Using Exchange with Apple Mail

Most of my Exchange email experience stems from using Microsoft Outlook on the PC. From 2003 through 2010, I've used all the versions and I've come to realize that Outlook can be a pretty powerful email client when you use it with the Exchange mail platform.

But what if you love your Mail and you want to use Exchange with Apple's built-in Mail client? While it does support Exchange 2007 and 2010 Server implementations, some features aren't where you might be expecting. Where in the app can you go to get some basic information like the size of the mailbox and its folders, or set an Out of Office message? Read on.

Mailbox Size and Email Jail

Most of you who do a lot of emailing with your corporate Exchange account know that the default size of the mailbox set by your IT department's administration policy can be pretty low. For example, I only get about 25 MB at work. If you're like most of us who live and die by their email accounts, you'll quickly get terse auto-notifications in your inbox when you're approaching the limit.

To help with this, emails that have attachments are the first thing to get archived outside of my Inbox. Those familiar with being in 'email jail' keep an eye in the lower left-hand corner of the window to stay on top of the total space used for their account. If you're using Apple Mail with an Exchange account, you can find the information, albeit slightly hidden from view.

  1. In the Mailbox pane of Apple Mail, right-click (Control+click) and select Get Account Info.
  2. In the window that opens, the first tab titled Messages on Server will give you the name of the folder in your Exchange account (even subfolders) in a non-nested list, the number of messages in each folder and the total size (in MB or KB) of the folder.

That should allow you to see where the biggest offender of your mailbox size limit is and allow you to hone in on what can use some sprucing up to get you back under the limit. Unlike Outlook for PC, this information excludes other Exchange account goodies like contacts and calendar, since Apple Mail handles only the email portion of Exchange. Apple's Calendar app will not provide this information to you at all.

Out of Office Replies

One of the biggest advantages to using Outlook with an Exchange account is that since they're both made by Microsoft, Outlook was built specifically to work with Exchange server accounts. Handy features like Out of Office replies, for example, are easy to set in Outlook. But where do you go in Apple Mail to set your Out of Office reply? For that, you'll want to go back to the Account Info pane.

  1. In the Mailbox pane of Apple Mail, right-click (Control+click) and select Get Account Info.
  2. In the window that opens, select the Out of Office tab.

Preferences for Out of Office replies include when to send them, including granularity down to the date and time and the ability to specify an internal reply (for incoming emails from within your organization) and external reply (for incoming emails from domains outside your organization).

Locating Your Exchange Server

Those of you who have contacted your IT departments in the past with issues regarding your company email account are usually asked one important question by the IT person assisting them: what email server are you connected to? By visiting the last tab on the Account Info pane, this information is no longer a mystery.

The two sections entitled Incoming Mail Server and Outgoing Mail Server (usually the same server) is the server within the organization that your account resides on.

Style Bar

Emails should be short and to the point, and the less embellishment with bold, italics and the like, the better. However, if you're engrained with the habit of stylizing your emails, you can do this also in Apple Mail without having to bring up the cumbersome text editing screen. Apple Mail calls it the Format Bar and all you have to do to display it is click the A icon in the upper-righthand corner of the new email window. Down pops the bar just below the main toolbar, allowing you to customize the font, size, style, justification, bullet type, and indentation of your email text.

Mail Rules

Mail rules can be a pretty powerful thing and an efficient way to achieve Inbox Zero with less ongoing effort on your part. Mail rules are built into Exchange server and are managed two ways: server-side (on the email server) and client side (within the email client).

The important thing to know about Exchange mail rules is that, while it is pretty adept at basic Exchange functions, Apple Mail will not allow you to modify server side mail rules. To modify these, you'll need to log into your Outlook Web Access (OWA) page or contact your Exchange administrator. Client-side rules are a different story.

Client side rules, those you can make by visiting Preferences --> Rules tab, are set for Apple Mail only and will not sync back to the server. That means that any rules you set on your Mac will not translate to a smartphone, tablet or another computer. The rules are good for that device only.


There are plenty of good things to love about using Exchange on your Mac with Apple Mail, but there are some limitations and some workarounds to replacing Outlook. The thing to remember is that you want to way your options and if you can live with a slightly different workflow, coexistence between Microsoft and the Mac can really happen.