How to Access Office 365 Shared Mailbox from a Mobile Device and Send Messages

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After hours of troubleshooting and internet research we finally identified a workaround which allows you to access a Office 365 shared mailbox and send messages as the shared mailbox as well.   First we are going to step through and review some of the problems identified with other fixes found during our internet research and identify the errors we had with these fixes.  Many of these fixes solved the problem as some point, but they no longer appear to do so. So if you are ready to skip the history and move straight to the workaround, you can skip to it here.

Solutions Tried with Little Success

Accessing an Office 365 shared mailbox has always seemed to be the easiest using Microsoft Outlook on the computer.  This provides the most functionality with shared mailboxes and allows you to access the mailbox relatively easily, even allowing you to change the address in the From field (assuming you have the proper permissions).  This function is used heavily by small businesses when staff members have to wear multiple hats and  support multiple public facing mailboxes for sales, support, etc., allowing their users to respond as the shared mailbox and not as their user account email.  This ensures any return correspondence is sent to the shared mailbox and not the individual user.

However, the shared mailbox functionality in Office 365 becomes more challenging as we increase our mobility into Outlook Web Access and even more so when we try to access directly from a mobile device.

From Problems to Functionality in Outlook Web Access

Once in Outlook Web Access (the web interface, not the OWA mobile app), we tested accessing a shared mailbox by right clicking on the username and adding it in as  a Shared Folder, similar to the process listed here by the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (see part 1).  With this method, we were able to access the shared mailbox as a shared list of folders, but when we attempted to send a message, we were unable to edit the address in the From field to send the message as the shared mailbox, our only option was to send from our user account email.

Just to clarify, let use an example.  My primary user account that I use to log in is:

My User Acocunt (Primary User Account)
Email: mainmail@inovotech.net

I have a shared mailbox set up as follows:

Shared Mailbox
Email: demosm@inovotech.net

I have this shared mailbox with permissions set so multiple individuals can monitor the shared mailbox and reply to messages using “send as” so their responses show as coming from “demosm@inovotech.net” and not their user account “mainmail@inovotech.net”.  We will continue to use this example as needed for the rest of this discussion.  Please note these emails are for demo purposes only and are not active emails.

In Outlook Web Access (the web interface), the only way we were able to access the shared mailbox and allow the sending of messages as the shared mailbox (i.e. send as “demosm@inovotech.net”) was to left click on the person icon in the top right of the webpage, scroll down, and click “Open another mailbox…”.  When clicked, we were prompted to enter the mailbox  we wanted to access (i.e. “demosm@inovotech.net”).  Once the shared mailbox was entered and verified to be valid, the Open button became available.  When clicked, the shared mailbox opened up in a new web browser tab appearing as its own mailbox.  This allows the user to run the shared mailbox as if they were logged in as that user.  By default, all messages sent from this new webpage are sent as the shared mailbox (using the example, messages would be send with the From field showing as “demosm@inovotech.net”).  It also allows you to customize the inbox just like any other user with the following features and more:

  • Add custom signatures
  • Automatic Replies
  • Clutter
  • Junk Mail
  • Read Recipts
  • Inbox and Sweep Rules
  • View Formatting (i.e. Reading Pane, etc)

Using this means in Outlook Web Access allowed us to restore most of the functionality available in the Outlook computer application.  However, accessing similar functionality on a cellular device proved to be quite  a challenge.

Office 365 Outlook Web Access (OWA) of Demo Shared Mailbox

Testing Shared Mailboxes with Mobile Phones

There are a number of different workarounds on the internet which used to allow access to shared mailboxes on a mobile device.  Some focused just of accessing the mailbox to read the email while others focused on just sending the email as the email associated with the shared mailbox.  This caused for multiple steps to access a single mailbox which can be quite cumbersome and inefficient.  Then starting at the beginning of 2016, many of these workarounds just stopped working.  It appeared that Office 365 upgraded their systems, blocking many of these methods.  at least all that we tried until finding our workaround (skip to our workaround here).

First we tried connecting a custom account in the iOS Mail application set up for IMAP with Office 365.  We tried a number of different methods using this approach, but the IMAP account always opened the primary users account folders and not the shared mailbox.  Then we tested this workaround provided by Slipstick Systems which was one of the best we came across.  It allows us to focus the mailbox to the shared mailbox and not show the users folders (i.e. just the shared mailbox).  This worked great for reading messages and accessing the folders, however, when the attempt was made to send a message as the shared folder (i.e. send message as demosm@inovotech.net) we received an SMTP error stating:

Unable to Send Email
A copy has been placed in your Outbox.  The sender address “demosm@inovotech.net” was rejected by the server.”

iPhone SMTP Error

No matter what we tried, we were unable to send the email.  It appears that the Outlook 365 SMTP server will no longer allow a message to be sent through this protocol where the From email does not match the primary user account.

We then tried setting up another Exchange account on the iOS Mail Application.  Using the email address of “demosm@inovotech.net” and a username and password of our primary user account “mainmail@inovotech.net”.  As we suspected, we were unable to create the account as we already have a exchange account set-up on the device for our primary user account.

iPhone Exchange Error with Shared Mailbox

At this point we looked for other options outside of the native iOS Mail application, which brings us to the OWA Application for iOS.

OWA App for Mobile Device

Once the OWA App for the iPhone(iPhone 5s to be exact) was downloaded, we started by completing Part 2 of the process listed here by the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.  Since we had the shared folder already added from the OWA Web Interface from Part 1, we logged in as listed in the UWM Guide using our primary user account (mainmail@inovotech.net).  Once the account was added, the shared folder did appear in the OWA application.  However when we accessed the folder, and accessed the “From” field to change the address to “demosm@inovotech.net”, there was no option to do so.  The “demosm@inovotech.net” account was not an option in the drop down.No Shares Mailbox Account OWA App iOS

So again, unable to send as the shared mailbox, “demosm@inovotech.net”.  At this point we started experimenting with the URL’s that were called when we opened up our shared Mailbox from the Outlook Web Access web interface.  A few cycles of trial and error and we discovered our successful workaround.

The Workaround

For the explanation of this workaround we will be using the following example as described previously in the post.

My User Acocunt (Primary User Account)
Email: mainmail@inovotech.net

Shared Mailbox
Email: demosm@inovotech.net

We started by un-installing the OWA App from the iOS device and re-installing in order to ensure a fresh application.  At this point, when the OWA App was opened, we were prompted with the “Before You Start” screen.

OWA App Before You Start

After selecting Continue, we were prompted for our email address.

Email Address: demosm@inovotech.net

OWA App Config 1

Once entered, select Done, then press Sign In.  We were then received the “Couldn’t Connect” error.

OWA App Cant Connect Error

After pressing the Close button, we were then able to enter our password.  We entered the password for the primary user account (i.e. the password for “mainmail@inovotech.net”).  Then press Done and Sign In.OWA App iOS Almost Login

OWA App iOS Almost Login 2

The OWA App then searches for the server…

OWA App Searching for Server

A “Couldn’t find your settings” notice appears, when available, press Advanced.OWA App Advanced Prompt

Next is where the fun begins, enter the advanced settings as follows.  Please note, I am going to use the example addresses described throughout this post.

Email Address: demosm@inovotech.net

Password: Password for the primary user account (i.e. mainmail@inovotech.net)

Username: mainmail@inovotech.net

Domain: \

Server: outlook.office.com/owa/demosm@inovotech.net

OWA App Advanced Settings 1

OWA App Advanced Settings 2

 

Then press Sign In.  The OWA application will then contact the server.

OWA App Contacting Server

If everything was entered correctly, you will then be prompted for Permission to Send Notifications on your device.  Select your permission setting.

OWA App Notifications Prompt

And you should be in your shared mailbox!

OWA App Shared Inbox Sucess

Only the folders located in the shared inbox will be visible, even though your are logged in with your primary user account credentials.  In addition, your default “From” address is that of the shared inbox as you can see below.

OWA App Shared Success - From

In addition, you can still search the Global Address List.OWA App Shared Success - GAL

You also have setting options allowing you to:

  • Set a default signature
  • Change sort order
  • Set message format
  • And more.

Again, many of the features seen in Outlook on the desktop or Outlook Web Access using the web browser are now accessible.

Problems Identified

Although we now have a workaround allowing us to send and receive messages as a shared mailbox, it’s not perfect.  In our testing we have identified that the OWA App has some issues which we have listed below.  If we identify any other issues, we will update to post to reflect the new information.

  1. Notifications Don’t Work – It is pretty much summed up in 3 words.  Regardless of how we manipulate the settings in the iPhone for the OWA app (i.e. banners, notification bar, etc.)(and yes, we did allow permissions for notifications) we can not get the OWA application to show them.  This becomes a large concern, as most people want to be notified soon after they receive an email in a shared mailbox.  Due to this, we have actually re-installed the IMAP workaround solution mentioned earlier in the post provided by Slipstick Systems in addition to the OWA workaround.  This allows the users to get notifications in the format they are accustomed to via the native iOS Mail application, but then use the OWA App to review and reply/send messages as the shared mailbox.
  2. The App Only Refreshes with New Mail When it is Opened – we have found this to be hit or miss.  But again, problem solved with adding in the IMAP solution mentioned previously for receiving email.
  3. Conversation View Can Not be Turned Off – this is a common thread of frustration regarding Outlook Web Access on all platforms including the app.  We just have to live with it for now until Microsoft gets a clue that many users don’t want to use it.

