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10 reasons to use MS Outlook for company email

10 reasons to use MS Outlook for company email

And seven reasons not to.

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with email. It's allegedly our servant, but, let's face it, we are often its slaves. Many of us also have a similar relationship with our email client. Whether we use a desktop email client or access our messages via a Web-based interface, these are necessary tools that, at their best, can ease the burden of the email onslaught. And at their worst they help us learn some Very Bad Language. In corporate circles, that desktop email client is often Microsoft Outlook.

Say what you will about it (nicely-this is a professional forum), but you'll have to admit that Outlook has improved with each version. It gets easier to use, smarter and plays better with other software. To me, Outlook 2007 is the jewel of the Microsoft Office 2007 suite. My colleague Dee-Ann LeBlanc is stirring the pot with reasons for companies to pass on Microsoft's flagship. I, on the other hand, am rather fond of the current iteration, so here are a few reasons why Outlook is the best choice for your corporate email client.

1. Outlook and Microsoft Exchange Play Well Together

If your email server runs Microsoft Exchange, Outlook is a no-brainer. They go together like bacon and eggs, toast and coffee, peaches and cream.

Users need to know absolutely nothing to connect. They just fire up Outlook, enter their email address, and it and Exchange commune. Transparently. That cuts down on IT involvement in client configuration and allows users to switch computers easily.

2. Outlook Plays Well With Active Directory.

Active Directory's authentication extends to Exchange. That means that a user can simply log on to a computer, start Outlook, and her Active Directory credentials are passed to the Exchange server-no typing or separate logon required.

In fact, since the email address is stored in Active Directory, a user need not even enter that information if authenticating through AD. Outlook automatically figures out the right email address (and, yes, you can bypass that functionality if you need to), log you in and you're good to go.

3. Outlook Integrates with Many Devices and Applications

If you're possessed by any sort of PDA or smartphone, there's a way to synch it with Outlook. Some vendors don't even provide a native personal information manager for their devices, but rely on the fact that most customers have a copy of Outlook that does the trick very nicely.

Even third party add-on applications for devices like BlackBerry or various Windows Mobile models manage to talk to Outlook. Skype talks to Outlook. ACT! talks to Outlook. In fact, it's hard to find a desktop tool that doesn't talk to Outlook. And you can find dozens of little add-ins that extend Outlook even farther-check out Office Addins.com for example.

4. Outlook Makes it Easy to Organize Your Assets

Most email clients offer some sort of rules for sorting and managing email, but Outlook 2007 (in conjunction with Exchange 2007) really raises the bar. Sure, you can sort messages into folders, or forward or redirect them according to selected criteria. However, you also have the option to send different automatic Out of Office (OOO) messages to internal and external addresses. For example, users who subscribe to mailing lists may not want to send messages to addresses outside their company at all (mailing list admins frown on OOO messages, which act like spam to the list), but need to give internal senders information on who's covering for them.

If you need to follow up on a message, Outlook offers flags of various colors that can be tied to reminders if you need a friendly nag. A shortcut folder called "Follow Up" gathers links to all flagged messages to make them simple to locate. And if you want to be sure the boss's messages leap out at you, with a couple of clicks you can make them show up in the color of your choice in your in-box listing. My boss's mail, for example, is red, and his counterpart with whom I also deal is an unsubtle lime green. There's no missing either of their tomes in the clutter!

5. Outlook Plays Nicely With SharePoint

Microsoft's SharePoint is a collaborative platform offering tools for building and managing websites, intranets and workspaces. But Microsoft realizes that many users have neither the time nor the mental bandwidth to log on to yet another server to check forum discussions or to examine shared documents.

What to do? Simple-Outlook users can opt to receive notifications of new or changed content by email, then click through to the SharePoint site. They can also add content to a shared workspace or participate in forum discussions by email, thanks to integration with Outlook and Exchange.

6. Outlook Expedites Workflow

Outlook's messaging isn't limited to mere email. Companies can set up workflows for functions such as online voting. For example, if a group wants to decide on a location for a festive lunch, the coordinator can send a message offering several options. Recipients simply click a voting button within the email message to send their responses.

