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Issues with OWA on Windows XP SP2

While it solves many OS security issues, XP SP2 includes some features that can create problems for some OWA users.

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Although Windows XP Service Pack 2 solves many problems and provides better OS security, it also creates several issues, some of which are related to Outlook Web Access (OWA). The pop-up blocker Microsoft added to Internet Explorer is the guiltiest OWA culprit. Many OWA functions in Exchange 2000 and 2003 take place within pop-up windows. So if pop-ups are disabled, those features don't work.

There are too many problems caused by the pop-up blocker to list them all, but a few of the problems include blocking of the New Folder action, the attachments dialog box, and the Send Mail to Contact button on the Contact form.

The pop-up blocker can also trigger script errors within OWA. For example, if you double click on a user name within the Find Names dialog box, a scripting error will occur because the pop-up blocker is blocking the necessary action.

The good news is that you don't have to disable the pop-up blocker to fix these problems. In fact, you shouldn't disable the pop-up blocker if at all possible, because malicious code hidden within pop-up ads has been known to spread spyware.

There are three ways of getting around these issues without having to disable the pop-up blocker.

Option 1

Leave the pop-up blocking enabled, but allow pop-ups for your OWA Web site:

  1. Open the Control Panel and click the Security Center icon, followed by the Internet Options icon. The Internet Properties sheet will appear.
  2. Select the Privacy tab and click the Settings button found in the Pop-up Blocker section. Windows will display the Pop-up Blocker Settings dialog box.
  3. At this point, simply enter the URL to your OWA site into the "Address of Web Site To Allow" field.
  4. Finally, click the Add button followed by the Close button.

Option 2

The second technique is more appropriate if you are accessing OWA from a public kiosk and don't have the authority to modify the pop-up blocker. In this case, you would log on with Forms-Based authentication and select the basic client rather than the premium client.

  1. To enable forms based authentication on your mail server, open Exchange System Manager and navigate through the console tree to the server that is hosting OWA.
  2. Expand the server's Protocols container and then right click on the HTTP container.
  3. Select Properties to access the server's HTTP Properties sheet.
  4. Click the Settings tab, then the Enable Forms Based Authentication checkbox, and click OK.

Now, when users log onto OWA, they will have to enter their logon names in the form DOMAIN\USERNAME. However, the sign-on screen will contain an option for using either a basic or premium client. The basic client will work properly with Windows XP's pop-up blocker.

Option 3

I don't recommend this technique per se, because it allows more pop-ups to get through than the other methods. However, it is a way of making OWA work with Windows XP Service Pack 2, so I am including it.

If you are accessing OWA using HTTPS, this method involves changing the pop-up blocker's filter level. By default, the pop-up blocker's filter is set to Medium, which means that most pop-ups will be blocked, but a few will make it through. If you set the filter level to Low, pop-ups will be allowed from secure sites. The filter level setting is found on the Pop-up Blocker Settings dialog box that I mentioned earlier.

S/MIME issue

The majority of the SP2 related issues involve the pop-up blocker. However, Microsoft also acknowledges that the OWA S/MIME control no longer functions. Although the S/MIME control is present, the E-Mail Security area of OWA will tell you that the S/MIME control is not installed. Furthermore, you may not be able to encrypt a message, add a digital signature to a message, or drag attachments to the Compose Message form. Presently, there does not seem to be a fix for the S/MIME issues.

If you would like to read more about OWA compatibility with Windows XP SP2, I recommend Microsoft Knowledge Base article 883575.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at


You missed the easiest SP2 popup blocker bypass -- just hold the CTRL key down when you click.
—John F.

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