We ended with configuring of server side to prepare the remote access to Exchange mailbox from the outside. Now we can start configuring the client side. In other words, we need to what we should do as the users to be able to receive corporate mail while we are sitting home or traveling with our laptop on the business trip. But before we will do that I will go a little backward and say that we as admins should pay our attention to the fact how we configure our environment. In that our specific case when we should provide user with access to the network the outer network perimeter is what pays our attention. What we do usually to prevent ourselves from being attacked from the outside? As with medieval battles, we close our doors, close our windows (oopps, let leave Windows running for little more we haven’t finished with configuring its client application) and left just a pair of doors left open. For us themselves, our friends and our bodyguards. The same way we do when our medieval castle turns into our corporate network. We usually leave to ports open: the one for HTTP (that’s we ourselves as we as our friends, the users, need access to information) and the one for SSL (that’s our bodyguard that keeps our connection secure by using public key encryption). But aren’t we here to communicate with Exchange server? How will we do that if we just have HTTP(S)? We need to be able of doing remote procedure calls. But we blocked them! How should be manage to be able to use them anyway. Uh, again we should carry that weight on our own shoulders. Let’s help the RPC and let HTTP to carry it on top. That’s exactly what we do there. We use RPC over HTTP. We encapsulate RPC network filesystem commands into HTTP headers. So here’s the scheme we have:
1. We send the request from the Outlook client application via SSL
2. It then comes to the corporate firewall (such as ISA firewall)
3. As ISA sees HTTP traffic on its input it passes the flow forward
4. Now we have the Front-End Exchange server on our way. Shortly, front-end server is the component that authenticates and proxifies HTTP requests

Typically running IIS RPC over HTTP proxy service is enough. So the main thing here to get is proxy.

Note: if you are still running old Windows XP SP1 clients you should keep this and mind and prepare your system and install the hotfix specified in the article to make to Outlook work reliable.

Keep in mind that to configure the profile on the client side and begin working with RPC over HTTP you should have your RPC port (that is the 135 one) opened prior that. Here are the recommendations provided by Microsoft for building the Front-End and Back-End Topology:
“Open TCP ports on the intranet firewall for the protocols you are using:

80 for HTTP

143 for IMAP

110 for POP

25 for SMTP

691 for Link State Algorithm routing protocol

Open ports for Active Directory Communication:

TCP port 389 for LDAP to Directory Service

UDP port 389 for LDAP to Directory Service

TCP port 3268 for LDAP to Global Catalog Server

TCP port 88 for Kerberos authentication

UDP port 88 for Kerberos authentication

Open the ports required for access to the DNS server:

TCP port 53

UDP port 53

Open the appropriate ports for RPC communication:

TCP port 135 – RPC endpoint mapper

TCP ports 1024+ – random RPC service ports

(Optional) To limit RPCs across the intranet firewall, edit the registry on servers in the intranet to specify RPC traffic to a specific non random port. Then, open the appropriate ports on the internal firewall:

TCP port 135 – RPC endpoint mapper

TCP port 1600 (example) – RPC service port

If you use IPSec between the front-end and back-end, open the appropriate ports. If the policy you configure only uses AH, you do not need to allow ESP, and vice versa.

UDP port 500 – IKE

IP protocol 51 – AH

IP protocol 50 – ESP

UDP port 88 and TCP port 88 – Kerberos”

Still the great thing with Outlook 2003 is that it IS able to configure the profile even without port 135 opened! Yes, it will swear on you that you have not opened port 135 but in the end you will get the profile configured. You just need your DNS working properly.

We sorted out the underlying process and can now freely begin with setting up the client side.

