Microsoft Corporation confirmed on Tuesday that Outlook 98, its second generation integrated mail and Personal Information Manager (PIM) software, will ship by the end of March. Recently bolstered by the addition of Symantec WinFax Lite, Outlook 98 builds on the disaster known as Outlook 97 by adding seamless Internet mail support to the existing Exchange Server capabilities.

Outlook 98 includes a revamped user interface that places the most-commonly used options in obvious places, such as simplified toolbars and dialog boxes. Power users aren't left in the lurch, however, and Outlook's extensive array of features are fully customizable and programmable. A new "Active" setup program (which installs IE 4.0 regardless of whether you want it, a serious problem with Microsoft these days), Rules Wizard, Auto Preview, and a "Today's Outlook" front-end round out the new features. "Today's Outlook" provides a Web-page view of the day's new mail, tasks, and calendar.

"Outlook 98 offers major improvements in the critical areas of Internet standards support, performance and simplicity," said Jon DeVaan, VP of the desktop applications division at Microsoft. "The wide variety of users who have downloaded and tested the beta demonstrates that both large and small businesses are finding Outlook 98 to be a great improvement and a useful tool for both Internet e-mail and information management."

Final pricing for Outlook 98 hasn't been determined, but existing Outlook 97, Office 97, and Exchange Server customers can get it for free. The second beta of Outlook 98 is currently available from the Microsoft Outlook 98 Web site