Categories
productivity

Microsoft double-dipping with Outlook.com ads

Microsoft’s Outlook.com web mail app is clean, crisp and efficient. It is almost everything you’d want from a browser-based mail app.

Almost.

It fails because there’s an advertising pane on the right hand of the screen. You can’t miss it.

Of course that’s the idea. Advertising is supposed to be in-your-face.

Attention-seeking

Advertisers won’t pay up unless their message catches your attention. And that means distracting.

And annoying.

It’s one thing for Microsoft to show advertising on its Outlook.com web mail to casual users. After all, the service is free. Microsoft needs Outlook.com to earn its keep.

It’s another thing entirely for Microsoft to show ads to people already paying for an annual Office 365 subscription. It amounts to double dipping.

Paying subscribers already contribute towards the software.

Sure, most Office 365 subscriptions include a copy of the Outlook 2016 desktop app. And, yes, that app does not include any distracting advertising.

Outlook versus itself

But Outlook 2016 is a clunky, heavy-duty application. It gobbles resources and memory. The web version provides all the key functionality in a tighter, simpler, lightweight package.

It would be nice to use it without distraction. It would be more productive to use it without distraction.

Ruining the app this way is dumb. Outlook.com with competes with Gmail and Apple iCloud Mail. Each has its own set of features, benefits and pitfalls. Let’s put that aside and focus on the deliberate advertising distraction.

You can hide Gmail’s advertising. There never was any advertising on iCloud Mail.

Online ads are a commodity. They do little to earn money. They do a lot to cheapen the user experience. If Microsoft wants its mail service to be taken seriously as a productivity tool it needs to drop the advertising. Showing advertising to paying customers is greedy. Microsoft can be better than this.

Categories
computing

Xero woos small business with Microsoft Outlook link

Rod Drury AWS Summit Auckland 2015One of the advantages of cloud apps like Xero is that it is easy to link them. You do none of the hard work, that’s all handled for you. Best of all, you don’t need to buy fresh software or download and install patches.

Xero founder Rod Drury has hinted in the past that this year would see a lot of behind the scenes work to help small business owners get more from their existing data. He is also keen on automating processes.

Overnight  his company took another step along that path when it announced Xero now links directly to Microsoft Outlook. This means you can get to mail messages, documents and contact information without ever leaving the online accounting software.

Outlook feed

Likewise, while you are working with Outlook you can get a feed from Xero telling you details about a customer including what they have purchased and what they owe. You can then open their Xero contact information without leaving Outlook.

You need an Office 365 subscription to use the Xero link with Outlook.

Taken in isolation, it’s not a huge leap forward. However, Xero has set up a number of similar links weaving its functionality deeper and deeper into small business workflows.

Late last year Drury told me a new wave of innovation is on the way. He says: “When it arrives your software will be able to watch what you’re doing, spot something that matches a pattern it already knows then ask questions like: Here’s something we noticed that we need to ask you about.”

Categories
computing

Microsoft readies 22% NZ enterprise cloud price hike

Office 365 businessMicrosoft partners have warned enterprise cloud service customers to expect a 22 percent price increase from April 1.

In a message to its customers one Microsoft partner says the increase applies to Office 365, Azure, CRM-Online, Enterprise Mobility Suite, Intune and other enterprise online services.

The customer message reports Microsoft saying

… this is an adjustment to more closely align prices to the NZ market and reflects the rapid evolution of cloud services and the dynamic nature of the market.

In Microsoft’s defence, the partner points out it is years since Microsoft prices have risen and that there is now more value in the products.

It goes on to say that a 22 percent price increase does not alter the financial sense of a subscription.

real price increase

While these points are both true, the price rise is still a long way ahead of New Zealand inflation. At the time of writing inflation is close to zero.

It is also out of line with the recent fall in the value of the New Zealand dollar.

Companies can renew before the end of the month and pay the existing rate.

Frazer Scott, director of marketing and operations, Microsoft New Zealand says:

Microsoft is committed to delivering state-of-the-art security and compliance enhanced cloud computing solutions. As part of our on-going business process and in light of the rapid evolution of the local market dynamics, Microsoft will adjust prices for company’s enterprise cloud products in New Zealand.

Microsoft’s price increase underlines the risk companies take when adopting cloud services. Although there’s no absolute lock-in, moving a company that depends on, say, Outlook.com for its email to an alternative service, is far from trivial.

Many businesses will feel they have little option but to swallow this price rise. Yet Microsoft is taking a risk here. If customers fear that subscription software prices will ratchet up in coming years, they’ll look elsewhere. A 22 percent increase tests the limits of what customers are happy to accept.

Categories
productivity

Gist, Plaxo and Xobni fail to replace Outlook contacts

Gist, Plaxo and Xobni all aim to cut through the social media cloud and pull together a comprehensive digital address book.

Although each tool has its pluses, none has a magic formula making it the must-have contact manager organiser.

Gist filters your in-boxes putting incoming messages in a single place. Its strong point is sorting things in order of importance. It works with email, Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook. Gist doesn’t always get this right, but it’s an improvement on the usual overloaded in-box.

Gist is free at the time of writing.

Plaxo does a reasonable job of syncing to contact management applications. It can also pull in some of your social networking messages.

Plaxo is free, but you need to buy the premium service to sync with Microsoft Outlook and mobile phones. My Plaxo account is full of duplicate entries – annoyingly you can only merge these if you pay for the premium version.

Xobni looks good, but it’s an Outlook add-on and doesn’t replace the contact manager. It provides better index cards and links entries so you can quickly find a contact’s colleagues.

Google’s contact management tool – part of Gmail – is second-rate. It provides little information and adds no value.

Of the three tools looked at here, I recommend Gist as a way to cut through the noise. But for now, Outlook remains the smartest contact manager.

Categories
productivity

When Outlook trumps Gmail

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

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.

Windows integrates Outlook search

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 it on my desktop and laptop, but not on my Palm hand-held.

This hardly matters, the Palm is 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.