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A message was posted yesterday asking about the e-mail program in MS 
Office 97.  The attached article from Wall Street Journal offered a good 

Chang chen

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February 27, 1997

Microsoft's New Organizer
Is Great Idea, Poorly Executed

IT'S NOT OFTEN that Microsoft brings out an entirely new piece of=20
productivity software, as opposed to a new version of a familiar=20
program. And it's especially noteworthy when that new software merges a=20
couple of existing product categories. So the company's new $95 Outlook=20
97 program is worth a careful look.

Outlook, which works only on PCs running Windows 95, is Microsoft's=20
latest calendar and address book program -- a "personal information=20
manager" in computer-industry lingo. But Outlook offers a new twist to=20
the PIM category: It incorporates a full-featured electronic-mail=20
program as well. That means you don't have to maintain separate address=20
books for tracking contacts and e-mail recipients, and offers other=20
potential advantages as well. The combination is so tempting that=20
Microsoft incorporated Outlook in its showcase $190 Office 97 suite of=20
software, and rejected the PIM label for it, calling Outlook a "desktop=20
information manager," or DIM.


Walter S. Mossberg answers readers' questions in Mossberg's Mailbox. Sen=20
your questions or comments by e-mail to mossberg(--nospam--at)


Sadly, that unfortunate acronym is apt. Outlook 97 doesn't live up to=20
its potential. It's a great idea, poorly executed. The much-touted=20
e-mail function is nearly clueless about the Internet, and about the=20
needs of dial-up e-mail users in general. It is really suited only for=20
big corporate networked e-mail systems where armies of in-house techs=20
can help folks get it up and running. Even in such big businesses, users=20
will be confused by Outlook's dense, daunting interface, which is=20
cluttered with complicated commands and icons and with wordy, complex=20
forms and dialogues.

Outlook has some clever features and functions. But it is much harder to=20
use than leading PIMs like Starfish Software's Sidekick and Lotus=20
Organizer, or popular e-mail programs like Qualcomm's Eudora Pro. In=20
fact, for people using Internet-based e-mail, Outlook pales before=20
Microsoft's own unheralded Internet Mail program (which will soon be=20
renamed Outlook Express) that is distributed free with the company's=20
Internet Explorer Web browser.

MICROSOFT UNDERSTANDS at least some of Outlook's drawbacks and is=20
working to correct them. The company plans some modest upgrades to the=20
e-mail portion of the program for this spring. A more fundamental=20
overhaul, including a simpler user interface, is planned for the next=20
full version of Outlook, but that won't help buyers now.

Outlook's big advantage is its integration. If you have a person on your=20
contact list, you can simply drag her name with your mouse to the e-mail=20
in-box icon and the program will automatically open a new e-mail form=20
with her e-mail address already filled in. If you drag her name to the=20
calendar icon, Outlook will open a new appointment form for her and drop=20
the entry into a calendar. If you're planning a meeting, you can=20
instantly invite potential participants via e-mail.

The calendar and contact modules are fairly standard, with most of the=20
typical features. They are fully customizable, with multiple ways to=20
look at data. For instance, in the contact list, you can see more or=20
less detail on a person, and sort entries in various ways. In the=20
calendar, you get day, week and month views. I also found that Outlook=20
did a great job of importing a large number of addresses from Sidekick.

There are some cool touches throughout. When entering a new contact, you=20
can just type his full name and Outlook in most cases can intelligently=20
parse it into separate first, middle and last name entries. The program=20
also tries to do the same with street and city addresses, though with=20
less success. In the calendar, if you type something like "third=20
Wednesday in April," Outlook figures out the date and enters it. In the=20
e-mail module, the program automatically displays the first few lines of=20
unread messages.

But overall, the interface is puzzling. The various modules are listed=20
on the left, but there are separate entries for "in box" and "mail,"=20
which ought to be the same thing, and a button called Outlook, which=20
hardly makes sense because that's the name of the whole program. The=20
icons and menu choices arrayed across the top are also mysterious. For=20
instance, there's no icon for checking your e-mail. That function is in=20
the "tools" menu. There are two icons with prominent pictures of=20
magnifying glasses, a common symbol for searching for information, but=20
neither performs a search. The real search icon looks like a clock.

THE E-MAIL MODULE is the worst. It is built atop Microsoft's unfriendly=20
Exchange mail system. Setting up Outlook's e-mail requires you to=20
navigate Exchange's unfamiliar terminology, geared to corporate-network=20
administrators, even if you just want to use an Internet e-mail account=20
you've already set up in Windows. Microsoft plans to allow users to=20
unhook Outlook from this Exchange system in the next version, but it's a=20
mess now.

Even after you get past setup, there are problems. In my tests, Outlook=20
insisted on repeatedly dialing in to check my e-mail even after it=20
reported the line was busy. Eventually, the dialing function just froze=20
up. I finally had to use a separate program to dial in and then manually=20
get Outlook to retrieve my e-mail without first dialing.

Even changing e-mail options is hard. Some are in a menu called=20
"options," others in a menu called "services."

Microsoft has a history of doing a poor job on the first version of new=20
products, and Outlook fits that pattern. But Microsoft usually gets it=20
right, eventually. Wait to buy Outlook until that day arrives.


Return to top of page=20
Copyright =A9 1997 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.=20


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