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When I switched from Microsoft Outlook 2007 to Gmail there were two frustrations:

  • Mail and desktop search are not integrated.
  • Gmail contact management is nowhere near as good as Outlook’s.

Recently the first frustration boiled to the point where I decided to revisit Outlook, this time it was Outlook 2010.

While Outlook 2010 has its charms, the experience underlined the reason for my original switch. Webmail clients are more flexible.

Gmail remains the best webmail client. This is even more important now I move from desktop to laptop to smartphone to iPad. It no longer makes sense to have a client on a single device.

Windows 7 integrated search

My main reason for sticking with Outlook until mid-2009 despite the lure of webmail was Microsoft Windows 7’s integrated search.

Being able to use one central search tool to find documents on my desktop computer and in my main work email account seemed too important. It was the reason I wanted a fresh look at Outlook, would integrated search still fire my buttons?

In a word, the answer is a resounding ‘no’.

Multiple email accounts

I use multiple email accounts – some of my regular freelance journalism jobs come with their own mail addresses. These all route though a single Gmail account.

Instead of setting up one or more mail accounts on the desktop, I connected Outlook to my main Gmail account using IMAP. This approach worked far better than I remember from my earlier attempts to mix Gmail and Outlook – a big tick for Outlook 2010.

Integrated search results a mixed bag

Windows 7’s integrated search managed to pick up terms in Outlook 2010 as expected. At this stage the experiment was looking promising. However, for some reason, the same email message containing the search term would appear at least twice in search results. Sometimes more than twice.

This could prove annoying, especially where terms appear in multiple email threads. In many cases I found the returned results were too confusing. To solve this, I found myself moving away from the main desktop search tool and just searching the hard drive or specific folders for documents.

In other words, integrated email search no longer delivers on its promise. This is why I found returning to Outlook a disappointment.

Better contact management

If search was the only criteria, I could have happily removed Outlook 2010 from my desktop and walked away for good. That decision was made harder for me because Microsoft improved Outlook’s already good contact management. My favourite improvement is a tool that pulls in contact details from my Linkedin connections.

I’ve whinged in the past about the lack of decent alternatives to Outlook’s contact manager.   This is one application cloud providers and others have failed to deliver. I’ve yet to see anything that comes anywhere close to Outlook for contact management.

Outlook tasks still dodgy

During my brief flirtation with Outlook 2010 I found the Tasks feature appears broken or, if not broken, behaving oddly. I never added any items to the Tasks list, but every so often an email would be singled out and listed as a task, not once by multiple times. What’s that about?

Outlook remains a must-have application for many company computer users. Despite this, it feels out of date – the way Lotus Notes started feeling out of date as a collaboration tool about a decade ago. Although I will miss its wonderful contact management, I can’t see myself returning to the fold while I’m working in my business.

3 thoughts on “Disappointing return of Microsoft Outlook

  1. I use Microsoft Office at work, but like you, I always feel it could do more. At home, i switched from Microsoft to Apple about a year ago, and my MacBook’s Mail program (that comes free with the OS) is very pleasing for me. It easily migrated with Gmail and my AKO (Army) mail accounts. Reminders and notes sync quickly (and more seamlessly with iCloud), and it seems to be better overall. Does it do everything? Not at all, but I’m very happy with my switch.

    • Yes. But for some reason I can’t figure, Outlook is automatically deciding some incoming emails are flagged as tasks, even when they’re not flagged in the main panel. They seem to be picked at random – there’s no obvious connection with anything.

      Maybe they have keywords?

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