Using Outlook's forms feature, things like requests for time off can be automatically routed to approvers, and the reply returned to the user.

7. Outlook's User Interface is Familiar

Since Microsoft Office is the market leader in productivity software, the Outlook user interface is familiar to users, cutting down on the learning curve. Sure, there's a ton of functionality to discover, but the basics are relatively intuitive to someone who's used to Microsoft Office. That can save a bundle in training costs. And since the familiarity extends to the development environment, it's also relatively easy for developers using Microsoft Visual Studio to interface with Outlook, either to add functionality or to tie it to other corporate applications.

8. Outlook Offers Integrated Calendar, Tasks, etc

Outlook includes an address book, calendar, task list and virtual sticky notes. All pieces are integrated; dragging and dropping an email message can create an appointment or a task or a note. Tasks may be delegated with a click or two. Not only does the responsible victim get informed of the job he's inherited, but the delegator can get regular status reports. And with the purchase of the version containing Microsoft Business Contact Manager, Outlook becomes a business in a box for a small enterprise.

9. Believe It or Not, Outlook Has Pretty Good Security

Yes, I know Microsoft has a bad reputation on the security front. But Outlook 2007, in particular, has good junk mail filtering (as long as you keep it up-to-date), blocks external content such as web bugs and downloaded images and data from foreign sites, disallows executable attachments and prevents the execution of ActiveX applets, by default. You can bypass the security if you like, but it has to be a conscious decision.

10. Outlook Offers One-Stop email

You're not limited to a single account in Outlook. Several accounts using different protocols (including POP3 and IMAP) can feed into the same set of folders, and be managed with one set of rules. Or, if you prefer, they can be sorted into separate folders by account. You choose.

Yes, other email clients can integrate multiple accounts, but Outlook's advantage lies in its native support for Exchange.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it all comes down to picking the right tool for the job, and that job is primarily email. Microsoft Outlook is now robust, secure and versatile enough to be that tool. The extra functionality is just the cherry on the sundae for lucky Outlook users.

Now, here are the reasons not to use MS Outlook for company email

If you enjoy stirring things up, try walking into a room of IT professionals and loudly declaring your love or hate for Microsoft Outlook. You're sure to get knees jerking so hard that you'll wish you had stock in arthritis pain creams. However, most complaints and valentines about Outlook are personal anecdotes which, while interesting, may have little relation to reality.

The reality: letting this software behemoth slip into your desktop PCs is like inviting a vampire into your house. Before you know it, everyone and everything's bled dry. Lest you get tempted, read on.

For the opposite point of view, check out my colleague Lynn Greiner's 10 Reasons to Use Microsoft Outlook.

1. Your users don't have infinite time

Outlook has never been the fastest kid on the block, but Outlook 2007 takes a new prize in being extra special slow. When you have large .pst or .ost files (starting officially around 2GB and getting significantly worse as you top 4GB), Outlook happily freezes on you as you work with your mail. You can also run into this problem if you use Outlook 2007 for RSS feeds.

While there's an update that fixes this problem somewhat, some of the recommendations for reducing the trouble are themselves problematic. Who has time to go through and hand purge items from a mailbox that's in the gigabytes? Microsoft also recommends to "Use an online mode profile instead of a cached mode profile."

Unfortunately, turning off cached mode increases network traffic, messes with your junk mail filtering, and if you're off the network, good luck with being able to see your mail at all.

There are also issues with using Outlook 2007 to pick up POP3 mail, where Microsoft's handling of the AUTH command is incorrect, causing the POP3 mail checking process to take a painfully long time.

2. You don't like losing your mail

Outlook's .pst files have been notorious for years for becoming corrupted. In older Outlook versions (Outlook 97 through Outlook 2002), if a .pst file reached 2GB in size, the file could spontaneously corrupt itself. This problem became so widespread that a host of companies created products to fix the problem.

For example, there's Disk Doctors Outlook Mail Recovery that can repair .pst files damaged this way, along with fixing other corruption issues and retrieving deleted items (mail, contacts, etc). What are these other corruption issues? Outlook's .pst file can also be corrupted over the network if not stored locally, it can have its header corrupted, or be corrupted while compacting the file to make it use disk space more efficiently. This tool also claims to be able to retrieve .pst files that other tools couldn't because of file fragmentation on the disk.

