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Outlook 2001 Fleshes Out Microsoft's Cross-Platform Story

Microsoft Corp. Wednesday posted to its download Web site the final code of Outlook 2001, a version of its Outlook mail and collaboration client for Macintosh platforms.

According to David Siroky, an Exchange product manager with Microsoft, Outlook 2001 is the first Outlook iteration for the Macintosh that offers feature parity with its counterparts - Outlook 2000 and Outlook 2002 - on Windows platforms. Outlook 2002 launched May 31 as part of the Office XP suite. At the same time, Siroky maintains, Microsoft tried to provide an Outlook 2001 user experience that is distinct to the Macintosh, as well.

"We wanted to provide a version of Outlook on the Macintosh that was completely compatible with the version on Windows," he says. "But we also wanted to provide a version on the Macintosh that wasn't just a straight Windows port."

Outlook 2001 supplants an earlier Macintosh specific version of the product, Outlook 8.2.2, which, although it boasted interoperability with Microsoft's Exchange 5.5 and Exchange 2000 messaging and mail servers, was not interoperable with versions of the Outlook client software written for Windows platforms. What this meant, Siroky allows, was that users couldn't easily export settings from Windows to Macintosh Outlook clients - or vice-versa.

"We did the work to make sure that Outlook on the Mac used the same data format as Outlook on windows, so if you took an archived .PST file of all of your mail on windows, you could bring that into the Mac," he explains, noting that Outlook 2001's collaborative functionality - which includes calendaring, scheduling and contact management features - now enjoys interoperability with Windows clients, as well.

Nipping at Domino's Heels

The Outlook 2001 announcement comes at a time when its server-side counterparts, Exchange 5.5 and Exchange 2000, are nipping at the heels of Domino, a messaging and collaborative platform from IBM Corp. subsidiary Lotus, and Exchange's stiffest competition in the enterprise groupware space.

According to market research firm IDC Exchange currently boasts 68 million user licenses to Domino's 78 million - the closest it's ever been. Moreover, Exchange is apparently growing more rapidly than is Notes: IDC charted 33 percent growth for Exchange from 1999-2000, compared with only 12 percent for Domino. IDC even projected that Exchange could overtake Domino sometime in 2001.

Domino itself enjoys broad cross-platform support - it's been ported to most of IBM's enterprise platforms, to Windows NT/2000 and to various flavors of Unix and Linux - and versions of its client-side counterpart, Lotus Notes, are available for Windows, for Macintosh and for many Unix variants.

Exchange, on the other hand, runs only on Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 Server/Advanced Server. Prior to the release of Outlook 2001, Exchange 5.5 and Exchange 2000 were best supported only on Windows platforms.

This lack of cross-platform support for both the client and the server components of its groupware strategy has hurt Microsoft, many observers allege.

"It's been to Domino's advantage that IBM is much more OS agnostic than Microsoft is," says Rob Enderle, a senior fellow with consultancy Giga Information Group.

A More Compelling Cross-Platform Story

Coupled with Monday's release of Exchange 2000 SP1, which provided several enhancements to Outlook Web Access's features and functionality in Solaris environments, the availability of Outlook 2001 helps to give Microsoft a more-compelling cross-platform story - at least on the client-side.

Outlook Web Access - which lets users access their Exchange mailboxes through any Web browser - now facilitates drag-and-drop capabilities and supports dynamic HTML and rich-text editing in conjunction with Internet Explorer 5.0 SP1 running on Solaris platforms.

"If they've got [Windows and Macintosh] covered, they've got the majority of client desktops that are out there," argues Giga's Enderle. "Besides, a lot of Unix users don't necessarily want to have a full-featured environment, so if they can get there with IMAP4 or POP3 support in the client, or through a Web browser, they'll probably be happy with that."

For his part, Microsoft's Siroky says that heterogeneous client support is a priority for his company.

"The commitment to our customers is to make sure that they're successful with Exchange, so this means that we have to support them whether or not they have a Unix client or a Macintosh client or a Windows client," he comments.

But unlike IBM, which has delivered full-featured Notes clients for several Unix platforms, Microsoft will not develop an Outlook client for Unix, Siroky confirms.

"We've done a couple of things to help out Unix customers, and there's the Web browser support that we talked about that's been greatly improved in [Exchange 2000] SP1 and in Exchange 2000 overall," he says. -- Stephen Swoyer

Related Articles:
Exchange Service Pack Full of Features
Outlook 2002 to Come with Exchange 2000 SP1
Microsoft Launches Office XP

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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