Meet the renamed and revamped Microsoft email client for Mac users
Years ago, Microsoft had an Outlook client for the Mac. That client used Messaging API (MAPI), but it was slow, buggy, not especially Mac-like, and feature-poor when compared with its Windows sibling. Microsoft replaced it with Entourage, and that was that. However, Entourage has long lacked many features that cross-platform users want, including compatibility with PST files, support for server-side rules, and numerous minor Outlook features. Outlook for Mac 2011 is Microsoft's attempt to bring its two Outlook clients closer to feature parity, as well as a competitive response against Apple's built-in email and calendar applications.
A Brief History of Outlook
The current version of Outlook for Mac is the direct descendant of Entourage, a personal information manager and email client that made its debut years ago in Office for Mac 2001. The original versions of Entourage used WWW Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) for Microsoft Exchange Server support. When Microsoft announced that Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 would no longer support WebDAV, the Microsoft Macintosh Business Unit (known informally as MacBU) built a version of Entourage that used Exchange Web Services (EWS) instead of WebDAV. However, this change put companies with mixed Exchange Server 2003 and Exchange 2010 environments in a tough spot: Entourage 2008 Web Services Edition couldn't talk to Exchange 2003, and "regular" Entourage 2008 couldn't talk to Exchange 2010.
This situation continues with Outlook for Mac 2011, in that it supports only EWS as a means to talk to Exchange, limiting its use to Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010. (The client also supports POP and IMAP for use with consumer services such as Windows Live Mail and Google Gmail.) However, Microsoft needed to rewrite much of the core Entourage code to make it more compatible with modern versions of Apple's OS and development tools. Outlook for Mac 2011 is the result.
It is reasonable to think of this Outlook client as a combination of the network core of Entourage 2008 Web Services Edition and a brand-new UI that attempts to blend elements of the Office 2010 Fluent User Interface (Microsoft's official name for the Ribbon) with Mac OS X. But the Ribbon-style UI isn't the only thing that's new in Outlook for Mac 2011:
- A single unified Inbox view automatically collects messages from each account that you've configured. You can search, filter, and sort messages in their individual accounts or all in the primary Inbox view.
- A new system for storing messages replaces the one monolithic database that Entourage used with individual message files. This approach is slightly less space-efficient but much easier for Apple's built-in Spotlight content indexing and Time Machine backup systems to handle. Plus, the new system eliminates the hassle of rebuilding corrupted Entourage databases.
- This client provides support for reading and creating email that is protected with Active Directory Rights Management Services (AD RMS).
- Outlook for Mac 2011 supports viewing and managing of server-side Exchange rules. (Entourage long supported client-side rules, and Outlook for Mac does as well.)
- The client includes support for importing Windows Outlook PST files, although Outlook for Mac doesn't support the exporting of data to PST files. This feature alone caused a collective shout of joy in the Mac community, as the inability to deal with PST files has been a major hassle for mixed-OS organizations.
One of the much-touted new features of Office for Mac 2011 is its support for Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). The Office for Mac 2011 versions of Microsoft PowerPoint, Word, and Excel support VBA, but Outlook for Mac doesn't; you'll need to use AppleScript to automate and control Outlook. The AppleScript dictionary that is defined in Outlook for Mac 2011 differs in many respects from that of Entourage, so you should plan on spending some time testing and revising your Entourage scripts. In general, Outlook for Mac has more automation support than Entourage did, but some object types (notably public folders) aren't exposed in the dictionary and thus can't be automated.
Many other new features are less evident. For example, Outlook for Mac 2011 can update its account information after a cross-forest mailbox move, but you won't see that listed as a new feature and it isn't visible anywhere. Other semi-hidden features include support for federated calendar and free/busy sharing, as well as the ability to display the relevant portion of your calendar inline within a meeting-request message.