The unnecessary renaming of Outlook Web App

The unnecessary renaming of Outlook Web App

The news that Microsoft is introducing a set of changes into their web client for Exchange Online was expected. After all, many of the changes described in yesterday’s Office blog post are already available in Exchange 2016 Preview, which must have set a new benchmark in terms of on-premises software receiving new features ahead of the cloud.

So sweeping and pinning and undoing were no surprise. It would not have made much sense for Microsoft to maintain two different flavors of the web client. They have long made a very big thing of the fact that the cloud and on-premises versions of Exchange share the same code base, meaning that new stuff developed for the cloud can be provided in the on-premises version if that makes sense. And indeed, a lot of technology shows up in Exchange 2016 that was originally developed to contribute to the smooth operations of Exchange Online.

It also would be unsurprising if Microsoft is working hard to combine the web clients used in Exchange and The sweep feature, for instance, first appeared in the client.

But the decision to attempt to rename Outlook Web App (OWA) was surprising. The post says:

Formerly known as the Outlook Web App (or OWA for short), our browser-based Outlook experience will simply be referred to as “Outlook on the web” going forward.”

I don’t quite understand the rationale for making the change, but then again, I am not a highly trained and talented marketing person with the insight to know what makes sense in terms of product naming. I note that the post makes no reference to a shortened name, which I assume is OOTW. I love the language used in the post as it seems to command the populace to use the new name “going forward” (a much-beloved phrase of politicians).

We’ve been down this street before, but in a more subtle manner, when Microsoft renamed Outlook Web Access to Outlook Web App in Exchange 2010. The old name had been around since Exchange 2000 and marked the first time that Microsoft had produced a web client for Exchange that was actually useful (this post provides some interesting background on the use of some of the emerging web standards used in OWA at the time)

The change to Outlook Web App made more sense because the old moniker belonged in the past and indicated the original use of the web client to access someone’s mailbox in a rather rudimentary sense. The app had truly become a fully-fledged email client long before it was renamed. And we could continue referring to the client as OWA, so the disruption level was minimal, even if those of us who write books and articles about Exchange were forced to make more changes than we’d prefer.

Although “Outlook on the web” is a mouthful, my bafflement over the change is not centered on the name. I guess the word “Outlook” had to come first because that’s the approach followed with all the Outlook clients. “Web” is included because it is a web client. It’s the “on the” bit that is somewhat bothersome because it seems clunky.

I’m bothered because the name change seems unnecessary. It’s a pointless change that will only confuse, at least in the near term. I see no benefit moving from OWA to OOTW and will use the old name, if only because it’s hardwired into my circuits.

The new functionality included in OWA is a welcome refresh for the client. Features like Undo and the new reading pane will be especially useful. I’m not sure whether the ability to attach an airplane icon to a calendar appointment containing details of a flight will do anything to relieve the stress and pressure of that event. According to the blog, First Release tenants will see the newly refreshed client will in the next few days and the roll-out across Office 365 will be complete in mid-September.

In a year’s time I think I shall conduct a survey to see how many people still use OWA and how many have been convinced to use Outlook on the Web/OOTW. I suspect that the majority will fall into the latter camp. Time will tell.

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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