Hebrew Subject Problems in OWA 2003

Posted on January 8, 2009 by Daniel Petri in Exchange Server with 0 Comments

Hebrew (and Arabic) messages sent from Outlook Web Access (OWA) 2003 have subject lines made of question marks (????)

The following article deals with an issue that Hebrew or Arabic speakers have when sending messages by using Outlook Web Access (OWA) 2003.

This issue causes certain machines using OWA to send email messages that have Hebrew or Arabic text in their subject line in a wrong encoding method, thus causing the recipients to receive these messages with subject lines showing as question marks (???????).

Note: As far as I know, this problem only occurs on messages sent through OWA 2003 and that are written in Hebrew and Arabic. If you know of any other languages that cause this problem please let me know.

I will demonstrate the problem and solution for Hebrew texts, but I assume it works the same for Arabic text.

BTW, there’s an issue with IE 7 and the S/MIME control found in Exchange 2003. Read more about it and how to fix it in Internet Explorer 7 Crashes when Posting Messages in OWA 2003.

The problem

The problem arises when Hebrew-speaking users want to send e-mail messages from an OWA 2003 client (mainly Internet Explorer), and when these messages have Hebrew text in their subject line.

Sending such messages produces e-mail messages that the recipients see with gibberished subject lines, and instead of seeing the original Hebrew text, they only see a line of question marks (?????).

It seems that if the sender uses IE on a computer that has Hebrew installed as one of the recognized locals (see Install Hebrew on Windows XP, Install Hebrew on Windows Server 2003 and Install Hebrew on Windows 2000), but does NOT set the Hebrew language as the preferred language in Internet Explorer, then the e-mail messages he or she sends will present this behavior.

For example:

Scenario 1 – Hebrew is NOT the default language for IE

On a Windows Server 2003 computer that has Hebrew installed, navigate to the OWA website (usually this is http://server/exchange or similar).

Check to see that Hebrew is NOT the default language. Click Tools > Internet Options.

In the Internet Options page, in the General tab, click on the Languages button.

Note that Hebrew is NOT the topmost language.

Next, create a new e-mail message for an external recipient. Do not send this e-mail to any user that is in the same Exchange Organization as yourself, because then you will not be able to reproduce this error. Note that the subject line is in Hebrew.

Open the recipient’s mailbox by using Outlook or OWA. Note the received message. The subject line appears as question marks (????).

If you look at the message header (View > Options) –

– you will see that the subject line is encoded as

and that the message encoding is

The ISO-8859-1 encoding is Western-European. This explains why the subject line got gibberished.

Now, on the other hand, if you place the Hebrew language on top and make it the default language for IE, then the message will show just right:

Scenario 2 – Hebrew is the default language for IE

Go to IE > Tools > Internet Options. In the General tab, click on the Languages button. Move Hebrew to the top by highlighting Hebrew (He), then pressing the Move Up button, then Ok twice.

After doing so, refresh the OWA page, you should be able to see that the entire OWA interface is switched to Hebrew, and is moved to the right side of the page.

Send a new e-mail message for an external recipient. Do not send this e-mail to any user that is in the same Exchange Organization as yourself, because then you will not be able to reproduce this error. Note that the subject line is again in Hebrew.

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Open the recipient’s mailbox by using Outlook or OWA. Note the received message. The subject line appears fine.

If you look at the message header (View > Options) you will see that the subject line is encoded as

and that the message encoding is

The Windows-1255 encoding is Hebrew encoding. This explains why the subject line came out ok.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that although putting Hebrew on top of the languages list in IE fixes the issue, it also turns the OWA interface into Hebrew, a fact that annoys many of us. We do need to work with Hebrew, but we don’t want to be forced into using the Hebrew interface (just as I don’t use a Hebrew language pack for my Windows XP Pro, or for my Office 2003 suit).

The solution

The solution seems a bit strange, but it works (and I wish to thank Guy Teverovsky for pointing it out for me, and to Yuval Sinay, Ofra Shai and Noam Greenberg for helping me to verify the issue).

What you need to do is to install the S/MIME Control client on the OWA client machine. Doing this fixes the problem.

In order to install the S/MIME Control open OWA, click on Options, scroll down to E-Mail Security and click Download.

Acknowledge the prompts and try to send an e-mail message again, but this time use English as the preferred language in IE.

Open the recipient’s mailbox by using Outlook or OWA. Note the received message. The subject line appears fine, again, although it was sent from an OWA client that, like in scenario 1, did not have Hebrew as the preferred language in IE.

If you look at the message header (View > Options) you will see that, again, the subject line is encoded as

and that the message encoding is

The Windows-1255 encoding is Hebrew encoding. This explains why the subject line came out ok this time.

If any of you has any insights on this issue please do let me know.

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