One of the new features in Exchange 2010 is the ability to import contact photos, store them in Active Directory against each user, then show them in both Outlook and Lync. It’s great to help identify who you’re emailing and who has emailed you, and can avoid making embarrassing mistakes.
The process to enable the photos is fairly straightforward. You need to update the AD schema to 2008 or higher (you can still use 2003-only domain controllers, though), enable Global Catalog replication for the relevant attribute, enable the photo to be distributed through the Offline Address List, and then import small (<10K), 96×96 photos into AD using Exchange cmdlets. Full details on how to do this is on the Exchange Team Blog in the article GAL Photos in Exchange 2010 and Outlook 2010.
However, it’s worth noting that this new feature isn’t limited to Outlook 2010 clients. You can also enable this feature on Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007 clients, by installing the Outlook Social Connector. The OSC is primarily aimed at enabling connections between social networks, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. However, out of the box it enables GAL photos to be displayed in both older versions of Outlook.
By using the Outlook Social Connector, you don’t get all the fancy features Outlook 2010 enables for GAL photos, such as the contact card feature and display of the photo when browsing the Global Address List, but it does show the photo in received mails and in the preview pane. Without a full client upgrade, I think this is a pretty good compromise.
Just to give you a better idea of what to expect, here’s a few screenshots of it in action (By the way, excuse the photo!):
As you can see, it’s pretty much the same as the social connector in Outlook 2010.
Installation on a single client is fairly straightforward. The Outlook Social Connector can be downloaded from the Microsoft site, and after installation, first run will allow the user to configure which social networks to connect to, after which GAL photos will now appear in Outlook.
Deploying the Outlook Social Connector to Clients
If you want to roll out the Outlook Social Connector to your existing clients, manual local installation and presenting users with a first-run experience is something you probably want to avoid. That’s OK, because it’s possible to deploy the Outlook Social Connector using Group Policy…
First, you need to download the OSC onto an administrative workstation and extract it. The installer is an EXE, however inside is an MSI (and some MSPs) that you can use for Group Policy Deployment.
To extract the OSC, use the following command:
After extracting, copy the files to a share that can be accessed by the computers on your network, as you would for normal computer-policy MSI GPO deployments:
To deploy the Outlook Social Connector to clients, now create (or modify) a Group Policy and add the MSI as an assigned package:
Now, that will get the OSC out to the clients. To ensure your users don’t have to deal with the first-launch experience (where they have to press Next, choose from a blank list of networks, then press Finish before they can use Outlook), we need to configure a couple of Registry entries.
The easiest way to accomplish this is via Group Policy Preferences. I won’t go into too much details, but basically you can configure Group Policy Preferences by using Server 2008, 2008 R2, Vista or Windows 7 Group Policy Management tools. The client extensions can be deployed easily using WSUS to earlier clients like Windows XP.
To configure the required values, you need to create (or modify) a user policy that will apply to your Outlook users. Using Group Policy Preferences, add two new Registry settings to configure the following values:
Action: Replace, Hive: HKCU, Key Path: Software\Microsoft\Office\Outlook\SocialConnector, Value Name: AlertUserIfNoNetworksConfigured, Value Type: DWORD, Value Data: 0 (Decimal)
Action: Replace, Hive: HKCU, Key Path: Software\Microsoft\Office\Outlook\SocialConnector, Value Name: FirstRunVersion, Value Type: DWORD, Value Data: 65536 (Decimal)
Once configured the Outlook Social Connector should deploy to client machines, and be enabled with no user interaction. Word of caution – always make sure you test these changes for yourself first in your own test environment before deploying to real clients.
Hope this helps. As always, feel free to leave any comments or suggestions for how this article could be improved…