If you found this workaround useful, please leave us a comment to let us know.  To spread the word to others who may be experiencing similar challenges, please share the post using the icons below.

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To Build or Not to Build: Finding a Network Video Recording (NVR) Solution

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This past summer, I was ready to upgrade my home video monitoring system to all 3MP high definition camera feeds and add additional cameras, this is what started me on my quest to upgrade my Network Video Recorder (NVR) solution.

At the time, I was only utilizing:

  • Two Ubiquity 720P High Definition PoE WeatherProof IP Cameras
  • Two Asante Voyager Standard Definition (640×480) Cameras with Audio

My NVR solution at the time consisted of a Compaq Desktop running Blue Iris on Windows Vista with the following specifications.

  • Compaq Micro ATX PC w SATA 300
  • 2GB DDR2 PC2-6400 RAM
  • AMD Athlon 64 Dual Core 2.2Ghz Processor
  • 160GB SATA Hard Drive
  • 10/100 Network Interface

This system was not initially purchased to be tasked as an NVR, but a secondary desktop computer for standard home office computing, but it put an extra computer laying around in the office to work.

All in all, the system functioned fine for the recording of just one HD feed, however, if more than one HD camera triggered to record at the same time, both recordings would get choppy. The video was still useable, but looked similar to a time lapse video even though it was a standard feed. At the time, I even experimented with rolling back the frames per second on the feed to 10-15 frames per second (which decreases the processing load), but the problem continued. In addition, the CPU power monitor in Blue Iris would spike to 98-99% load regardless of the frame rate during recording.

I knew 4 cameras and 720P was my maximum on that system. If I wanted to upgrade cameras to a higher resolutions, or add additional cameras, I was upgrading the NVR. The computer performance and specifications just we’re not designed to meet the needs of high definition video recording.

The Thrill of the Hunt

In order to identify my performance needs, I started out looking at the minimum and recommended specifications as defined by Blue Iris, my NVR recording software solution. Blue Iris has always served me well and is very stable software. It allows for the install of IP cameras from multiple manufacturers and also allows you to stream/record dynamic images from the Internet (I.e. traffic camera feeds that only show in JPEG stills but update every 1-2 minutes). The software allows for multi-user support, and interfaces with their mobile application (sold separately for $9.99, but worth every penny) which allows you to view your cameras in real time and also view recordings from your smartphone. You can even have your Blue Iris server send you push alerts for camera triggers to the cellphone application. And to top it off, they have some of the best customer service support I have ever experienced from a software provider.Blue Iris Logo for NVR

Back to the build, Blue Iris recommends the following as
their minimum requirements to run the software (their requirements can be found here).

Blue Iris Minimum Specifications

  • Pentium Dual Core or Equivalent 2GHz Processor (or better)
    2GB RAM (or more)
  • Microsoft Windows XP SP3 (or newer), or a Server OS
  • One or more USB or Network IP cameras, or an analog capture card with DirectShow drivers

Their recommendations for running High Definition cameras were as follows:

Blue Iris HD Specifications

  • Intel Core i7 Processor
  • 8GB or more RAM
  • Microsoft Windows 7 64-Bit (or newer) (Update: Now compatible with Windows 10)
  • nVIDIA Graphics Adaptor for Hardware Decoding
  • 7200+ RPM Hard Drives and/or Solid State Drives (SSD)

From here, I performed a little internet research to confirm if the recommendations appeared to be on par with the performance seen by users (user experience is important, as benchmark tests on paper don’t always relate to the performance actually seen in the real world). A few reviews of IP Video Security forums and CompTIA video recording performance criterion confirmed that the Blue Iris recommendations where right on the mark.

It was at that point that I started looking for an “off the shelf” solution that I could mail order or pick-up off the shelf. Some people may not agree with this method, but much time can be saved in configuration and build time if you can find an off the shelf solution to fit your needs. Unfortunately, the search of online retailers, manufacturers, and big box stores alike yielded me only a few options worth considering under $1000.

The research then started on the cost to build a custom solution myself to meet my specific needs by pricing specific PC components. I would then be able to compare this with the cost of the “off the shelf” solution to see which direction to proceed. A few online searches later, I was able to find all the components to build a custom PC with better performance for $600. Over $400 less that the cost of the “off the shelf” solutions available. I have listed the components I chose below.