1. The first step is as always to start Mail control panel applet to configure the MAPI profile. There are at least two ways to do that:
1. We can click Start\Control Panel\Mail
2. We can right-click the Outlook icon in the Start menu and select Properties from the context menu
2. In the opened Mail dialog click Add button to add or create new profile
3. Now create new mail account by selecting Add a new e-mail account in the E-mail Accounts wizard or change the existing one by selecting the View or change existing e-mail accounts
4. On the Server Type window select Microsoft Exchange Server and click Next
5. On the Exchange Server Settings window specify the Fully Qualified Domain Name for the front-end Exchange server (refer to the info shown in the IIS site certificate to get the right name) such as exchange.acme.com. Type your user account in the Username field
6 . In the Microsoft Exchange Server dialog box switch to the Advanced tab (I recommed leaving the settings specified on the General tab intact), check Use local copy of Mailbox and set the Download only headers checkbox. This is expecially useful when configuring settings for the roaming client that uses laptop
7. Switch to the Security tab and check the Encrypt information checkbox
8. Now we are ready to do what are here for. Switch to the Connection tab and set Connect to my Exchange mailbox using HTTP checkbox
9. Click the Exchange Proxy Settings… button and configure the URL (such as exchange.acme.com) used to connect to your RPC proxy by setting it in the Use this URL to connect to my proxy server for Exchange text box. Check the Mutually authenticate the session when connecting with SSL checkbox. In the Principal name for proxy server text box put the FQDN preceded with the msstd: string. So that with exchange.acme.com you should specify msstd:exchange.acme.com as the principal name for the proxy server
10.1. Check both checkboxes for the slow and fast connections
10.2 If you have the single Connect using HTTP first, then connect using my Local Area Network (LAN) checkbox only, now you know what Microsoft means under LAN…
11. Select Basic Authentication and click OK to close the Window
12. We finished the process and can now start the client application. Depending on whether you have that command in the Outlook icon in the notification area of the taskbar you willl be able to observe established connections to the server by choosing the status command.

Note: as Microsoft says Outlook (in contrast to Group Policy which is “defined by default as any rate slower than 500 kilobits per second (Kbps)“) “defines a fast connection as a connection that is faster than 128 kilobits per second (Kbps). Outlook defines a slow connection as a connection that is slower than or equal to 128 Kbps”

How to Create an Outlook Profile for Users to Use with RPC over HTTP
Target-based Automated Client Configuration with Ability to Update and Add the RPC over HTTP Functionality for the Domain User

The Group Policy Slow-Link Detection Formula

Technorati tag:

We have several divisions where people mostly roam from one location to another be it a business trip or just a remote work. But as that’s all about doing their jobs they need the information they basically can access only right from the office. One of such types of information is surely their personal corporate mail. That’s how we work today. If we have no access to any collaboration services our work gets stuck. And the mail is the main thing there. So the core task for every system administrator today is how to provide the user with access to their corporate mail remotely from any place no matter where the user will decide to access it from.

How to do that?

One way is to create a Virtual Private Network (VPN). But what if by some reasons you can’t or simply don’t want to setup VPN to avoid making the things for users even more complex? What can you do here? What should you start with? The core term here is “RPC over HTTP“, where RPC is the Remote Procedure Call, a protocol that allows interprocess communications between client and server sides so that a component to be accessed remotely in such a way that we don’t even need to know any low-level information. This is the technology that allows Outlook users to connect to their Exchange mailbox from a remote place. And there’s no need to have a VPN connection. It allows accessing Exchange servers right through your default corporate LAN’s firewall using the basic ports used by browsers to access unsecure and secure contents on the internet. The ports that should be opened to allow access are the TCP port 80 used for basic unsecure connections and the SSL port 443 used for secure connections that are established using the Secure Sockets Layer protocol which is used as basis protocol for the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol which version 1.1. is defined in the RFC4346 document.

What should we do to enable all that for our users?

The process contains least two parts we should do to implement the functionality. As we are talking about client-server communications we need to prepare the configurations on both the server as the client. We will consider the Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 installed on the Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 and above to be the server side and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 installed on the Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2 to be the client side.
Configuring Server Side
Let’s start configuring the setup from the server side. First of all we need to configure Exchange Server 2003 back-end server as an RPC proxy server. The process here starts with installing the additional component RPC over HTTP Proxy from the Windows Server Setup Disk. To do that:
1. Click Start and select Control Panel|Add or Remove Programs to start the Add or Remove Programs applet
2. In the Add or Remove Programs windows click Add/Remove Windows Components button
3. The Windows Components screen of the Windows Components Wizard will appear
4. Select Networking Sevices and click the Details button to open the Networking Sevices dialog
4. In the dialog box, check the RPC over HTTP Proxy checkbox and click OK

The RPC component will be installed on the system and the RPC virtual directory will be created on the IIS. Now we need to configure authentication and the encryption.

