RE: Winders software that you can't live without

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From: Lisa Dusseault (
Date: Tue Dec 12 2000 - 12:56:57 PST

> > Outlook is a beast I have come to depend on - I could live with another
> You're the first person I hear saying nice things about Outlook.

Well, it's certainly not trendy or cool-sounding to say nice things about
Outlook, which may be part of the reason why. It makes one sound borg-y,
rather than sounding independent-minded. It probably is also a case of
being taken for granted. How many email clients do you hear people saying
nice things about? People rave about OSS, games, audio-related stuff. They
don't rave about email clients because they're so prosaic, so much part of
the background. But I'll chip in anyway now that I've bought my soul back
and gained some conscious appreciation ...

Like Damien, I have come to depend on Outlook. I had to use it when I
worked on Exchange, but eventually learned to use it well, and depend on it.
Since I can't seem to come up with some pithy expression of why I depend on
Outlook, I'll just have to list some of what I think are the most important
 - It's got calendaring, contacts lists, and tasks lists. Not only that,
but these are integrated together very well. It's very easy to email people
in your contacts list, or invite them to meetings, or even send them tasks
if you're that kind of manager.
 - It's organizationally very customizable; I turn off preview pane and
auto-preview, and turn on folder display list.
 - The way you reply to messages (e.g. like I do prefixing '>' in
plain-text) is also quite customizable.
 - It's quite possible to have several IMAP servers & such. In
local-storage mode, Outlook 2000 works very well with all the IMAP servers
I've tried. In online mode when docs are stored on the server, it's a
little less reliable (but not as bad as Netscape messaging).
 - When connected to an Exchange server (which I'm not any more), some of
the features turn real powerful: group calendaring integrated with
messaging, group folders, scheduling meeting rooms, etc.
 - I love having a deleted items folder.
 - My entire task management process is currently dependent on Outlook. My
inbox serves as a combination of email unread, email I must respond to soon,
or email I haven't decided what to do with. When it gets to be more than
one screen long, I triage. Right-click on an email and drag it to the task
folder, and you can turn the email into a task. You can assign a deadline
to respond to the email or do whatever it reminds you to do.
 - I can't remember meetings without a tool that pings me when they are.
Having my calendar integrated with mail turns out to be very important to me
because I live on email; thus my calendar is on. If it wasn't integrated, I
would forget to start my calendar & miss meetings. Seriously :)

I wasn't aware of all this until I tried to use something other than
Outlook. I switched to Linux in June of this year and lived entirely on
Linux for as long as I could, which turned out to be 3 to 4 months. I knew
that theoretically I could do this, because I operated only on various
unices throughout my university years, on the job and in the lab. But I
gave up on Linux, and it was Outlook that made me give up. I tried to use
Netscape Messaging, and lack-of-features aside, the horrible stability drove
me absolutely nuts. I tried to use VMWare, but I ended up spending more
time in the VMWare window than in the surrounding Linux OS. I certainly
haven't done the work of trying to find a better GUI for linux, I admit. I
do still boot my test machine to linux because it's more fun to develop
in -- as long as I don't need to check email or use Office.

I looked into other messaging products that would run on unices, but kept on
comparing to outlook and wincing. None of them had nearly the combination
of features and usability I knew I wanted. And finally, leaving behind
something I knew well and liked fine wasn't worth it, because the only
possibilities were daunting. Although I can use emacs, I didn't want to
have to learn how to do email, calendaring and task lists in emacs!!

I'll admit to a particular class of defects in Outlook: it is Win-world
centric. It sends, and does, stuff which is occasionally offensive to
text-based clients in particular. Although an experienced user can change
this, it's the default behaviour which is offensive, and that's not good.
In the past I've spent a good deal of time exposing things like this to the
Outlook PMs. It's not surprising, since they had more experience in GUIs
than in text-mode clients, and focused more on a good experience for the
Outlook user than the non-Outlook user (duh). Usually it's just a case of
them not being aware they were causing anybody any grief. Sometimes
features were known to cause grief to text-mode recipients, but the value of
the feature was deemed to be greater than the cost of the grief.

Since I value consumer choice very highly, I do wish there was a credible
alternative, and perhaps the experienced communicators on this list will
alert me to one. Until then, I can't live without outlook. My work time
(as opposed to my goof-off-browse-the-web-time) is currently spent 50% in
outlook, 10% IE, 35% jbuilder, 5% WinCVS, not counting the tiny fractions
spent in explorer, notepad, ssh, cmd, etc.

To conceptually link to my recent posts about great hardware/software design
(ComicChat, feedback mouse), the original UI designers and Program Managers
and Dev Managers of Outlook, and some of the remaining ones, are innovators
whom I highly respect. You know who you are :). This was again an instance
of a "renegade" team within MS doing some very good work. Although MS
already had an Email client (this was the Exchange mail client), and
although the existing mail client was entrenched and closely hooked to the
Exchange server, Outlook won out, first internally, then by replacing the
Exchange mail client as MS's email client product. Competition rocks.

I still watch MS to see what those people are doing; when I see certain
names, my ears perk up...


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