Outlook 2000, the latest e-mail client and contact manager from Microsoft, has finally grown up. Widely available this month, Outlook 2000 has lost the bugs that plagued earlier versions, and Microsoft has added features that will make the product more appealing to end users and enterprise administrators alike.
End users will find dozens of new features and ease-of-use enhancements to lure them to upgrade to this millennium edition of Outlook. Among the flashiest new features are Outlook's capability to display Web pages right in its main display panel, a QuickFind Contact tool, and a contact activity tracking feature.
Using Outlook, I didn't have to call up a browser to go to the Web. Instead, I could quickly access the Web by clicking the "Search the Web" button in the toolbar. The tool took me directly to the Microsoft Network home page, where I could perform searches. The only thing I found notably lacking was the ability to import or call up Internet Explorer Favorites.
Even more welcome, at least for those who rely on Outlook as a contact manager, is the product's new QuickFind Contact tool. Just type a name in the QuickFind field of the toolbar while you're in any of Outlook's modules, and the contact record will be summoned automatically.
What's more, while Outlook does not offer the kind of tracking tools that you will find in a full-fledged contact manager such as Symantec Act, Outlook 2000 adds basic contact-tracking capabilities. For example, it is a snap to attach appointments and tasks to contacts. To see all the activities related to a specified contact, all you need to do is click on the Activities tab in the contact form. Outlook automatically attaches a history of all e-mail activity in the correct contact entry; it even tracks e-mail that is archived in a folder.
Another nifty new feature is the ability to save Outlook calendars as Web pages, which can come in very handy if you are using your Web site to coordinate the activities of groups of users.
Outlook's folder management has been greatly enhanced. You can now easily send links to public folders, manually apply rules to folders, and create personal distribution lists from Contact folders and Exchange address lists. Outlook also supports dozens of usability enhancements to its interface, including personalised and adaptive menus and toolbars.
Users will also find increased flexibility in writing messages. While Outlook 98 required you to choose one format for all messages, Outlook 2000 lets you choose the format, such as plain text, rich text, or HTML, on the fly. You can even use Microsoft Word as your e-mail editor. The capability to use Word as the e-mail editor was available in the previous version, but in this version, it works without a glitch. Even better, thanks to Extensible Markup Language, you can send mail from any Microsoft Office application in HTML format without losing the native formatting.
Outlook 2000 also shows a lot more finesse in implementing Internet standards.
Outlook offers two different modes: the Internet mode, which is optimised for Internet connections, and the corporate mode, which is optimised for LAN-based e-mail servers. Outlook 98 only supported the iCalendar standard (an Internet standard for managing calendar data) in the program's Internet mode, but now you can use iCalendar in either the Internet or corporate mode.
In Outlook 98, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) support was available only when the program was loaded in Internet mode - you had to get a separate add-on utility for use with corporate mode. Now LDAP support is readily available for both modes and includes multiple account support. Outlook 2000 allows users to quickly and easily switch between Internet mode and corporate mode.
There are a handful of other enhancements that end users may not notice, but that will appeal to system administrators. For example, Outlook 2000 can now be configured and distributed to users via the Office 2000 deployment tool. All you have to do is install and configure the program on the server once and prompt users to download it to their systems. The auto-repair features in Microsoft Office - which will detect and automatically replace missing or corrupt DLL files - work with Outlook in the same way that they work with the other Office applications.
Those interested in doing application development - either in-house or by farming out the work - will be happy to note that Outlook's programmability has been greatly enhanced. The object model has nearly doubled in size, Visual Basic for Applications has been integrated, and there is support for Component Object Model add-ins.
Outlook has a few limitations worth noting. Although you can use Outlook as a client for Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Mail, and Lotus cc:Mail, there is still no driver for using Outlook as a front end for Notes mail.
There is also no easy way for a stand-alone Outlook 2000 user to synchronise two Outlook databases.
Nevertheless, Outlook 2000 represents a major upgrade to Microsoft's e-mail client and contact manager. If you are already using Outlook, this is a must-have upgrade. If you are not already using Outlook, the enhanced power and ease of use in this version make it worth considering a switch.
The Bottom Line
Microsoft Outlook 2000
Summary: Outlook 2000 is a mature and easy-to-use e-mail client with powerful scheduling and contact management tools built in. The program is significantly easier to use than earlier versions, and the Internet features have been improved.
Business Case: Outlook 2000, included in the Microsoft Office 2000 suite, is a worthwhile upgrade from Outlook 98. Even if you're not using Outlook already, its enhanced flexibility and finesse with Internet standards make it worth considering a switch.
Easier to use
Integrated Web browsing
Publish calendars to Web
Stronger iCalendar support
No synchronisation of databases
No driver for Lotus Notes e-mail
Platforms: Windows NT, Windows 95, Windows 98.
Cost: $189 for full product package.
Tel 13 2058