Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Outlook 2007 - first impressions

In our never ending quest at work to find a calendar systems that works with Apple iCal on the Mac and Outlook for the PC users (some of whom synchronise with Nokia phones) we’ve tried just about everything. As with most cross-platform issues we ended up with a compromise which has been to shoulder the burden of an Exchange server with Outlook 2003 on the PCs and MS Entourage on the Macs.

Every IT person knows that managing an Exchange server is never something to be taken lightly, and this was definitely a sledge hammer to crack a nut considering we only wanted to share calendars.

We continued to look for something more suitable and went up a few blind alleys (Sunbird, Snerdware, Kiero, Remote Calendars, Monocalendar) although none of these quite ticked all the boxes. However Outlook 2007 promised the Holy Grail of publishing and subscribing to ical files via webdav and without Exchange, which Apple iCal is more than happy with. The beta worked well so last week we bought a couple of copies of the final release for testing. The rest of Office 2007 doesn’t really interest me but getting rid of Exchange would beworth upgrading Outlook for.

So now I’ve been using Outlook 2007 for a few days and to be honest my first impressions are not very positive. Yes, the calendar sharing works well and MS have caught up with the calendar overlay view but there are very few other improvements I can find. RSS feeds are a welcome addition and there are some nice graphical tweaks making things look nicer. However the whole thing is vastly bloated and a massive resource hog.

Outlook 2007's user interface employs MS's 'kitchen sink UI' philosophy

This really was a chance for MS to review the monster of buttons and options that Outlook has become but this version is worse than ever. When I logon in the mornings its like being dropped in front of the controls of a Boeing 747. There are buttons, panels, lists and popup menus everywhere trying very distractingly to be helpful. For example the To-Do Bar once again hammers in any appointments you have coming up on the same screen as your email, just in case you missed them the first few times in the Outlook Today screen, calendar view or reminder popups. Then when composing a mail and highlighting text a small formatting menu magically appears next to the text, thus saving me moving the mouse 5cm north to the standard menu. Was there some MS study that discovered this would increase productivity by 0.0001%? It just gets in the way.

This epitomises everything wrong with Outlook, it’s just trying too hard. It’s the user interface equivalent of having a team of in-your-face PA’s all desperately trying to show they’re the most clever and efficient when you just want to read your mail, similar to the annoyance of Office 97’s ‘clippy’ but without the animation.

Outlook 2007 is also slow. Not only that but it drags the rest of my machine down with it, other applications began hanging for no apparent reason, then I discovered that closing Outlook unfroze them again… and don’t even get me started on MS’s new attempt at file indexing: Windows Desktop Search which like Findfast from Office 97 slows everything to a crawl. That was uninstalled within the first 24hrs.

Despite the above I will still be giving Outlook 2007 at least a couple of weeks and attempt to find out if there is anything I can do to improve performance. In the meantime I can safely say we won’t be rolling this out to the other PCs on our network.

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