Thunderbird within a full Microsoft exchange (Office 365) environment

You cannot stand outlook? Want to use a free (as in Freedom) email client, while your environment is 100% Microsoft exchange?

The options

  • Using any email client in POP3 or IMAP. This only works for emails, not for accessing shared calendars
  • Evolution client (linux) with evolution-ews plugin: I have this configuration working on a linux machine, however it’s not as powerful as Davmail regarding the access to shared calendars (in public folders, see below). Requires linux obviously (not suitable in my work environment).
  • Thunderbird client (windows, linux) with ExQuilla addon: this is paid solution, I have not tested it.
  • Any email client (Evolution, Thunderbird) with Davmail gateway: the solution that I’m currently working with. There are still some issues, but works “mostly”. Prerequesite: your exchange account needs to have “OWA” (Outlook Web Access) activated

Thunderbird with Davmail

There are actually quite a lot of resources on Davmail website, so I wont duplicate the information. Once downloaded and installed, you will need to configure it.

Configuration with Exchange

You will need to identify the correct Outlook Web Access URL to access the exchange server, i.e. the base webmail URL. The path depends on Exchange version and configuration, with or without a reverse proxy. DavMail must be able to find the authentication form at the provided URL.

There are different versions of the path, depending on Exchange versions:

  • Exchange 2003: https://mail.company.com/exchange/
  • Exchange 2007 Webdav mode: https://mail.company.com/owa/
  • Exchange 2007 EWS mode: https://mail.company.com/owa/
  • Exchange 2010 EWS mode: https://mail.company.com/owa/
  • Exchange 2010 EWS mode with unsupported authentication form e.g. Windows Live login: https://mail.company.com/ews/exchange.asmx

Specific case

I document here my specific case, in case it may help anyone.

My company had a reverse proxy to access the exchange server (remote.company.com). We were also part of a MS Domain. I use the following configuration:

  • Path: remote.company.com/owa
  • Login: domain\user

Configuration with Office 365

Since then my company upgraded to Office 365. I had to update the configuration to:

  • Path: https://outlook.office365.com/EWS/Exchange.asmx
  • Login: My email address (surname.name@company.com)

Shared calendar

The tutorial from Davmail is very well done: http://davmail.sourceforge.net/thunderbirdcalendarsetup.html

To access other users’ calendars, I used the following configuration:

http://localhost:1080/users/user@domain.com/calendar

In my installation notes, I noted “initial request for access to a shared calendar has to be done by Outlook, otherwise no access”. I did not follow through on this aspect but even today there are some calendars that I can actually open, but nothing shows up. Since this concerns only a few calendars that are not important to me, I did not pursue it through.

Shared contacts

I had some troubles regarding the access to contacts since the structure used by the Exchange server in my company was not “usual”. Instead of using the “global address list”, they created a specific list of contacts (name “Company contacts”, with a space). So the Davmail contact sync, based on LDAP, was syncing with an empty list.

I therefore had to install another Thunderbird extension, called SOGo connector. I followed the tutorial from Davmail: http://davmail.sourceforge.net/thunderbirdcarddavsetup.html

To access the shared contacts, I had to use the following configuration: http://localhost:1080/public/Company%20contacts/

List of Thunderbird extensions

For reference, here is the list of extensions that I use in Thunderbird at my work place:

 

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