Configuring client authentication

Basic authentication will be used to authenticate users. This type of authentication has one very annoying property: it sends creadentials in the pure form as the plain text. That’s why we will need to configure SSL and implement the encryption to be used for passing the credentials.
To configure that
1. Click Start and select Programs|Administrative Tools|Internet Information Services (IIS) Manager to start the IIS manager
2. In the manager window navigate to Web Sites and select Default Web Site
3. Expand Default Web Site, right-click the RPC virtual directory, and select Properties command from the shortcut menu
4. In the RPC Virtual Directory Properties page switch to the Directory Security tab
5. Under Anonymous Access and Authentication Control pane click Edit button.
6. The Authentication Methods dialog box will appear
7. Uncheck the Enable Anonymous Access checkbox

That’s needed because by default RPC over HTTP doesn’t allow anonymous access

8. Under Authenticated access section, select the check box Basic authentication (password is sent in clear text)
9. You can also allow the NTLM Windows authentication and leave the Integrated Windows authentication checkbox checked

Microsoft has a note on this type of authentication:
It is recommended that you use Basic authentication over NTLM because of two reasons. First, RPC over HTTP currently supports only NTLM – it doesn’t support Kerberos. Second, if there is an HTTP Proxy or a firewall between the RPC over HTTP client and the RPC Proxy, which inserts via the pragma in the HTTP header, NTLM authentication will not work

10. End with the warning message and ensure that you have correct SSL certificate installed on your server

Now we need to enabled SSL to be used for the RPC Virtual Directory. To do that

1. On the same Directory Security tab mentioned above click Edit button under Secure communications
2. Check both the Require secure channel (SSL) and the Require 128-bit encryption check boxes
3. Click OK to save settings and close the window

See How to Configure the RPC Virtual Directory in IIS article for the detailed info

The next step is to configure the RPC proxy server on Exchange Server 2003 to use specified port range for RPC over HTTP. To do that:
1. Open registry editor by typing regedit in the Run dialog box
2. In the Regsitry Editor navigate to the path

HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Rpc\RPCProxy

Create the ValidPorts string REG_SZ parameter and set it to the value the is built in the following manner

NETBIOSNAME:6001-6002;FQDNDNSNAME:6001-6002;NETBIOSNAME:6004;FQDNDNSNAME:6004;

to open the port range 6001-6002 and one single port 6004

Now we need to configure our Exchange 2003 back-end servers (the GC, Global Catalog servers) and set the NT Directory Services (NTDS) port on them. So we again should to specify registry parameter to do that. This time we need to open the

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\NTDS\Parameters

create a REG_MULTI_SZ ‘NSPI interface protocol sequences’ parameter and set it to value NCACN_HTTP:6004

We ended with the specific preliminary tasks on the server and can start with configuring client application (that is the Outlook 2003) profile to work with RPC over HTTPS. But that’s the story to be covered in the next part when we will talk about client side configuration.

Further info:
RPC over HTTP Interactions on the RPC Proxy Server
How RPC Works
Automatic Configuration of The Client Side
RPC over HTTP Authentication and Security

Technorati tag:

When we were discussing the automatic creation of e-mail signature for message in Outlook in the series of articles posted previously (see Part I, Part II and Part III), I told you that I recommend choosing HTML when defining the type of message format to be used by default for composing messages in e-mail client. Although the rendering capability of Office Outlook 2007 has changed because Outlook now uses rendering capabilities of Microsoft Word 2007 rather then the engine of Internet Explorer 7 it doesn’t mean that we can’t use pretties of HTML as the subset of what HTML 4.01 specification is supported by Word engine.
In the dynamically changing world we think dynamically, we communicate dynamically using Windows Live Messenger smart-tag integration with Outlook and utilize Live Communication Server to collaborate with colleagues throughout the world or within the close corporate community by deploying Windows SharePoint Services and building web enterprise portal. Today when we are living the the moment when RSS syndications rose their popularity and XML is currently so popular so we not have XML Notepad 2007 why not using all the above mentioned technologies?
Think of it: for example you’re managing publishing business and you want to keep your customers tuned to what new publications you offer them, what’s upcoming, etc. Or say, you want your managers to have special signatures that will include info (such as general directions) relevant to the person whom it, the message, is send to.
I found an article that describes how to make signature dynamic and thus adding to the signature more descriptive and effective.
I will not go deep into that, that’s what the article is intended for, but the layout and info about what they are using there to do that is worth to be noted.
Author suggests to use corporate intranet portal as the source for the data and Rich Site Summary syndication as the technology to deliver data to user. So you need to have ASP.NET 2 installed on the server to process ASP web handler ASHX files on the server side and deliver html code that will be rendered on the client side. As Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Express Edition and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 are enough, you can start diving into it for yourself right after ending with reading the article. So what is used? “Just to enumerate some: web requests, web handlers, graphics, caching, section handlers etc.” To made solution really dynamic and flexible author created config file that stores data that describes how to draw the stuff in the format that is very close to the RSS 2.0 specs. The problem here is to receive the HTTP request and response on it by sending the PNG image. To do that HTTPWebRequest and HTTPWebResponse classes are used to transfer the data via HTTP protocol. As the target is to deliver the Portable Network Graphics image to the page, type is defined using the ContentType property:

objResponse.ContentType = “image/png”

