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Opinion: Outlook 97 is stillborn

Here's a little controversy to get you through the weekend. :) You'll have to excuse the tone of this article, but "Outlook," the messaging component of Office 97, is useless as an E-mail program. This is particularly strange since Microsoft is touting Outlook as its premier messaging client. Built on the Exchange/Windows Messaging code base, Outlook integrates most of the functionality from the old Schedule+ into the program, creating a Frankenstein's monster of mixed functionality and missed opportunity. Microsoft thinks that people will actually use this memory-hungry beast as a front-end for Windows itself and the program goes so far as to suggest using Microsoft Word--think about this--as the default E-mail editor. Good God. The combined memory footprint of these two programs exceeds 20 MB on my system, and rises as need be. The big problem, however, concerns Internet E-mail. It doesn't support Internet-style replies, with a character such as ">" preceding each line of the original post. It sends out an attachment to non-Exchange E-mail clients called "WINMAIL.DAT" that contains message formatting information even when the Outlook user chose "plain text." You can't leave mail on the server, or have mail send automatically when you choose "Send" (it puts it in the Outbox instead, and sends it at the next scheduled mail check. No, you can't set that either). Back when ordinary people first started buying Windows 95, many of them tried the bundled Exchange client. Or, if they were MSN subscribers, they were forced to use it, since MSN E-mail only worked with Exchange (this is still the case, basically, if you accept the argument that Outlook is Exchange 2.0). Most found the program slow and cumbersome and quickly switched to back Eudora or Pegasus Mail. Outlook breaks two of the biggest promises of Office 97: * 80% of the improvements to Office 97 were based on customer wishes. Who asked for _this_? And why? Did customers ask that Microsoft ignore established--and basic--messaging features such as ">"-style replies? I doubt it. * VBA 5.0 is the common macro language for all Office applications. Except for Outlook, of course. Outlook uses VBScript, which would be fine if all the other Office apps were still using proprietary languages. They're not. It is basically impossible to really integrate Outlook with the other Office apps right now. This is a shame. Anyone interested in "programming" Outlook is in for a chore. You have to manually install the VBScript object model help from the Office CD and the only way to find out how to do this is through a complex series of steps that is best left to those who are very, very serious about this. The Forms editor in Outlook is a throw-back to days past, especially when you compare it to the excellent VBA 5.0 editor the other Office apps get (well, except Access). Infuriating. Don't get me wrong, Office 97 is terrific. I use Word 97 on a daily basis and it's wonderful. I use Access 97 almost as often, and it is much faster than its predecessor. I was very excited about using Outlook 97 but became quickly disillusioned. Interestingly, Microsoft today announced that they will be improving the Outlook messaging client soon. Enhancements include rules-based E-mail filtering for non-Exchange mail server users. This and other needed updates will be provided for free to existing users via the Web. The Outlook newsgroup on the Microsoft news server is abuzz with complaints from dissatisfied users, including myself and several WinInfo subscribers I've written back and forth with. David Goodhand, Microsoft Outlook group product planning manager ([email protected]) mentioned that the Outlook team and Internet Mail and News team became one and the same on January 1st, so we "should see more synergy and shared technology in the future." That is not good enough. As it now stands, Outlook 97 is stillborn. By the way, Monday I will print some responses to this story as well as an opposing viewpoint from WinInfo subscriber Michael Kairys

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