The various flavors of Outlook

The various flavors of Outlook

Much excitement was generated on March 16 when Microsoft announced the general availability of a preview version of Outlook 2016 (desktop) along with a rake of other Office 2016 announcements. The new version of Outlook won't be formally released until much later this year, probably in conjunction with the release of Exchange 2016, 

Among the improvements included in Outlook 2016 as mentioned in the announcement were:

  • MAPI-HTTP protocol. This is a non-announcement because Outlook 2013 SP1 and Outlook 2010 (updated with the December 2013 patch) also support MAPI over HTTP. The new protocol is in general use across Office 365. Things are slower on-premises as it takes more time to get everything ready for the switchover.
  • Foreground network calls. Microsoft has been busy updating Outlook to be better able to deal with flaky WiFi networks because so many connections are made in public places where these networks exist. This is part of that work. MAPI over HTTP is another important component.
  • Multi-factor authentication. We've been waiting for MFA for a while as it was extensively discussed at the Microsoft Exchange Conference in April 2014. MFA uses the Active Directory Authentication Library (ADAL).
  • Email delivery performance. According to Microsoft, they have reduced the time required for Outlook to download messages and display the message list after resuming from hibernation. Again, this reflects the increasing use of Outlook on mobile devices.
  • Lean storage footprint. The "slider" control introduced in Outlook 2013 to restrict the amount of data synchronized to the client becomes more granular. The previous 1 month lower limit has been expanded to 1, 3, 7, 14, or 30 days. At the top end, you can still configure Outlook to keep all mail on the device. However, the growing size of mailboxes (especially the 50 GB norm in Office 365) and the relatively weak performance of large OST files on standard 5400 rpm laptop disks makes it more important than ever before to control how much data is synchronized from Exchange.
  • Search: Yippee! After coping with the oddities of Windows Desktop Search for years, Outlook will now use the same FAST-based search engine that is used by Exchange and SharePoint. The upshot should be vastly more reliable searches, something that becomes more and more important with those ever-swelling mailboxes.

All good clean fun and I am sure that you are looking forward to Outlook 2016. But in the interim, I have met many people who are confused by the liberal application of the Outlook brand to Microsoft email clients. They've said that it is hard to know what is "real" Outlook (i.e. the desktop variant) and what isn't. So to clarify matters, here's a table listing the current available Outlook clients.

Client Protocol used to connect to Exchange Comments
Outlook 2013 (Desktop) MAPI, including RPC over HTTP and (from SP1 onwards) MAPI over HTTP Outlook 2010 (which now also supports MAPI over HTTP) and Outlook 2007 also available (and Outlook 2003 hasn’t gone away); Outlook 2016 now available in preview and due for release in late 2015. The de facto standard for Exchange and Office 365 client connectivity. Outlook can also connect to servers like Gmail using IMAP4.
Outlook for Mac 2014 Exchange Web Services (EWS) Now boasts a much improved interface when compared to stodgy Outlook for Mac 2011, which is also available.
Outlook for Windows 10 Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) The Universal App with a spiffy new user interface that is scheduled for release with Windows 10
Outlook Mobile Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) The mail app included in Windows Phone 8.1. The best example of ActiveSync mobile clients, which includes support for extended features such as Information Rights Management (IRM).
Outlook for iOS app Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) Ex-Acompli app now rebranded as Outlook. Some acknowledged shortcomings in the areas of security, functionality, and manageability are being aggressively addressed by Microsoft. Although hard to recommend for corporate deployments at present, this client is where the action is in terms of mobile access to Exchange.
Outlook for Android Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) As for Outlook for iOS, with the understanding that the Android client is always going to be a tad different because Android is much more of a bear-garden for developers than the structure offered by iOS.
Outlook Web App (OWA) HTTPS The browser interface for Exchange. Premium interface available on IE, Chrome (with problems), Safari, and Firefox; reach version available for other browsers. In some ways, OWA is preferable on Exchange 2010 than Exchange 2013 on-premises, both all on-premises versions are put into the shade by the extra functionality incorporated into OWA for Office 365.
Outlook Web App for iOS HTTPS Now deprecated in favor of the Outlook for iOS app. The Android flavor of this app never really got off the ground.
Outlook.com HTTPS Outlook for consumers. Not at all bad. In fact, quite good!

It's an interesting line-up that reveals the complexity that support staff have to factor in when users are allowed to connect to Exchange in so many different ways. But variety is the spice of life, or so they say.

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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