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Do I Need OWA?
There are various ways to access your e-mail. You might have a standard web browser, or you might work for an organization with a Microsoft volume license, affording access to a copy of Microsoft Outlook with which you can use an account held on a Microsoft Exchange server. The chances are that you can also access a standard POP or IMAP account on your mobile phone, but if you own a smartphone then this might give you have access to your Microsoft Exchange e-mail account.
One final way that you can access an Exchange e-mail account is via Outlook Web Access, a web-based version of Outlook that can be used from within an organization’s network or from outside; it's also useful for employees who regularly travel.
Note: like other Microsoft Office software that has been made available in the browser window, Outlook Web Access is now known as Outlook Web App, which can be accessed in any browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome) rather than in Microsoft’s proprietary option.
Screenshot by author
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Business Pricing for Outlook Web Access - How It Works
There is now standard pricing for Outlook Web Access/Outlook Web App. That is, you can’t go online and purchase a copy to run on your local server for X amount of dollars.
Rather, the software is subject to a more complicated pricing structure and comes included with Microsoft Exchange 2010. Use of the application, therefore, will depend on your installation and configuration of the Microsoft e-mail server software, as well as the number of licenses you have.
For instance, the current price for Exchange Server 2010 Standard Edition is $699, while a single Client Access License (CAL) is $67 (although other options are available on request).
This can potentially put the use of an Exchange Server outside the reach of some smaller companies, so what other options are there?
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Cost of Outlook Web Access for Private Use
If your organization has its own domain, the web host might be able to arrange access to a small-scale Microsoft Exchange Server. For instance (and not an endorsement) the web hosting giant 1&1 offers a Microsoft Exchange solution with Outlook Web Access (the 2007 version, so requiring access via the Internet Explorer browser) as part of an Exchange server package for a monthly fee.
This enables you to use Microsoft Exchange and access e-mails on a smartphone, via Outlook on the desktop and through Outlook Web Access and includes all the expected OWA features (pretty much a mirror image of the Outlook desktop features) without the financial and time investment of managing a server.
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Personal Outlook Web App Options
Another option for accessing Outlook in your browser is to use a service like Mail2Web.com, which offers Outlook Web App for a low monthly fee of just $4.95. Using Mail2Web you can also establish your own e-mail domain to give e-mails a personal touch as well as use the service to login and pick up e-mails from various other e-mail services.
All these options have their benefits and drawbacks and demonstrate the various costs of Outlook Web Access for different types of users and budgets.
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Author's own experience
Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Pricing, http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/en-us/pricing-exchange-server-email.aspx
E-mail solutions, http://order.1and1.com/xml/order/MicrosoftExchange