Saturday, November 1, 2014

Using Exchange without Outlook

There are some good alternatives to Microsoft Exchange, for instance Zimbra. If your experience is like mine, however, most places use Exchange. Up until now, there haven't been many good options for using Exchange without Outlook. Support for Exchange calendar integration in particular has been lacking. But now there's a great option for using Exchange without Outlook, and you can set it up in less than 15 minutes:

  1. Install Thunderbird

  2. Install the Lightning calendar extension
    1. Download it from here:

    2. To install, open the downloaded .xpi extension file with Thunderbird. If that isn't an option:
      1. Open Thunderbird and go to the Tools menu → Add-ons

      2. Click the button to the left of the Search bar → Install Add-on From File

      3. Browse to the extension file and select it → Open

      4. Click Install Now

      5. Click the Restart Now button near the top right

      6. When Thunderbird reopens, close the Add-ons Manager tab

    3. You can also install it as a package in Debian/Ubuntu/Elementary (I normally prefer to download it to get the latest version):
      sudo apt-get -y install xul-ext-lightning

  3. Install the Exchange EWS Provider extension
    1. Download it from here:

    2. Unzip it

    3. Follow the instructions above for installing the Lightning extension to install the Exchange EWS Provider extension

  4. Set up your Exchange email
    1. If you haven't set up your Exchange email address yet, you can do so by using the following instructions. You may need to get the server addresses (IMAP/POP/SMTP) from your system administrator or IT department:

  5. Set up your Exchange calendar
    1. Open Thunderbird and then open the Calendar tab (Events and Tasks menu → Calendar)

    2. Right-click in the Calendar section in the lower-left side of the screen → New Calendar

    3. Select On the Network → Next

    4. Select Microsoft Exchange 2007/2010/2013 → Next

    5. Give it a name, select your email address, and click Next

    6. Check Use Exchange's autodiscovery function, enter your primary email address, Active Directory username, and Active Directory domain name. Then click Perform autodiscovery

    7. Enter your password when prompted

    8. The EWS server URL should automatically be detected. When it is, click Select

    9. Enter your password again if prompted

    10. You should be brought back to the Create New Calendar dialog. Click Next → Finish

    11. Your calendar should now be populated with your Exchange calendar events

  6. Set up your Exchange address book
    1. In Thunderbird go to the Tools menu → Address Book

    2. Click Add Exchange contact folder

    3. Give it a name

    4. Check Add global address list to search results (otherwise, it will only use your personal address book in Exchange)

    5. Check Use Exchange's autodiscovery function

    6. Enter your primary email address, Active Directory username, and Active Directory domain name, then click Perform autodiscovery

    7. The EWS server URL should automatically be detected. When it is, click Select

    8. You should be brought back to the Exchange Contact Settings dialog. Click Save

    9. Now you can search for a contact in Exchange by selecting Exchange contacts on the left and then using the search box in the upper right. Contacts will also be auto-populated when composing new emails.
There are other options out there for Outlook alternatives. One I tried is DavMail Gateway. Compared to Exchange EWS Provider, however, it used a lot of memory because it ran as a Java application in the background. It also didn't handle calendar events as well; for instance, if a calendar event was moved to a different time, it would show up under the new time as well as the old time.


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