My work environment has support for Outlook web access to our Microsoft Exchange Servers so we can access our email anywhere from Internet Explorer as long as we're connected to the corporate LAN. They recently updated the version of it and I was really impressed this morning when I needed to use it (so much so that I decided to write about it).

Using Outlook Web Access (2003 edition, I think) with Internet Explorer 6 is QUITE a pleasant experience. Multi-pane approach to preview emails, right-click menus are supported just as in Outlook (i.e. they are not the IE right-click menus), when new mail comes in a small window appears near the desktop clock, just like Outlook or MSN Messenger. Basically the latest version has most of the niceties of the native Outlook application but in a web browser, which goes to show that when Microsoft wants to, they can build a PREMIUM web application for Internet Explorer that blows Google's Gmail out of the sky (really!).

Now the one caveat is that the application is only partially functioning in the latest (Beta) version of Firefox. I mean it works, but many of the niceties are gone. I can do the essentials but I'm still pretty aware that it is a web application. To me it seems that Firefox could have been better supported by the Web Access team but it is clear there is a motivation there to use Internet Explorer (furthermore, is Firefox ready for the enterprise?).

And as for Opera 8.5...well, the interface tried to come up, but it kept saying "Loading..." in the main pane. I had to resize the window splitter to get the mail folders to appear in the left-hand pane (some repaint problem). When I clicked "Inbox" in the left-hand pane, the entire web page appeared in the small left-hand pane, clicking again caused it to recurse again. Not pretty... I feel that most of the blame lies with Opera's not-so-good Ajax support, but I'm also sure that the web developers behind Outlook Web Access did not test in Opera (since the application is not even functional). If Opera wants to keep in the game, they need to brush up their support for modern web application technologies like Ajax. I've also noticed this with my own Ajax apps (simple chat program) that do not work in Opera (or Safari). I want to love Opera, really I do... 😉

[Edit: This entry comes just before I read this article on today. While I think email makes sense to be web-enabled, a full-blown Office application will take much more support in terms of being able to access local file systems (without having to run a web server on my off-line laptop to use it). We'll see what happens in the next year or two.]

§161 · October 3, 2005 · Ajax, Firefox, Opera, Software, Technology, Web · · [Print]

Leave a Comment to “Microsoft (hearts) Ajax”

  1. Sam says:

    I think that’s pretty unjust. Firstly, the AJAX support in Gecko (ie Firefox) and Opera are both perfectly fine. Both implement the standard (which is the XMLHttpRequest object). However, Microsoft’s IE does not. It uses an ActiveX Object. While it has the same interface it does require ActiveX to be working.

    Secondly, why would Microsoft allow any web application they make run on anything but Internet Explorer? MSDN didn’t (and doesn’t) work (nicely) with any browser than IE. And their newsgroup web app is similar. Microsoft are unlikely to ever be nice to Firefox – it’s too much of a threat.

    As for Firefox’s enterprise readiness – that’s a different issue. Firefox is stabler, faster, and more flexible than IE. I’m pretty sure it’s enterprise ready. I now deploy it as the default internet browser on all machines I build. Yes, Windows will play nice with it. No problems.

    Meanwhile, have you seen XUL applications and XPFE? Bye-bye IE.

  2. Jeff Schiller says:

    What did you think was pretty unjust? My slamming Outlook Web Access for lack of support of Firefox or for me slamming Opera?

    “Both implement the standard” => The XMLHttpRequest object is NOT a standard (yet), the WHATWG has not officially released their spec. See It kills me is that people go off saying that Microsoft’s implementation of XMLHttpRequest is non-standard. THEY INVENTED THE THING! Also, the fact that it’s an ActiveX object is largely irrelevant in enterprise deployments. And watch for IE7 which will feature a native XMLHttpRequest object which will make the “ActiveX” argument entirely obsolete.

    As for Opera, as I stated above, I’ve experienced my share of Opera quirks with my Ajax applications. I’m surprised you have not, but you probably have better experience at it than I.

    I work for a pretty big tech company employing tens of thousands of people and they still deploy Internet Explorer with most online applications not officially supporting Firefox (yet). Seems the internal tools teams here went with a deployment scenario that can be backed by a company not an open-source community. This is what I mean by “enterprise readiness”. Not from the technical angle but from the SUPPORT angle. Maybe the Mozilla Corporation can help change this perspective, but at least from my point of view, it may take a year or more for Firefox deployments in businesses to become more prevalent.

    I think the bottom line is this: Microsoft will develop their applications for the environments that their vendors demand. If enough businesses demanded that Outlook Web Access FULLY support Firefox (because of a huge Apple or Unix machine deployment, for example), and there’s no viable reason that Microsoft couldn’t do this, then I think we’d see Microsoft playing game. After all, vendors pay for the Exchange Servers and the licenses for Outlook Web Access – they don’t pay for Internet Explorer…

    Other than Firefox, I haven’t seen any other XUL applications. Do you have any links? I do have strong hopes that XUL can take off (along with SVG) in order to compete with Windows Vista and XAML. Cross platform is truly nice.

  3. Rob says:

    Didn’t XMLHttpRequest come from IE first? Isn’t Gecko the rendering engine, while XmlHttpRequest is part of the scripting engine?

    I use Firefox 95% of the time. I like Firefox as much as anybody, and I consider both Firefox and Opera to be important in more ways than just the obvious. Nonetheless, Firefox is slower with many kinds of script than Internet Explorer on Windows. I know there are many reasons for that, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s slower.

    Microsoft clearly does try to bend things toward their browser, I agree, and I think Jeff’s touched on that too. The tough part is that Microsoft (or any web application provider) often has to (or should) work around quirks in all the browsers. These details can have an unknown performance impact on the end user. So two users could use the same application on different browsers and have a totally different impression of the web application. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

    Firefox can always get better. Not better than IE – better than itself. It’s not going to improve by having people ignore shortcomings or incompatibilities.

  4. Mauriat says:

    Both Rob and Jeff are correct. Unfortunately FF is still not ready for the enterprise due to multiple issues, which don’t need to be rementioned here. Due to how IE is built, it benefits from native performance/functionality enhancements that it inherits from Windows. Gecko, XUL and related technologies take a serious perf hit going through multiple layers. … Anyways, the first commentor, Sam, still had a point. XUL (etc) has very high potential, but not until it becomes faster (we don’t want another malformed “Java”). Anyways here’s a good example: