It’s been nearly 10 years since Microsoft last had a true Exchange compatible mail client, the much missed Outlook 2001. Office 2011 for Mac finally brings back a true replacement, not the crippled Entourage that we’ve been forced to use for the last few years.
Outlook 2001 used the MAPI protocol to talk to Exchange email and calendaring servers, and did so perfectly. Then Microsoft decided to release Entourage as part of Office X for OS X, which used the HTTP webmail protocol, and to be frank, was a pale shadow for the Windows Outlook client. I remember loads of clients who clung onto Outlook 2001, running in Classic mode, just because Entourage was so crap.
A few days ago I was asked by a local veterinarian to look into switching his office from PCs to a Mac based solution, with the sticking points being Sage and Exchange. Normally I’m quite cautious about these things, because whilst Macs have some distinct advantages over Windows, businesses run by process. If your computer system forces you to significantly change your processes, they can end up being expensive white elephants. Sage can be covered by Parallels or VM Ware. But Exchange? I’ve had plenty of pain over the years trying to get Macs integrated into Exchange server in a way that doesn’t disappoint PC veterans.
So like any good provider of Mac technical support, I decided to test first. I setup a remote support session, and configured Apple Mail, iCal and AddressBook to syncronise with the Exchange server. Then we setup a demo of Entourage 2008 to connect to the Exchange server. And then left the client to test.
Very quickly a problem reared its head. Neither iCal or Entourage would show the colour of appointments in the calendar, and the client uses colour coding. Not to be deterred, I decided to see if the soon to be released Outlook 2011 for Mac would solve this problem. Fortunately it does. Not only that, configuration is relatively painless as it does a lot of auto-discovery of the required settings, much like Apple Mail.
Whilst Office 2011 isn’t on sale yet, it will be within the next couple of months, and with a free upgrade from Office 2008 if you’ve bought it after August 2010. The future looks brighter for Mac users struggling with Exchange…