Outlook upgrades have historically been relatively straight forward and free from excessive amounts of planning, but Outlook 2013 is a bit different. Even though an Outlook 2013 upgrade is not particularly difficult, there are several issues administrators should consider before getting started.
Two Outlook 2013 deployment methods
Administrators have two options when it comes to Outlook 2013 deployments. The first method is the familiar Windows Installer-based deployment method. If you've ever installed Outlook, you've dealt with this method, which involves running an MSI file.
The other deployment method is what Microsoft calls Click-to-Run. This method is available to Microsoft Office 365 subscribers. Microsoft provides Office 365 subscribers with a self-service portal, where Outlook is installed via a streaming installation across the Internet.
Click-to-Run deployments require almost no administrative action. It's up to the user to initiate the deployment process. The entire deployment is then automated. That said, there are a few disadvantages to this type of deployment.
Click-to-Run deployments can prove quite bandwidth-intensive. The deployment process uses streaming to minimize the bandwidth consumption, but each time a user initiates an installation deployment files must be downloaded -- even if another user recently downloaded the files.
Another disadvantage is the fact that this method does not give administrators much control over the deployment process. For example, administrators usually want to control which languages are included in an Office deployment, or they may want to include Office in a standardized desktop image.
As an alternative, Microsoft offers an on-premises deployment option for Office 365 customers. Those who wish to perform a Click-to-Run deployment should download the Office Deployment Tool. This tool lets administrators download a copy of Office 2013, customize it to fit their organization's needs and then deploy Office from an on-premises distribution point.
Another alternative is to include Office 2013 in a deployment image. This type of deployment not only provides a high degree of administrative control, but also minimizes the amount of Internet bandwidth required by the deployment, since users don't have to repeatedly download installation files.
When deploying Microsoft Outlook 2013, you should also be aware that it will automatically disable any add-in that it deems will have a negative effect on performance, stability or reliability.
If you don't want Outlook 2013 to automatically disable add-ins, you should download the latest administrative template for Outlook and then use group policy settings to control how Outlook 2013 interacts with add-ins. Add-in related group policy settings are located at: User Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Microsoft Outlook 2013 -> Miscellaneous -> List of Managed Add-Ins.
Outlook 2013 Cached mode
Every version of Outlook since Outlook 2003 has supported Cached mode. Cached mode -- which is enabled by default in Outlook -- stores a copy of the user's mailbox in an OST file on said user's computer. This is especially helpful to mobile users because it allows them to access their contacts and previously received mail items even when working offline.
Cached mode still exists in Outlook 2013, but Microsoft has changed the way it behaves. The new Outlook 2013 Sync Slider feature limits the number of messages synchronized to a user's local OST file. By default, only messages received within the last year are synchronized. It is possible, however, for an administrator to change the amount of data that is stored in the offline cache.
Microsoft has also changed the structure of the OST file. The new OST file format is about 40% smaller than legacy OST files. If you have a compelling reason to continue using the old OST file format, you can force Microsoft Outlook 2013 to use it through a group policy setting.
About the author
Brien Posey is a 10-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before becoming a freelance technical writer, Brien worked as a chief information officer at a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the nation's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.