Monday, November 19, 2007, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)
Road to Mac Office 2008: Entourage '08 vs Mail 3.0 and iCal 3.0
Entourage 2008 Notes
As with email, contacts, calendar, and reminders, notes are also presented in their own mode. This seems unnecessary, as notes are just emails without an address. Why not present them alongside emails in the mailbox as Outlook does? Leopard Mail similarly presents Notes next to emails, although it sorts Notes and emails by type in the sidebar rather than by server.
A note in Entourage can be linked to an email, event, task, contact, another note, or a file. Once linked, the links show up in a listing of links. This couldn't be tested in the current beta version because it insisted that the note be saved before linking, but provided no way to save it (above). There is also no obvious way to mail out a note, as one can do in Mail.
Links between notes should work similar to emails, contacts, and calendar events. Linked items are marked with a chain icon; clicking on it offers a listing of links, which can be used to open linked items.
To Do reminders in Mail and iCal can similarly be used to link items, although the links are more obvious and require less digging. Mail's emails and Notes can be linked to To Do reminders for later access, although again, Leopard's To Do reminders can link to specific content excerpts within an item, rather than just the entire item as a whole. The hyperlinking of reminders back to the email items in Mail they are associated with is really smart.
To Dos in iCal also have a note field; iCal should use the same more obvious mechanism for linking an event to a To Do item; instead, events in iCal are linked via drag and drop using emails, contacts, files, and other items, and the link can be opened by a hyperlink URL. This works well enough but isn't quite as slick. It is a bit easier and requires less clicking than Entourage linking though.
Entourage 2008 Tasks
Exchange treats tasks as a special type of email, similar to notes. A task is a to do reminder, which makes it confusing that Entourage 2008 presents events and its to do list a separate items (below). What that means its that your to do list is made of events that are yet to be done. However, you can also add other items to the To Do list, and they'll never become events once marked completed. This seems counter intuitive, but perhaps it makes more sense to people who think of tasks and to dos as different things.
Marking an email as a to do does not create an event referencing the email, but rather lists the actual email within the to do list. The new To Do system in Leopard allows you to mark multiple items within an email as To Do events, which seems to make more sense, as your original email remains in the mailbox. In Entourage, you cross an entire email off your to do list when you finish everything mentioned in it, apparently. Microsoft hasn't previewed Entourage's tasks, so this odd behavior might change in the finished build.
Entourage 2008 Project Center
Entourage's Project Center (below) was invented in Office 2004 as a way to associate emails, contacts, scheduled events, and files together as a project. Each project shows a due date, and can be associated with a photo and watch folders both within Entourage (a mailbox subfolder) and in the file system (as a folder of files). The entire project can be rolled into a backup archive, or shared with other users by saving it on a file server share. You can click an add button to associate anything within Entourage: a calendar event, a task, a message, a file, a contact, a clipping, or a note.
Within Project Center you can view your project in an overview, or just look at your related calendar and to do events, or just related emails, files, contracts, clippings, or notes. Clippings are managed through the Office scrapbook, which in the other apps is integrated into the Formatting Palette. If you never leave Office, this would make sense.
Unfortunately, the problems with Project Center are similar to the rest of Entourage: it feels like a big commitment to use it, and once you start you're tied to having all of your items saved in a .rge file, which some users report as going corrupt once they're knee deep in a project. Ideally, Project Center would just mark items as part of a project and allow you to work with them together without spinning them off into a saved composite file subject to loss.
Because Entourage syncs with Address Book and Calendar, it can indirectly interoperate with other programs, such as Marware's Project X, ibizzi Crm4Mac, or Marketcircles' Daylite and similar tools that build upon the contact and calendar stores in Mac OS X and integrate with Mail. Before jumping into Project Center, it would be good to investigate other options that might suit your needs better than the one size fits all, monolithic approach of Project Center.
My Day, My Day
Of all of the new Office 2008 apps, Entourage seems to lay on the least amount of glitz. Countering that is the new My Day application. It seemed like Microsoft was dropping the My prefix from Windows that evokes the "I can pull them off and on" jingle, but here it is again, on the Mac. My Day is a floating window that looks like a virtual organizer sculpted from purple candy. It presents a view of the day's calendar along with a current list of To Do items. It also allows you to create new tasks or quickly print a to do list. Navigation controls allow you to page through your calendar by day, but it only shows a daily view. Created events did not show up in the My Day view as expected however, so it's a work in progress.
My Day looks a lot like a mobile phone that only has a calendar on it. It also commands attention on the desktop, floating as the top window by default. This is a horrific design, particularly since the window is roughly iPod sized (below), meaning that it blocks a significant amount of screen space. My Day offers proof of why large windows aren't supposed to stay on top. There is a zoom control that makes it slightly smaller, about the height of the 3G Nano but a bit wider. This is still too big. If it collapsed into a iTunes style window, it might make more sense.
As it is, in small mode it shows absolutely no information apart from the time and date (below), but still consumes a significant window size due to all the user interface trappings. In addition to My Day, the old Office Notification window still pops up to let you know you have old items in your calendar, and the two are not related or integrated at all. Why do I need two notification windows to present my calendar? Perhaps if Entourage launched faster I wouldn't need the gimmicky My Day at all. Given that iCal now opens instantaneously, consulting a plastic desktop organizer seems like no real advantage at all.
Entourage vs Mail, Address Book, iCal
For Mac users in a strict Exchange Server environment, Entourage might be their only option. If you can't get support from Exchange admins to use the built in Mac client software, then you have to use Entourage. The improvements to its user interface, including the new Toolbar, make it a bit nicer to work with, and Project Center might work for groups of Mac users who are invested in using Office. Configuring Entourage and then using it to relay Exchange data to Address Book and iCal via Sync Services is another option to consider.
Users who can convince their company's Exchange administrator that Internet standard protocols are not a dangerous "security hazard," as many Windows admins seem to think, can access Exchange via IMAP and gain much of the same email functionality provided by Entourage via Mail or another email client. If admins expose Exchange Public Folders via IMAP, Mail might even work better than Entourage, as Mail can recognize root level documents not in a folder; Entourage can't see them, and frequently needs to resync its view of Public Folders.
Address Book provides decent syncing with Exchange, although it does not support address books in Public Folders. Syncing Exchange with iCal requires Snerdwares GroupCal plugin. With that installed, iCal can also sync tasks with Exchange, something Entourage doesn't yet do.
Mail feels leaner and faster than Entourage, and does full-text searching of attachments, something that Entourage can't. I've seen and experienced too many email database failures in Entourage; its design just seems too risky if you consider your emails to be important. Losing 2 GB of email is not really acceptable, and it happens too often with Entourage. Project Center raises similar concerns. However, companies with the budget to support Exchange Server should also have the manpower and resources to perform frequent backups and provide lots of IT staff to take care of such problems when they arise.
Apple's Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard operating system, which includes Mail 3.0 and iCal 3.0, is available from Amazon.com for $109.00, a 16 percent savings. Amazon is also offering instant savings on pre-orders of the various Office 2008 for Mac bundles.
Don't forget to check out our previous Road to Office 2008 installments:
Road to Mac Office 2008: an introduction
Road to Mac Office 2008: installation and interface
Road to Mac Office 2008: Word '08 vs Pages 3.0
Road to Mac Office 2008: Excel '08 vs Numbers 1.0
Road to Mac Office 2008: PowerPoint '08 vs Keynote 4.0
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