Outlook Express 5 (beta)

Microsoft’s latest update to its email client, Outlook Express (OE) 5 Macintosh Edition, is much improved over version 4.5. With the exception of a few bugs, the beta version I reviewed is fairly solid. The final version will be available for download later this Autumn. OE 5 still lags slightly behind Netscape Messenger with respect to creating and sending HTML documents with graphics and tables. However, OE 5 does improve on many features that Messenger lacks. Notable improvements include: a redesigned Address Book; an enhanced Address AutoComplete function; and simplified set-up and configuration of multiple accounts. The new release also includes brand-new features, unique to Mac OS, such as an advanced search feature, a Junk Mail Filter – to control spam, a Mailing List Manager, and integration with Palm OS devices. As with Version 4.5, installation of OE 5 is a snap. After you’ve dragged the folder to the hard disk, and launched the application, OE 5 will import all your data from Version 4.5, as well as that from Messenger or Qualcomm’s Eudora program. Setting up accounts is easy, thanks to the new Setup Assistants. Similar to its Windows counterpart, OE 5 supports Post Office Protocol (POP), Internet Message Access Protocol, and Microsoft MSN Hotmail accounts. Another noticeable improvement is an enhanced QuickFind field, that automatically filters messages in your inbox on the basis of text strings. This feature works on both email and newsgroups. The beta version I tested didn’t have the advanced search feature working, but when the product ships, you should be able to enter multiple criteria to locate email or newsgroup messages. While reading mail within the inbox, you can now increase the message size with a click of a button, as well as apply automatic text re-wrap. This feature can save you time by not having to open messages in separate windows. Drag-&-drop features still abound: you can easily move messages from one account folder to another, select single or multiple messages – and drag them to a sub-folder, or drag-&-drop message header information into the Address Book. Other enhancements include full contextual mouse operations, while working within an inbox. For example, it is simple to add a sender’s email address to your Address Book. Helping hand
Another helpful feature when sending documents to Windows users is the capability for OE 5 to append a DOS extension. This way, when the message is received, a Windows user can immediately open the attachment from within his, or her, email application. By the time OE 5 ships, you should be able to set preferences that will let you synchronize contacts from the Address Book with a Palm device. You will not, however, be able to synchronize your messages. The synchronization will achieve conflict resolution, allowing you to maintain the most current information on both Outlook Express and your Palm device. You will also have the option of having Outlook Express overwrite your Palm database, or vice versa. Some of the best enhancements by far are the message-composing features. With the new Address AutoComplete feature, when you choose to create a new message, a new tabbed dialogue box pops up requesting you to enter a recipient’s name. The AutoComplete feature is integrated with the Address Book, and fills-in addresses as you begin to type characters. These can be nicknames, email addresses, or first or last names. When a recipient has multiple email addresses, a cascading menu displaying choices appears. When sending email to groups, double-clicking the icon displays a window listing each recipient – particularly helpful when you don’t remember who’s in a specific group. Despite improved text formatting via a new icon that toggles between plain text and HTML formatting, Outlook Express still falls short compared to Netscape Messenger’s excellent formatting capabilities. Unlike Messenger, OE 5 still lacks the capability to send and receive encrypted messages. It’s clear that Microsoft needs to work out some bugs before finalizing this version. On occasion, the application crashed; drag-&-drop functions need polish; AppleScript support isn’t fully operational; and it doesn’t fully co-exist with Microsoft Office 98. Still, I found that the majority of the new features worked as expected, at least well enough to evaluate how the new update will work. I welcome the improvements, and appreciate Microsoft’s dedication to keeping the memory requirements small, while evolving the application to work like a Mac application should.

OUR VERDICT

OE 5 for Macs is mostly on par with its Windows counterpart. Macintosh users will appreciate the productivity enhancements. Once bugs are ironed out, this version will out-perform version 4.5, and will be well worth the update.

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