Outlook Year in Review--2002

With just a couple of weeks left in 2002, we can look back at the year for Outlook. Two trends stand out: increased recognition of Outlook as the premier email client by many mail server vendors besides Microsoft, and spam surpassing viruses as the top email problem. As usual, Microsoft also issued various patches for Outlook throughout the year.

Based on figures from Microsoft for the number of Exchange seats and Microsoft Office applications sold, I estimate the potential number of Outlook users at about 180 million, but I've seen estimates as high as 200 million. Roughly half that number use something other than Exchange as their mail server. Because Outlook 2002 has no sharing features other than the ability to exchange meeting requests, view free/busy information, and assign tasks, a huge opportunity exists to connect those users. No wonder companies such as Oracle and Samsung are going after the Outlook market with email servers they hope can offer a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than Exchange while providing calendar sharing and other collaboration features in addition to mail.

In June, Oracle purchased Steltor and folded that company's Outlook-integrated calendar server into Oracle Collaboration Suite, which uses database storage for email. Samsung continued its development of Samsung Contact, which is based on the OpenMail code acquired from Hewlett-Packard (HP) and supports Outlook collaboration features with a custom Messaging API (MAPI) provider.

Bynari developed a MAPI provider, InsightConnector, that lets an IMAP mailbox store not just mail but Outlook appointment, contact, and other items. Several companies have bundled InsightConnector with their email servers: for Linux, the SCO Group in its SCO Office Mail Server (formerly Volution Messaging Server— http://www.sco.com/products/volutionmsg)and BackWatcher (http://www.backwatcher.com) in its forthcoming XChanger product, and for Windows, Alt-N Technologies in MDaemon ( http://www.altn.com ). In a similar effort to provide full support for Outlook items in an IMAP mailbox, Stalker Software developed a MAPI component for its CommuniGate Pro mail server (http://www.stalker.com/communigate). BILL Workgroup Server from Neuberger & Hughes (http://www.billworkgroup.org/billworkgroup/home) is another Linux-based effort that takes a slightly different approach by using a separate workgroup server for sharing Outlook items.

Microsoft delivered several patches for the most recent versions of Outlook in 2002. However, significant bugs that required additional fixes marred both Office XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Office 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3). A patch for Outlook 2000 SP3 is due this week to relieve a timing problem related to reminders that can spike CPU usage to 100 percent on systems configured in Internet Mail Only mode.

Perhaps the most important Outlook patch of the year was an update for Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) that blocked content in <iframe> tags in HTML-format messages. Previously, attackers could use <iframe> tags (as they did in the widespread Klez virus) to run Web pages and files containing potentially malicious code. After you apply the update, <iframe> tags don't work in the Restricted Sites zone, the security zone that Outlook uses for email messages. Other IE updates throughout the year closed loopholes in HTML mail messages. Microsoft released the latest cumulative update earlier this month.

Because of stronger protection against HTML mail vulnerabilities and because more organizations and individuals were blocking potentially dangerous file attachments, viruses found Outlook less of a target in 2002. The year's toughest viruses carried their own SMTP mail engine so that they could transmit copies of themselves without triggering Outlook security prompts. They also switched from harvesting addresses from Outlook address books to gleaning them from Web pages and other files on infected users' systems.

Just as email-borne viruses came largely under control in Outlook, spam became a growing problem. Spammers increasingly turned from bulk mail to individually addressed messages that are harder to identify as spam. Spammers also added tricks in the content of HTML messages to fool spam-detection engines. More than a dozen antispam tools are now available specifically for Outlook, and many more serve general email clients, including Outlook.

As the year ends, we're still waiting for the release of Microsoft Customer Relationship Management (CRM), software whose sales module has significant Outlook integration. As we look ahead to 2003, we already know that one big event will be the midyear release of Outlook 11 with its new mail management features and cached connection to Exchange server. Who knows what the rest of the year will bring? Enjoy your holidays!

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