Disappointing return of Microsoft Outlook

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.

New Yahoo!Mail, still a distracting mess

Yahoo!Mail shows two ad images. The one on the right flashes.

After a wave of nagging emails telling me to upgrade my old, barely-used Yahoo!Mail account, I clicked the button.

Yahoo! says mail is now faster: “up to twice as fast”. It doesn’t say what it is twice as fast as, presumably the old Yahoo! Mail.

While it may be faster, Yahoo!Mail is still way slower than Gmail. You don’t need to look far to see why. The application loads two colourful, flashing advertisements.

Flashy – and I don’t mean that in a good way

Not only does this slow Yahoo!Mail to the point of making it almost worthless – at least when compared to Gmail – the ads are distracting. I cannot focus on reading anything complicated or difficult when there’s flashing graphics on the right-hand edge of my screen.

Oh, and the advertisements displayed are totally irrelevant to my life. I’ve seen research which says readers are more forgiving when the advertising they see is relevant.

Yahoo!Mail offers a number of features that are clearly better than those in Gmail. Unlimited storage and being able to attach up to 100MB files to an email are huge pluses.

Pain barrier

Yet none of this matters a jot, if the application is painful to use.

We all understand service providers need to make money. Advertising pays for the mail service. But Gmail manages to do this without turning email into a battleground.

I’ll keep the Yahoo!Mail account for emergencies.

Wave bye bye

Good riddance to Google Wave.

I never understood what the fuss was about.

Wave may have been clever programming, but it didn’t do anything other applications already did better. Google has better tools for most Wave tasks.

It did instant messaging although Google already had tools that do the same job.

Wave did communications. Why bother when Gmail is so much better?

Wave was a collaboration tool. Who needs that when collaborating on Google Docs is so easy?

There was a social media twist to Wave, but Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are all simpler to use and way more polished.

Wave had a bad user interface and was difficult to use.

More importantly, it was difficult to understand what was going on and what one was supposed to do.

When Outlook trumps Gmail

Three months ago I tested Gmail. My plan was to spend a week running all email through Gmail on my desktop, laptop and hand-held computers.

I wanted to move all my email accounts on all my systems through a single application as a way of simplifying things.

In practice it worked well. Routing my Gmail, POP3, Google Apps and Yahoo accounts through one in-box made sense.

Seeing the same messages through the same interface across my three systems made sense. The experiment was so successful I stayed with it for three months.

There was one small problem with Gmail: integrated search. It is easy to search Gmail messages. Email search is faster and more efficient than Outlook search tools.

I missed not being able to search Word and OneNote documents, text, HTML and email documents from a single, central location. But I figured this was only a minor irritation.

Then Windows 7 came along, with improved integrated search. It is noticeably better than Vista search and it works better with Outlook 2007. So much better, that I’ve reinstated Outlook 2007 as my main mail hub. I can use Outlook 2007 on my desktop and laptop, but not on my Palm hand-held.

This hardly matters, the Palm not the best device for writing email – though it is good for reading emails. And anyway, I suspect my trusty old Palm TX is not long for this world.

Update: I forgot the other bonus. Outlook 2007 integrates nicely with OneNote while it is a pain moving messages from Gmail to the application.