with Linux. It’s really amazing how easy it is to setup a Windows domain on a Linux server these days. The end users can’t tell a difference.

What this illustrates is that blogging, forums and open communication are great, but only when you communicate bad news as well as good. It is remarkable how much more patient users are when they feel in touch with what is happening.

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