Microsoft previewed the next release of Outlook, an email and personal information management client, at the Exchange Conference in San Diego today. Outlook 98, as the release will be named, features better Internet support and a simplified user interface.

Due early next year, Outlook 98 will include support for SMTP, POP3, IMAP4, and LDAP. Microsoft officials mentioned that it will support HTML Internet email, even enabling users to forward Java applets if desired. Previous versions of Outlook and Windows Messaging/Exchange supported only plain text and RTF formatted mail.

New user interface tools, including an advanced search tool, a folder and rules formatting organizer, and a new front-end called "Today's Outlook" will make Outlook 98 easier to use.

And here's the amazing part: while Microsoft officials wouldn't comment on the price of Outlook 98, they did mention that existing users of Exchange Server, Office 97, and Outlook 97 would be able to upgrade for free