With the release of Office 2011 for Mac, Microsoft has restored Windows-compatibility features that it had previously stripped from Mac versions, and added some new ones. Outlook 2011 is the most significant restored feature. But Entourage fans may not feel as comfortable with the new Exchange client, which dumps some of Entourage's features, including iCal (and thus iPhone) syncing.
Microsoft has a schizophrenic record of adding Windows-compatibility features to Office for Mac only to remove them in later versions. For instance, Microsoft added VBA macros in Office 2004 but removed it from Office 2008, apparently deciding that only Windows users need the automation feature. This turned out to be a bad business decision, as it forced many Mac users (including myself) to stick with Office 2004 in order to maintain Windows compatibility. VBA macros have returned in Office 2011, enabling the 2004 holdouts to upgrade.
Outlook 2011 for Mac brings back long-lost feature parity and administrative similarities with Outlook for Windows, parity that Mac users and Exchange administrators once enjoyed with Outlook 2001 for Mac. Those of use who have been around long enough to remember Outlook 2001 may recall that it ran in Mac OS 9 on PowerPC Macs. Microsoft never released an OS X version of Outlook -- until now.
Outlook 2011 replaces Entourage in Office 2011 Home & Business (US $280). Microsoft dropped email altogether in the Home & Student edition (US $150), which does not include Outlook. (Amazon is selling both versions at a discount.) Outlook 2011 is not available separately from Office.
Entourage was always an email/calendar program with Exchange client functionality strapped on. Users complained for years when Microsoft dropped Outlook for Mac in favor of Entourage. The first Entourage releases were woefully inferior to Outlook for Windows -- and Outlook 2001 -- as an Exchange client. Microsoft gradually added features, such as support for Exchange Server's global address lists (GAL), which enabled single sign-on in Active Directory environments. Last year's Entourage Web Services Edition added syncing of tasks, notes and categories with Exchange Server, and the ability to use attachments in Entourage for Exchange-based calendar events.
Outlook 2011 fills in most of the remaining missing pieces. For instance, it adds support of .PST files that contain a message, calendar item, or task. The old Outlook 2001 supported PST files, but Entourage never did. Users can import .PST files from other Mac users or Windows users
There are other benefits. Email messages are now each stored in a separate file, which fixes Entourage's chronic problems with database corruption. Backups (particularly Time Machine backups) are faster than with Entourage. With Entourage, if there's only one new message, the entire database of all message has to be backed up.
One Outlook 2001 (and Windows) feature that Outlook 2010 doesn't support is the MAPI protocol. Instead, it uses the Exchange Web Services, which means it's only compatible with Exchange Server 2007 SP1 with Update Rollup 4 and later.
People staffing corporate help desks (and Windows switchers) will appreciate the fact that Outlook 2011 looks and acts similarly Outlook 2010 for Windows. It also has features of Outlook for Windows that Entourage lacks. This includes the handy Conversations view, which displays multiple messages in a thread under a single header. Using Conversations, you'll always reply to the latest message in thread.
Outlook 2011 does not, however, include the OneNote feature of the Windows version.
Unfortunately, as with some past new versions of Office for Mac, this version also delete features. Some Entourage users are not going to be happy, and are likely to stick with Entourage.
Most significantly, Outlook 2011 can't sync calendar data with iCal. This isn't much of a problem -- unless you're one of tens of millions of iPhone and iPad users and you depend on calendar syncing. Microsoft apparently doesn't expect these users to switch to Windows Phone 7, and has promised a future update that adds Mac OS X Sync Services support.
Another big feature for some Entourage users that is missing from Outlook is Project Center, the project management feature of Entourage 2008. For organizations depending on this feature, switching to Outlook will not be a trivial move.
Outlook 2011 is also missing Entourage's Resend and Redirect commands for email. (Redirect forwards a message while displaying the original sender in the From field.) You can also no longer reformat email messages with the Edit Message and Cleanup Text commands, both of which are gone.
Although these dropped features may keep you from switching to Outlook, they don't have to keep you from switching to the rest of Office 2011. You can keep Entourage on your hard drive. But, there are limitations. For instance, Entourage Project Center doesn't work with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2011, which is a deterrent to upgrading Office for some users. Microsoft has an article on how to use Entourage with Office 2011 for Mac.
Another anoyance is that Microsoft doesn't trust Mac users as much as Windows users. Office 2011 requires an activation process that is much harsher than what is inflicted on Windows users. If you don't type a 25-character activation key within 15 days of installing, Office 2011 won't launch. By comparison, Office 2010 for Windows has a 30-day activation period that can be extended five times to 180 days. If you exceed that, Office 2010 doesn't lock out the Windows user. Instead, it launches into a read-only mode called Reduced Functionality Mode.
Some people and organizations are going to love Outlook 2011. It solves problems that MacWindows readers have been complaining about for years, such as database corruption and feature-parity with Outlook for Windows.
However, think twice before upgrading your organization's Mac users. If they depend on the Entourage Project Center, or need to sync calendars with iPhones or iPads, you may want to hold off.
Outlook 2011 is not a must-have for everyone, since Snow Leopard has some Exchange Server support, and Entourage will work with Office 2011 installed, though not as well as with Office 2008.
Have you tried Outlook 2011 for Mac?
Update: Readers have identified additional Entourage features that were not included in Outlook 2011. You can read about these at Outlook 2011 Tips and Reports.
Tests results from MacTech magazine show that Outlook 2011 for Mac is significantly slower than the two previous Entourage versions in downloading mail from POP and IMAP servers. However, the magazine found that tasks in managing mail on the Mac were faster in Outlook than Entourage.
The MacTech tests show that Outlook 2011 for Mac took more than twice the time to download POP email than it took with Entourage 2008 and with Entourage 2004. IMAP email syncing took about twice the time it did with Entourage 2008, and slightly longer than Entourage 2004. Outlook took five times longer to empty deleted mail than did either version of Entourage.
Outlook was faster than Entourage in searching messages and addresses, sorting messages, and launching the application.
The MacTech article quotes a Microsoft representative as saying that the slower mail message retrieval was "deliberate," and that "network performance competes with user interface performance and we throttle back the network a bit to make the user interface more responsive."
Have you noticed slower mail retrieval with Outlook for Mac? If so, does it matter?
Related: Outlook 2011 Tips and Reports
We asked Microsoft to comment on reports that accessing email was significantly slower in Outlook 2011 than in Entourage. A Microsoft spokesperson provided this explaination:
In response to your inquiry regarding Outlook for Mac 2011 running slower when accessing mail than Entourage - In Outlook 2011 launch time is actually faster and interactions like sorting, searching the address book, and searching mail is significantly faster as well. While yes POP and IMAP downloads are slower, this was a tradeoff the MacBU had to make to improve the overall customer experience. It's a balancing act - network performance competes with UI performance and we pulled back the network a bit to make the UI more responsive for the user.
Meanwhile, another reader wrote to say that slow downloading in Outlook is a problem. His report is here.