Windows 8 Mail, Exchange Throttling & Unhelpful Error Messages

Coming up with useful error messages must be more difficult than I can imagine, because I keep finding examples of the opposite. Today it was Windows Mail’s turn to disappoint (or so I thought). You might ask when doesn’t Windows Mail disappoint, but I’m not going there.

I was trying to add my Office 365 account to Mail and after entering my email address and password, it seemed to take longer than usual. It finally gave up and gave me an error that said it couldn’t find any settings for the account and please try again. Second attempt, same result. Third attempt, same result. I tried another Office 365 account and didn’t have any problems.

I was still receiving mail on my phone, so I thought something might be wrong with Autodiscover. So I opened up the Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer and ran the Outlook Autodiscover test. It failed, saying the test results had expired. That was a new one to me, so I tried again only to get the same result. OK, this is getting curious.

I finally logged on to OWA, and there was an email from “Microsoft Outlook” with the answer to my problem. The subject was “Error with your new mobile phone partnership” and the message said “You have 10 phone partnerships out of the maximum allowed 10 partnerships. After you reach the maximum, you can’t create additional partnerships until you delete existing ones from your account. To do so, sign in to Outlook Web App, click Options > Phone > Mobile Phones, and delete any unused partnerships.”

Exchange’s throttling policy had bit me in the rear.  I forgot that Windows Mail uses ActiveSync, so each time I added my account to a Windows 8 system, I was getting closer to the limit of ten. I checked the list of devices on my account and found a few I could delete – old phones, PCS that had been reloaded, etc. As soon as was under the magic limit, I was able to test Autodiscover successfully and add my account to Mail.

This isn’t a new problem; you can find several articles discussing it as well as a KB article on Apple’s site all from a couple years ago, but with Windows 8, I expect you’ll see this come up more often. The default limit of ten ActiveSync devices probably isn’t a problem for the average person, but people like me with several devices will probably hit that limit easily.

My issue with this whole situation is the way the problem is communicated to the user. I’m not sure how Autodiscover responds to clients in this situation, but it apparently doesn’t do so in a way that the device can use to tell the user. Instead you just see a generic error that lets you know “something” is wrong. It is up to you to play email detective. I guess they figure you’ll eventually check your email and discover the real problem.  I’d like to see the system help you be proactive and send a warning as you approach the limit, before it is a problem.

So I apologize to Windows Mail for blaming it for the problem and the unhelpful error. The error was unhelpful, but I expect Autodiscover wasn’t giving it much to work with. If someone knows the details of how Autodiscover responds in this situation, I’d be interested to know. Hopefully Exchange can step up and be a little more helpful in the future.

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