Posey's Tips & Tricks

Don't Rule Out Microsoft Replacing Outlook with Teams

Outlook used to be the centerpiece of Microsoft's collaboration efforts, but with Teams becoming more feature-rich by the day, it's obvious which app Microsoft now considers its golden child.

I first started writing about Microsoft technologies way back in the mid-1990s and vividly remember the release of Outlook 97. It seemed as though all of a sudden, Outlook was the only Microsoft Office application anyone talked about. All of the marketing hype at the time made it abundantly clear that Outlook was the application that Microsoft wanted users to be spending the bulk of their day using.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and the same thing seems to be happening today with Microsoft Teams. In some ways this is completely understandable. After all, the pandemic forced most of the world's knowledge workers to begin working remotely, and Teams is one of the go-to tools that has really made all of that remote work possible. Even before the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, however, it seemed as though Microsoft's marketing department was working overtime to drive Teams adoption.

Microsoft is always going to work hard to promote its latest products; that's a given. But there is more going on here than that. It's been a long time since Outlook was first introduced to the world. Since then, technology has changed considerably -- and so has Microsoft's priorities.

For those who might not have been around in the days of Office 97, the Internet was only just beginning to see widespread adoption. In fact, broadband Internet access for consumers did not exist yet. Not only was dial-up the only way for the average person to get online, but Internet access was painfully slow and most providers billed their customers by the minute for Internet connectivity. Back then, Microsoft's main priority seemed to be driving Internet adoption and focusing on building applications that could take advantage of Internet connectivity.

Today, of course, things are far different. Dial-up hasn't been a thing in a long time, and most of us are walking around with Internet-connected devices in our pockets. Needless to say, Microsoft has no need to drive Internet adoption because everyone is already online and has been for quite some time.

Over the past few years, it seems that Microsoft's big push has been collaboration. Think about it: Even applications like Word and Excel, which have historically been standalone apps, now support multi-user document editing.

All of this is to say that Teams is Microsoft's golden child of the moment. It's an application whose sole purpose is to make collaboration possible. As was the case with Outlook so long ago, I get the feeling that Teams is the application that Microsoft wants users to be spending the bulk of their time in.

I also can't help but wonder if Teams might eventually replace Outlook altogether. Maybe I'm completely delusional, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if Microsoft retired Outlook at some point in the next five years.

If the thought of Microsoft retiring Outlook in favor of Teams seems completely crazy, here are a few things to think about. First, Microsoft has done this sort of thing before. Outlook actually replaced another application that Microsoft eventually retired, called Microsoft Exchange Client.

Another thing to think about was that at one time, Outlook was the closest thing Microsoft had to a collaborative application. Today, however, Outlook still provides the same basic functionality that it has for decades (albeit with some new features), whereas a lot of the new collaborative technologies are going into Teams.

Still another thing to consider is that at least some of Outlook's functionality is already being added to Teams. Granted, Teams can't function as a mail client, but think of some of the other functionality that is available in Teams. For example, Teams provides access to the Outlook calendar. There is also an app that exposes data from the Microsoft 365 Planner and To Do apps within Teams. The To Do app is tightly integrated into Outlook online and gives users the ability to create tasks and lists.

Planner also has a chat function built-in. Even though Chat isn't a part of Outlook today, there was a time when Exchange and Outlook -- or it may have been the Exchange Client; I can't remember for sure -- included chat functionality.

Perhaps the best evidence that Teams might eventually replace Outlook is the fact that Teams is extensible through the use of an app store. Microsoft has created a number of apps for Teams that bring other Microsoft 365 functionality into the Teams environment. For instance, Microsoft has created apps for Project, Forms and OneNote. It wouldn't take much for Microsoft to introduce a mail client for Teams.

At that point, Teams would essentially have the same functionality as Outlook (mail, calendar and tasks). If that happens, users would likely begin using Teams almost exclusively rather than constantly flipping back and forth between Teams and Outlook.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 20-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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