To solve the problem of request overloading by implementing the caching that saves the image from being loaded with each request. The default time that defines how long to store the image in bitmap cache is set to be 15 minutes but it can be easily changed using the TimeSpan structure

new TimeSpan(0, 15, 0)

The interesting thing with PNG format is that it “cannot be written to a non-seekable stream, an intermediate memory stream object (which is seekable) is used”.
The MemoryStream is used to manage that.

Then author creates three procedures: the first one handles exceptions and draws them on the page if any and the last two are those ones who are responsible for building the contents where one build the title of the channel and teh second builds the items for it. Author chose two items to be drawn on the page. These are the post title that is drawed using the title property and the post publication date which is drawn using the pubDate property.

The drawing procedure is not very simple but clearly made as described. It creates the rectangles that build the signature, the borders, and manipulates with bushes.

Very nice article that delivers the food for thought and opens the capabilities to extend the mail signature representativeness the way you want it to go.

Links for further information:
The article I am talking here about. You also can download the Windows Installer distribution with C# code
Make Sure Your Mail is Compliant: Download 2007 Office System Tool Outlook HTML and CSS Validator
Read Additional Information about Word 2007 HTML and CSS Rendering Capabilities in Outlook 2007 (in two parts):
Strangely enough the part I has file name index higher then the part II…
Part I
Part II
What’s New for Developers in Outlook 2007: Part I, Part II
How to use Smart-Tags in Microsoft Word
How to write ASHX file
Creating an ASHX handler in ASP.NET

Technorati tags:

What if We Will Automate it Further?

As said, semi-automatic mode is better than nothing. But still, I guess, you’ll agree here, it’s not the way we should choose if we want to achieve productivity. We need the higher level of automation. Plus we want to be as more abstracted from the user side as it possible. As we are working in Active Directory environment it is reasonable to use its abilities and retrieve the information right from the active directory database. Going that way we’ll solve two problems at once: we will free ourselves from the need to fill in info personally user-by-user and strictly assign the signature to the user according to the official information stored in the Active Directory database. That allows avoiding confusion for the user and for the customer that will contact our user.

The Approach: Querying Active Directory for an Info

As we always do when we start working with some entities, we create an object instance that will represent it. Out main goal here is to retrieve information about the user, the member of the database, and then put it down into our document. We will use ADSystemInfo object and create its instance named objSysInfo that we will us to retrieve the system info data:

Set objSysInfo = CreateObject(“ADSystemInfo”)

After that we can retrieve a distinguished name of the user that is logged on to domain and that we want to create a signature for:

strUser = objSysInfo.UserName

We are using here the UserName property that is who returns the name of the user.

Username retrieved, we can connect (bind the object) to that user account. We use GetObject method that will create a new object from the reference we are linking it to:

Set objUser = GetObject(“LDAP://” & strUser)

Note: We can also shorten the expression and just write Set objUser = GetObject(“LDAP://” & objSysInfo.UserName). Then surely we have no need to define the strUser variable.

Getting the Stuff in Our Hands

That’s the time to start working with properties. What we need them for? We need them exactly to retrieve specific information that we will use during the document filling operation.

Typically a pair that will retrieve is the full user name and the company name and is well enough to build the signature. So basically we can limit the set of information that we will retrieve to just to properties:

1. FullName, this property will return the full name of the user. That is that the name that the user would basically get in the header of the Start menu if he will click on the Start button.

Note: If you haven’t add it, open Active Directory Users and Computers snap-in and change it. See this article for an additional info.

By the way there’s a nice article describing how to make this automatically using VBScript: How to change the display names of Active Directory users with Active Directory Services Interface script

2. Company, this property will return the full name of the company.

To call them just use this form

strName = objectname.property name

Thus to retrieve the user full name, use the following expression:

strName = objUser.FullName

Correspondingly, to retrieve user company name use the expression:

strCompany = objUser.Company

Note: In fact you can overview get all off them with your own eyes if you’ll select user properties in either your contacts or using the user properties smart-tag.