Component Price
Coolmast N200 MATX Mini Tower $    44.99
Intel Core i7-4790K 4Ghz Processor $  279.99
Gigabyte GA-A97M-d3H MATX Motherboard

  • SATA 600
  • 10/100/1000 Network Interface
$    49.99
Western Digital 1TB 3.5″ 7200 RPM Hard Drive $    47.99
Crucial 8GB 4×2 DDR3 1600 RAM $    74.99
Corsair 430W ATX Low Noise Power Supply $    59.99
TOTAL $ 557.94

 

I quickly decided to go the custom build route, rather than an “off the shelf” solution. After a few quick clicks on an internet shopping cart to put the parts on hold at a local retailer, I was on my way to pick everything up. One trip a few hours later, and I was back at the casa ready to build a PC.

The Buzz of the Build

Similar to the saying that everyone should go hunting once in their life to understand what it takes to put meat on the table; building a desktop computer is something I believe everyone in today’s world should do at least once. It is important to understand what goes into the machine to give us the technology we have at our fingertips every day. Especially when 84% of American households have a computer (Source: US Census Bureau, Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2013). Building a PC is a great learning experience. And there’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment when you fire it up and take it for a spin at the end of the process.

I wouldn’t recommend completely doing it on your own if you don’t have any experience. In this case, having a good IT support person at hand is a plus. It doesn’t have to be a support tech at a repair store, it could be one of your neighbors, or your IT guy at the office. Most people have a tech-savvy person who can assist with a build relatively close at hand. This doesn’t mean get them to do it for you (that kind of defeats the purpose ofthe learning experience) but having that person to help you over the humps, really helps the process. An average build is complete in 2-3 hours max (not including software install time). Intel Core i7-4790K 4Ghz for NVRI was able to obtain the newest generation of Core i7 processor on sale, this is the most expensive and most delicate parts. There is little room for error with the processor install. Have an experienced technician assist you with the install if you do not have experience installing processors. I was able to mate the i7 with a quality Gigabyte motherboard, click in 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, mount to the case, plug in the power, and I was installing Windows in about 2 hours.

I chose to stick with the on-board video processor for this build. Since my goal is an NVR using a single monitor, most of the processing power is needed for video recording (i.e. the processor, RAM, and hard drive) and not the video graphics card. The Core i7 processors also do a great job supporting integrated video with the Intel HD Graphics Chipset without diminishing performance. If I was doing anything less than an i7 processor, an upgraded video card would have been higher on my priority list.

Gigabyte GA-A97M-d3H MATX Motherboard

It’s Show Time

After about another hour or two for the Windows install, Microsoft updates, and Blue Iris install, I was ready to see some cameras. Since I was a previous Blue Iris user, I was able to import my existing configuration from the old computer bringing all my old cameras instantly back online. All that was left was to configure the new HD cameras which I had installed but had not yet connected (didn’t discuss the camera install as part of this write-up, if you are interested in the install, please comment and I would be happy to consider as a future post). Utilizing the “Add New Camera” function in Blue Iris, the new HD cameras were online in 15-30 minutes and were configured for motion recording. One final check of the Blue Iris configuration to make sure all user accounts were active and cameras were set and recording properly and the build was complete.

After monitoring the PC performance for around 60 days for stability reasons, I am happy to report that I could not be happier. The system now runs:Dahua IPC-HFW4300S for NVR

I am able to get smooth video recording across the board, even when all cameras are triggered to record at the same time. In addition, my average CPU load in the Blue Iris monitor is around 30%. Even with all cameras recording simultaneously, I haven’t seen it over 60%. This is a tremendous improvement over the performance seen with the older desktop which was replaced. I have no doubt that the computer can handle future HD camera installs in addition to the existing installation.

Conclusion

Setting up a Network Video Recorder can provide you much more flexibility for the price than purchasing an out of the box surveillance solution. It breaks you free from the requirements of sticking with just one camera manufacturer, allows you enhanced recording capabilities, additional storage options, and more. However, it is important to ensure the performance of the computer you plan to use meets the requirements of your NVR software and that of your video monitoring system (i.e. SD, HD, number of cameras, etc).

Ubiquiti AirCam for NVR

Older computers are an option if you are breaking into the NVR world and want to get your feet wet for a limited cost, with the understanding that you will have performance limitations and will probably be stuck with Standard Definition (SD is still very capable and is much more affordable than HD when purchasing cameras). With multiple options to build a high performance NVR tailored computer, for under $1000, it remains an option for even those on a budget with some planning. If you plan long term to build for High Definition, the upfront investment will most likely be a requirement to get you the capabilities most users are looking for with the perk of HD, unless you happen to have a Core i7 desktop just lying around.

 

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