Two reasons Outlook 2011 isn't ready for prime time

Erik Eckel notes the improvements made in Outlook 2011 for the Mac, but finds that there are two big obstacles that still hold it back for use in the enterprise.

It was a long time coming. Expectations were high. Mac administrators anticipated the day native Outlook support arrived for Macs. Microsoft Office for the Mac Home and Business 2011 was thought to be bringing full email compatibility to Macs. It hasn't happened.

Improvements apparent

Don't get me wrong. Microsoft's done well improving the new version of Office for the Mac. New features, including updated ribbon toolbars, SkyDrive cloud-based sharing, numerous new predesigned templates, and improved preview modes, make Office 2011 worth its purchase price. There's no debating that. Just don't buy Office for Mac 2011 expecting full Outlook compatibility compared to Windows systems. It's not there. While there are improvements, issues remain.

Microsoft's done well eliminating Entourage. I've never met an Entourage user or administrator that spoke well of the problematic Mac email platform. It's gone. Retired, mercifully. Now Mac users receive Outlook as part of Microsoft Office for Mac Home and Business 2011. Conversations, which collect email threads together, are included, as is the ability to connect to other staff members' calendars. That's a huge new feature not to be minimized.

No native .PST file

Don't go looking for .PST files on the Mac, though. They're not there. Instead, Outlook on the Mac drops messages and attachments into multiple new folders. Internet chatter suggests the reason is such architecture makes it easier for Apple's native Time Machine backup to incrementally back up email changes.

That's true, and that's an argument for the new Outlook email file structure. Just don't expect to work with .PST files on the Mac. It's not going to happen, although Mac users can import .PST files. But that's not why Outlook 2011 isn't ready for prime time.

1. It still looks like Entourage

The first reason Outlook for the Mac proves problematic is Outlook on the Mac doesn't look like Outlook on Windows. It looks more, to me, like Entourage, albeit new and improved.

Option and preference windows still leave me feeling like I'm working on a platform ported to the Mac and not the standard Microsoft Outlook app Windows users swear by (or at, depending upon the day). Neither do Contact windows or Task panes closely mimic their Windows counterparts. Instead, they more closely resemble, in my mind, a Web 2.0 version of those interfaces.

Maybe the simplification is good. Maybe it's better that Microsoft's developers have reduced much of the clutter in an effort to make navigation and use more efficient and intuitive. But it still means users familiar with the Windows Outlook interface will have to retrain themselves as to the location of common features and processes using the Mac counterpart.

2. No selective archiving

More offensive is the lack of proper archiving within Microsoft Outlook for Mac. Windows users are accustomed to selectively archiving email. Traditional Outlook email archiving enables Windows users to selectively archive mail within a single folder, multiple folders or an entire mailbox as required or on a predetermined schedule. No such feature exists in Microsoft Outlook for the Mac.

That needs to change. How else are Mac Outlook users to properly manage their Exchange mailboxes? Other than deleting email, there's no simple way, other than exporting the entire contents of a mailbox to an .OLM file. Microsoft would be well served to add an archiving feature to Mac's Outlook application as part of a service pack upgrade. Without such functionality, Outlook is simply not ready for prime time use in the enterprise.