Here’s how to do that:

1. Create a new e-mail.
2. Enter User Name that is recorded in Active Directory
3. Point to the typed name. The user properties smart-tag will arise in the upper left corner on the user name
4. Click on the smart-tag and select Outlook Properties
5. All these properties will be listed on the General tab of the %username% Properties dialog box

Thus you now have a clue on how to enhance the representativeness of the user mail signature. Just use the properties listed there and add them after the name of the object you used to create connection.

Thus to add user telephone number to the user signature use this expression:

strPhone = objUser.telephoneNumber

How to program Outlook
Automatic Management of Signatures Bindings and Formatting
Windows Scripting Host (WSH) Properties List
User Class Properties Reference for Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 Active Directory Schema
IADsUser Interface Property List
Reading Active Directory Object Properties in C#
Defining Object Properties of any Active Directory Schema Interface object using IADs Interface
User Object Attributes
Sue Moshers’ Solution to Create Outlook Signature using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) scripting

Technorati:

Now that we’ll go further with this. How to push these settings enterprise-wide.

As we added line break to the document, we can continue to fill the signature and put (a last!) the name of the company we work in. The procedure is absolutely the same except that for now we are typing company name and hence we are passing the that out mysterious company ACME Corporation name to the input of the method:

objSelection.TypeText “ACME Corporation”

After that we are running Range() to end with the typed text selection block.

Now when we created the content of the signature we are stepping in to create the signature in Outlook. First off we need to create the object that will represent the parent of the object representing the signature. That means we should create objEmailOptions object:

Set objEmailOptions = objWord.EmailOptions

Alright, the parent is created, lets create the child, the objSignatureObject object:

Set objSignatureObject = objEmailOptions.EmailSignature

Now when we created the objSignatureObject signature object that’s the time to include our signature to the list of signatures. What’s the list? It’s the collection. Want to know how it looks like?

1. Open Outlook
2. Open Tools|Options and switch to the Mail Format tab on the Options dialog box
3. In the Signatures section click Signatures button to open the Create Signature dialog box
4. Here we are. The collection is just the list of items listed in the Signature list in this dialog

To create the collection we need to create object

Set objSignatureEntries = objSignatureObject.EmailSignatureEntries

We are ready to fill in the list now. To do that we need to add new item to the collection by using the Add method. To name it somehow we’ll just pass Standard Signature as the parameter:

objSignatureEntries.Add “Standard Signature”, objSelection

Let’s check what we created. Open the Create Signature dialog box as stated in the list above (see step 3) and check the Standard Signature is in the list of available signatures (or the only existing one if you haven’t created the single one yet).

“Wait, wait, wait, wait!” I hear you are saying that. “You told us about the name of the signature, but how did we create it?” You are right. We used reference to the created objSelection object to fill in the signature with the text. That’s what we used Word for.

OK. Signature is created, we can go. Unfortunately, not yet. You are asking, why? Look at the Signature section on the Mail Format tab in the Options dialog box. Observe two drop-down lists there. We haven’t assigned the signature yet. We need to make sure that when the user will either create or reply to the message the created signature will be used there. To do that we need to use two corresponding properties.

1. NewMessageSignature property is used to attach new signature to all newly created messages
2. ReplyMessageSignature property will be used in case user will reply to the incoming message

Lets go. As always, we are creating two objects:

objSignatureObject.NewMessageSignature = “Standard Signature”

objSignatureObject.ReplyMessageSignature = “Standard Signature”

Now look at the mentioned drop-down lists. The “Standard Signature” item is there and successfully selected. Try to create new mail or reply to the message. You will get the created signature attached at the bottom of your message.

By the way, if we would have another signature in the list of signatures we could set another one as the default either for new message or for the replied one depending on what you want it to be by typing its name within the quotes.

Voila! We ended with signature creation. That wasn’t too complicated tasks but still… Look at what we did? Can we leave this alone? Can we consider it to be the right solution? Of course, not. First of all we are talking about corporate environment with computers joined to domain. If we will stop with this solution it would require us either create a set of unique signature scripts, or create a huge IF branching that would put different names for signatures to make them unique for all user computers.

I’ll continue describing what we can do. For now you can find the ways right in the list of the articles I put at the bottom of this my note. See you later.

MSDN Magazine Scripting Outlook Signature article
How about automation? Automatic E-mail Signatures Creation
How to find and use Office object model documentation
Programming the Outlook object model
Microsoft Word Object Model
The TypeText Method
Microsoft Word Selection Object Members
What’s new in Outlook 2007 Object Model

Technorati tags: