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Office 365: Understanding Mailboxes

Forceworks Office 365: Understanding Mailboxes

There seems to be a lot of confusion around Microsoft Office 365 Mailboxes. In this post I will attempt to clear this up and hopefully save you some money in the process.

Mailbox Confusion
Microsoft Office 365 provides you with the ability to create different types of mail accounts for different purposes. Some of these account types require a paid license and others do not.

We often see clients who are paying for a license for a mail account that should be free.

The five types of mail accounts that you can create are:

  • Mailbox (Requires License)
  • Group (Free)
  • Resource (Free)
  • Contacts (Free)
  • Shared (Free)

I will first describe each type and when you should use it, and later get into some details.

Mailbox. These are for real people and these are the ones you pay for. Each living person in your organization that requires mail, will have a Mailbox. Each person can also have an alias for each domain that you have verified, i.e. [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]. You decide which of these is the default email address of the user, but mail sent to any of these addresses will all go into Mary’s inbox.

Group. Also known as Distribution Groups are free. These should be for internal use, i.e. [email protected]. When an email is sent to [email protected], each person who is a member of this group will receive an email into their own mailbox. If they reply, the reply will come from the user, and the reply will go out to all members of the group also. Examples of typical groups might include [email protected], [email protected] etc. Groups can also have aliases like Mailboxes.

Resource. Also known as Equipment Mailbox or Room Mailbox are free. These are used for reserving and coordinating Rooms and Equipment. For example [email protected] or [email protected]. By including a Resource in a meeting request or calendar item, you are reserving the Resource for that time period. When you create your calendar event you can look at the Resource to check its availability.

Contacts. Also known as Mail Contacts are free. Mail Contacts typically contain information about people or organizations that exist outside your Exchange organization. Mail contacts can appear in your organization’s shared address book and other address lists, and can be added as members to distribution groups. Each contact has an external email address, and all email messages that are sent to a contact are automatically forwarded to that address. Contacts are ideal for representing people external to your Exchange organization (in the shared address book) who don’t need access to any internal resources.

Shared. Also known as Shared Mailboxes are free. This is the one that is not being utilized properly, if at all, by most organizations. Let’s say you have a generic email address on your website for [email protected] that you want five people in your organization to receive. Too often we see these being setup initially as Distribution groups. What happens is an email sent to this address goes into the inbox of the 5 recipients, just like an email sent to them directly does. If they reply, it comes from the individual replying. Even if the user creates a rule to automatically move these to a subfolder in their inbox, it does not take long before this proves cumbersome. What I find most Office 365 users doing next is biting the bullet and creating a paid account for sales so it can have a mailbox. Then each of the five people, need to add the account to their Outlook client with the [email protected] username and the password for the sales account. Don’t even try to tell me that you have not done this. While I am sure Microsoft loves you, this is what Shared Mailboxes are for. Plus they are a snap to administer with no end-user intervention required. As the most misunderstood account type, I am going to go through a step-by-step deep dive here on how to create them (you can click to enlarge any of the below images):

Step 1. Login to with administrator privileges. Click on either Admin then Exchange (up by your name), or Service Settings in the left sidebar and then the link at the bottom of the page. Either route will take you to the same place.


Step 2. In the Exchange Administration Panel, click on Shared and then the “+” to add a new Shared Mailbox.

Exchange Admin Panel

There are two parts to the creation of a Shared Mailbox, creating and editing properties. Most of the time you will not need the second step, and as shown below, the first step is as simple as:

  • 1. Give the shared mailbox a display name, this is the name that will appear in users’ outlook client for the new inbox
  • 2. Enter an email address, usually the same as the display name, and select the default domain from your verified domains.
  • 3. Click the “+” and add Full Access members (see explanation below)
  • 4. Click the “+” and add Send As members (see explanation below)
Create Shared Mailbox

Let me clarify the ”Full Access” and “Send As” roles:

Full Access: The Full Access permission lets a user log into the shared mailbox and act as the owner of that mailbox. While logged in, the user can create calendar items; read, view, delete, and change email messages; create tasks and calendar contacts. However, a user with Full Access permission can’t send email from the shared mailbox unless they also have Send As permission.

Send As: You will usually want this. The Send As permission lets a user impersonate the shared mailbox when sending mail. For example, if Mary logs into the shared mailbox [email protected] and sends an email, it will look like the Sales Department sent the email.

I mentioned a second part that may be optional, but then again you may require it. After you have saved your new Shared Mailbox you will be looking at a list of your Shared Mailboxes. If you double-click on one you will launch the Administration panel for that box. Here you can modify a lot of properties. The Mailbox Delegation link is where you would add or remove users, similar to the creation pane. If you need to add aliases, the Email Address link is where we would add them. You can click on the “+” and add for example, [email protected] and [email protected] or any other alias of a verified domain.

Shared Mailbox Properties

Okay, so how does this work on your user’s end? The new shared mailbox will automatically appear in their Outlook client or Outlook Web Access as show below:

Outlook Shared Mailbox

Pretty cool huh?

Just hired a new salesman? Simply add them to the “Full Access” and “Send As” member list in the Admin panel for the Sales Shared Mailbox, and voila, they are now part of the team.

Feel free to add any information to this post I may have missed in the comments.

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