Exchange Server – Mailboxes vs Groups

Updated July 2016 – This article now includes information about Shared Mailboxes which is particularly relevant to Office 365 as you do not have to pay extra for them. These are slightly different to a full mailbox because the user account associated with them is disabled, so you cannot login as that user and set e.g. Out of Office via the Webmail, or connect from a phone.

When running Microsoft Exchange server, one thing we often come up against is shared access email addresses. There are several ways that Exchange lets you setup email addresses, including as an Alias, as a Group or as a Mailbox. You can also use a shared mailbox which does not require any additional license.

The table below lists the pros and cons of each type of setup, with the correct terminology so you know what to ask for as the best type of setup for your situation.

Alias  Group  Mailbox  Shared Mailbox
Delivery method Assigned to an existing mailbox, emails come into that mailbox the same as emails sent to the primary email address for that mailbox. A copy is sent to each member of the group; they must communicate manually to determine who is dealing with it.  Email is delivered into a shared-access mailbox’s inbox; folders can be setup for each person accessing to drag emails into when they are dealing with it. The same as Mailbox
Reply ‘on behalf of’ the shared email address? No Using Outlook, yes Using Outlook, yes Using Outlook, yes
Reply ‘from’ the shared email address? Using Outlook, yes Using Outlook, yes Using Outlook, yes Using Outlook, yes
Delivery to / Access by how many people? 1 Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Delivery to external contacts? Not possible Yes No No
Share the Calendar? Can only share the existing mailbox’s calendar No, groups do not have calendars Yes Yes
Individual ‘read’ / ‘unread’ status? NA – only 1 user receiving the emails Yes No – status is shared between all users who access it No – status is shared between all users who access it
Appopriate for mobile access (iphone / Blackberry)? Yes (cannot reply from) Yes (cannot reply from) Yes but not ideal No
Appropriate for Outlook Web Access? Yes (cannot reply from) Yes (cannot reply from) Yes but not ideal Yes but not ideal
Can set Out of Office Yes but it comes ‘from’ the main email address of the account No Yes, using Outlook or OWA (login as the mailbox) Yes but not through OWA