Admin

MSPortals.io – A List of Microsoft Portals

I thought I should write up a little bit of information on a site I created; msportals.io and how it’s doing:

Being a Microsoft 365 Administrator at the time, I was looking for a list of all the Microsoft portals, particularly from an administrator point of view. A lot of lists were floating around, but nothing that was being maintained or comprehensive enough. I’d asked around a lot around it, others had the idea that they were going to create something – but nothing happened. It was a pretty simple idea and I was hardly the first to have it…

I also had the idea of creating this list on GitHub. I’d already been looking at GitHub Pages to move my blog to, but not being a programmer or developer, I was finding it too difficult to try and work out how to migrate and have feature parity with what I was using on WordPress. However, the GitHub Pages free tier, allowing 500mb of data in a public Github Repository sounded like a perfect fit for me, providing a platform for a list of URLs.

I started to collect and write up a list of portals. Just the name of the portal, and a link to it. I wasn’t using any GitHub client or command line things, purely using the web based interface for GitHub to start putting data in and seeing how it looked on the resulting msportals.github.io site. It seemed fine, so I started asking around for people to tell me of any links I might be missing. People jumped on board pretty quickly to help (read my thanks section here) to provide portals, but also to actually contribute to the project and provide features that would have taken me a very long time to work out myself.

I also bought a domain – msportals.xyz as it only cost a few dollars a year, and GitHub Pages supports bringing in your own domain. I had the site up, started using it.. and though I should throw it out there to see how much criticism it brought. I posted a tweet:

I didn’t expect to get much of a response – it was more of a test so I could properly launch later. Instead, as I expect what often happens on projects like this, it blew up. It turned out to be my most popular tweet of all time, with almost 100k views. My only annoyance of this was that I had no statistics to collect on how much the site was being used! Quickly I had help to add in Google Analytics to the site, so about a week later I had stats.

Since mid November 2020, the site has had 55,000 users hit it. As expected, the engagement time is tiny – you go to the site and click a link.

That peak is when The Register wrote an article on the site. The site changed from msportals.xyz to msportals.io after @SwiftOnSecurity bought it and handed it over, after some discussion around certain firewalls blocking xyz domains under some standard settings:

Updates and suggestions to the the portal of Microsoft portals came think and fast for a while – nice features like a filter so you can just type ‘teams’ and see the link to the Teams portal were implemented by others (mdjx), due to the way open source platforms like GitHub work.

I don’t see as many portal suggestions and updates these days, but they still trickle in. I still use the site frequently, and see people pop up time to time saying how much they like it which is awesome to hear; I really wanted something functional for myself, and if others also liked it, that was a bonus.

I actually had an idea for another site – a list of PowerShell modules with the commands to both install and connect to different things like Exchange Online and Microsoft Teams. Someone had beaten me to it (which is good!), and had done it a similar way; check out https://msshells.net/ by AndrĂ©s Gorzelany to have a look at what he’s done.

If you’ve got your own idea for something like this, go for it! You can do it entirely for free if you don’t care about your own top level domain, and it’s an interesting project to try.

Access An Exchange Online Mailbox Without a License

This is just a quick one. Most Office 365 admins will hopefully have a separate admin account to perform higher level tasks, compared to their normal user account.

Because of this, the admin accounts shouldn’t need any licensing, because they’re not being used like a normal user. One person shouldn’t need to have two sets of licenses – but there are some problems that can come up because of this.

For example, if you want to use your admin account to access someone’s mailbox, that can be difficult when you don’t have a mailbox yourself to log onto, to then open another user’s mailbox. Outlook can be used to work around this, where you set up a profile for the email address of the user you want to access, but enter your admin credentials when prompted:

Your Name is just a display name field, email address needs to be the user’s email. Don’t enter a password here and click ‘Next’
This login page will start by showing the user’s email address, use the option ‘Sign in with another account’ and use your admin account.

The above works OK, but is a little time consuming if you’re accessing a mailbox for a quick check.

If you try to go to Outlook Online, you’ll get a message saying your admin account doesn’t have a license or a mailbox. To get around this, you’ll need to use a URL like:

https://outlook.office.com/owa/user@mydomain.com/?offline=disabled

or

https://outlook.office.com/mail/user@mydomain.com/?offline=disabled
if you want the ‘new’ Outlook.

It will then jump straight to that user’s mailbox, assuming you have access rights to it, and have waited a few minutes for the rights to apply.

Using the URL method is really quick way of accessing another user’s mailbox without needing a license yourself.