The MacBU (Mac Business Unit) says the new Outlook will import .PST files (allowing you to move all your old e-mails from a Windows PC to a Mac). It will also support Microsoft’s Information Rights Management (IRM), which allows senders to specify what recipients can do with messages (print, forward, and so on). IRM support in Office 2011 is aimed at Mac users in cross-platform environments. This should make companies happy because they will only have to support one email client for both Mac and PC users. Microsoft has also re-engineered the Outlook message database system to be a series of small files, so it’s more easily backed up with Time Machine and searched in Spotlight.
After the announcement, I read some of the MacBU blog posts. I decided to conduct an unscientific survey of friends and colleagues about their plans for upgrading to the next version, particularly since Outlook will replace Entourage. The results, although by no means representative, echoed some of the blog posts, and identified several new features that would be on most of our wish lists:
- Microsoft needs to provide a smooth conversion tool for migrating from Entourage to Outlook during the installation process.
- .PST support: Many of us have worked in Windows/Mac environments where Entourage users have had to either use Virtual PC or Terminal Server (or Citrix) to log into Outlook for their old PST archives. Hopefully, this will change.
- Better signature support: This is minor and not Exchange 2003/2007 specific, but it’s annoying to many users. Entourage 2008 received a welcome facelift and improvements that gave people hope about its WYSIWYG editor, but, alas, it’s still the same as Entourage 2004. What's worse, however, is that signatures are still primitive in Entourage 2008. You can't add an image or easily add HTML links. While it’s not everyone’s preference, some companies require their logo and links to email addresses in employees’ signatures. Lacking this simple feature is odd.
- WYSIWYG: Echoing from above, this has to change. The toolbox, or whatever it’s called, helps in that you can drag/drop images and do some level of editing, but it should be better. If you can have PDF rendering/quality with Word, you should be able to do the same when composing emails!
- Allow CalDAV, but not for Exchange: Provide the ability to add your Google calendar via CalDAV in Entourage (and not have to rely on Sync Services and Spanning Sync). If this could be a two-way sync, that would be a HUGE bonus! Likewise, enable people to use their Exchange calendar in the same way they would in Outlook. It sounds like the web services add-on/upgrade is supposed to improve calendaring even more, but if this is a new Outlook, these capabilities should be there from the get-go.
- Better MobileMe support: It would be nice to use MobileMe within Outlook. While many people are not using MobileMe within Entourage explicitly, a few of us are planning to keep it just in case (or if the feature set is reliable/worth the price we will probably be paying going forward). Again, this goes back to Calendar/Contact sync support. You can do IMAP for email, which is fine. But syncing to the other services is just as important.
Many of us use/like Entourage. The rest of the Office for Mac 2008 suite is excellent. A few of us use it daily and prefer it over Office 2007. But a lot of us can't stand some of the minor fixes (and in some cases, no fixes) within Entourage. We are hoping that the new version of Outlook will be as useful on the Mac as it is on Windows. Another way to put it is the only difference most of us care about is the fact that we’re running Outlook in a different OS. We're looking forward to the day when this will change with the release of Outlook for Mac.