Other tools are Recovery Toolbox for Outlook-corruption repair only-and Repair Outlook PST, with features comparable to Disk Doctors Outlook Mail Recovery.

And then there's the issue that if you subscribe to Windows Live OneCare-you know, Microsoft's security suite that's supposed to keep your system safe-there's a chance that OneCare can actually hit a bug where a single virus can cause it to make it look like your email has vanished from Outlook 97, 2000, or Outlook Express on Windows XP. Their recommended solution? Exclude your .pst or .dbx files from scanning. You know, the files with the email and therefore the files that might contain viruses. Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don't.

3. Your users get and read a lot of HTML mail

Outlook 2007 for some reason uses Microsoft Word's HTML engine instead of Internet Explorer's , and we're all familiar with the elegant, brief HTML that Word so lovingly creates for us (yes, that is sarcasm you see dripping down your screen.) As a result, if you send or get a lot of HTML mail, you'll find that background images won't display properly, you can't add or fill out forms, Flash and other plug-ins won't work, various CSS features are non-existent, you can't use or see image-based bullets, and there's no support for animated gifs.

Some people might get big smiles from this flaw, among the crowd that feels that email should be plain text at least. Your marketing department, as they try to send out nice-looking mail to entice new customers, won't be so impressed.

At least Microsoft was kind(?) enough to create a special tool you can use to see if your HTML will actually work in Outlook 2007. When you need an entirely separate tool to figure this out and your software is that non-compliant with the standards, it's a bit head shaking.

You also can't add HTML code into Outlook email. For those who hate HTML mail, no harm, no foul. But if you need to create it, having to (for example) send images as attachments instead of embedding them is a no-brainer.

4. Outlook ignores more than just HTML standards

How can you expect Outlook to follow HTML standards when it doesn't even follow email standards? Even better, when there is an error because of its non-compliance, the error message blames the problem on your administrator!

For example, messages stored in .pst files are in Microsoft's proprietary MAPI format, meaning that they aren't in MIME format, making it awkward for anti-virus and anti-spam programs to scan the content.

An even more fun one is that if you're not using Exchange, Outlook 2003 doesn't include Message-ID headers, your users may end up sending mail that gets flagged as spam before it can reach its recipients.

5. Your users are on multiple platforms

Outlook is only available for Windows. If you also have Mac users, you'll need the Mac version of Microsoft Office with Entourage, a program that was not built to blend in well with other Mac software and feels very foreign to Mac users. Then if you have people using Linux desktops you'll need either an emulation solution to run the Windows version of Outlook, or a third mail solution.

If you need to support all three of these platforms, then look into Mozilla's free and cross-platform (Windows, Mac, and Linux) Thunderbird. Those who need to support just Windows and the Mac might be interested in QUALCOMM's Eudora. Or you could bypass email clients all together and offer Webmail.

6. Your hardware budget isn't infinite

Outlook is a big program. Massive. Feature bloat has swollen it into such a monster that it sucks down resources and shortens battery life. Your laptop users in particular will want to lance this boil from their systems so they can get things done. Otherwise, you might have to invest in more high-end hardware just to support an email client.

Consider Thunderbird, Eudora, or Pegasus Mail, another free, but single platform, email client. Again, there's always Webmail.

7. Outlook has the Microsoft target painted on it

Because Microsoft still owns the majority of the desktop space, and Outlook and its variants are still the majority email client, there's a big fat target painted on this program with every spammer and scammer trying to exploit it. Add onto this issue that many IT departments don't allow their users to apply updates on their own, and are still using older versions of Outlook, and you end up with a veritable disaster breeding-ground.

Beyond the Reasons

Really, there's only one thing to do if you're considering handing Outlook to your users. Get some counseling, for starters. Then arrange some for your users base, and especially your help desk or poor Joe over there in the corner who helps people with their desktop PC problems while doing his four other jobs.

If you don't get some therapy now and you insist on moving forward with Outlook, then I suggest buying stock in antacids. You're gonna need them.

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