Outlook's Client Base Expands

I spent some time last week looking back on events in the client arena in 2000. Some blipped only briefly on the radar; others hold far-reaching consequences we can't yet fathom.

With Microsoft's February release of Windows 2000, desktop faxing returned as a supported feature of the OS for the first time since Windows 95. This made hardly a splash, because Exchange Server fax connectors and easy Internet faxing have made desktop faxing more trouble than it's worth. I heard more fuss about Win2K's lack of support for an offline folder .ost file when Win2K Server Terminal Services are installed.

Offline users got numerous fixes in the March release of Office 2000 Service Release 1 (SR-1) and its successor, SR-1a, which addressed installation problems. SR-1/1a also updates Outlook 2000 to meet US government requirements for its Defense Messaging System, including support for S/MIME version 3, as described in a Microsoft white paper.

April's massive switch of telephone dialing codes in the United Kingdom forced many to update their Outlook contacts and drew attention to the somewhat obscure issue of how telephone numbers in Outlook interact with Windows dialing location settings.

May brought the LoveLetter (aka ILOVEYOU) virus, and headlines blazed about Outlook. The media and even official government bulletins contained so much misinformation that users and administrators struggled to decide how best to protect their systems. Some companies' mail servers still reject innocuous plain-text messages because the security features are tuned to such a high pitch.

Microsoft responded to LoveLetter by locking down Outlook's ability to open potentially dangerous attachments and provide programmatic access to the address book and some other features. June's Outlook Email Security Update, issued for Outlook 98 and Outlook 2000, has since passed into Office 2000 Service Pack 2 (SP2) and the next version, Outlook 10, planned for release in mid-2001. While the update includes administrative components to customize the security settings in Exchange Server and HP OpenMail environments, I've seen no evidence that many companies are deploying the admin pieces.

Microsoft’s announcement of two new Outlook-like Macintosh products caused some confusion. Entourage, part of Office 2001 for Macintosh, includes personal information management and email features, but connects only to POP3 and IMAP4 accounts, not Exchange Server mailboxes. "Watson," the code name for the next version of Outlook for Macintosh, will closely resemble Outlook 2000 if the preview posted on the Microsoft site is any guide. Microsoft has been very tight-lipped about Watson's release schedule.

Microsoft officially launched Exchange 2000 Server at the Microsoft Exchange and Collaboration Solutions Conference 2000 in October. Exchange 2000 offers an improved version of Outlook Web Access (OWA) and the powerful Web Storage System for developing applications. Microsoft also announced Tahoe, a new document management, search, and portal server that uses the Web Storage System.

At the same event, Microsoft showcased Outlook 10's local version of Exchange 2000's Web Storage System. Just 2 months later, however, Microsoft cut the feature, leaving Exchange 2000 without a new, locally replicated store to match Lotus Domino's offline applications capability.

Outlook's dominance among email clients stood out not just in its being targeted for virus attacks, but also in the release of new components that extend Outlook beyond Exchange Server environments and standalone Internet mail users. Lotus released iNotes Access for Outlook as part of Lotus Domino 5.0.5. Steltor released a component to enable Outlook to connect to a CorporateTime calendar server.

Maybe the events of 2000 carry this central message: Developers want to build applications that run within Outlook, because that's where users are spending their time. Outlook is more than just the premier Exchange Server client. It has diverse constituencies whose needs Microsoft should consider whenever it builds patches and new versions.

Happy New Year!

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