New OWA Maturing in Different Ways

Four Months of Maturing OWA

Microsoft started to talk up the new version of OWA at Ignite 2018. Since then, the interface has gradually improved and built out in terms of supported features. The time this has taken puzzles some who think that OWA is based on the Outlook.com browser client (which it fundamentally is), but there’s a host of enterprise-class features in OWA like making categories into favorites that are not available in Outlook.com, and those take time to get right. At least, that’s what it seems.

Scheduling a Teams Meeting with OWA

One of the new features is the ability to schedule a Teams meeting from OWA. The current version of OWA supports scheduling a Skype for Business Online meeting but knows nothing about Teams. Outlook desktop has a Teams add-in that works well if you start Outlook when the Teams desktop client is connected to your home tenant. If not (for instance, you’re connected as a guest to another tenant), the add-in fails to appear.

With the new OWA, the option to schedule a Teams meeting appears as an option (see below). The actual link to join the meeting is added when the meeting invitation is sent. It doesn’t matter what tenant your Teams desktop client is connected to at the time because OWA always connects to your home tenant to schedule the meeting.

Scheduling a Microsoft Teams meeting with OWA (Outlook on the Web)
Scheduling a Teams meeting with the new OWA

OWA’s Dark Mode

Another popular feature in the new OWA is dark mode, which seems to be quite the thing in browser apps today. Some will like this very much, others won’t care for it at all. I have yet to make my mind up.

The alternative dark mode for Outlook Web App (OWA)
OWA Dark Mode

Joy in Email

The Joyful Animations setting attracted my attention. This is a new OWA setting that promises that “Outlook will show a celebratory burst of colorful shapes in the reading pane when you open a message that includes words like Happy Birthday and Congratulations.” Like dark mode, this setting also appears in Outlook.com and is an example of technology transferring from a consumer service to the enterprise service. Discuss among yourselves whether the transfer is useful…

OWA Joyful animations for birthdays
Joyful animations coming soon

Naturally expecting that great things would happen, I instantly sent a message of congratulations to another user. Unhappily, the feature must depend on some processing (maybe server-side) that’s not yet enabled within Office 365 and no joy ensued. The feature works in Outlook.com when suitably joyous terms are highlighted in messages. Clicking on a highlighted term generates the promised “burst of colorful shapes.” You can amuse yourself for hours by clicking on terms to see the shapes…

OWA sprinkles joyful animations
Click on Congratulations and the Shapes Appear

Turn On The Lights

When reading email containing birthday wishes, I had the chance to show off the ability to turn on and off dark mode when reading messages (cutely called turning on (bright) and off (dark) the lights).

Turning the lights on and off with the new OWA in Office 365/Exchange Online
No joy, but the lights are turned on

The new OWA isn’t ready for prime time yet and users must be assigned an OWA mailbox policy to expose the choice to see the new mode, but the new client is coming and will be the default soon. Changing client interfaces can be a challenge for help desk, user documentation, and users. If you haven’t yet looked into the new OWA, maybe now’s a good time to have a peek.

Unless of course you run an Exchange on-premises server. There’s no sign at present that Microsoft will bring the new OWA to Exchange 2019, but stranger things have happened…


We cover OWA and other Office 365 clients in Chapter 10 of the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook. And like everything else in the book, we’ll update our text about OWA when the new client makes its mainstream debut. We might leave the bit about colorful shapes out…

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