Hands on with Office v. X: Entourage X

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If you use Entourage 2001, the first thing to catch your eye when you launch Entourage X will be the changes to the interface. Instead of having Tasks, Notes, Mail, Calendar, Address Book and Custom Views in the folder pane of the program, Entourage X has them located on the top left hand side of the application. While the changes took some getting used to (I was going to the Window menu to open my address book, instead of clicking on the button, for quite a while), it really does make it easier to get to all of your information.

Entourage X also includes new and improved features. The personal Address Book offers improved international support, enabling users to customize and format addresses for any country or region in the world. The Calendar in Entourage X has been revamped to offer greater flexibility in managing schedules, particularly when meetings involve people in several time zones. Entourage X also includes the ability to insert rich content, such as movies or photos into the body of e-mail messages and sports improved Word editing tools.

In addition Entourage X includes improved support for the public Internet Message Access Protocol 4 (IMAP4) standard; new Mac OS Keychain support; and new Office Notifications, which display appointments, tasks, reminders and Microsoft .NET Alerts in a window even if Office programs are not running.

The redesigned tri-pane calendar window displays schedules by month, week, or day, and includes a Task List that simultaneously shows the day's events and tasks. Scheduling tools in the calendar make it easier to send and receive meeting requests from users of Outlook.

Meeting requests and responses to users reached via the Internet are sent using the iCalendar format (iCalendar is a standard that specifies the formatting and exchange of calendar event information and applies standard formats for meeting requests and responses when sent as e-mail messages). According to the folks at Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU), this means that users of iCalendar-compliant apps such as Entourage X can open a meeting request message they've received in their inbox, accept or decline the invitation and automatically add the meeting to their calendar without retyping any data.

The accept or decline response is then sent back to the meeting organizer in a standard format so that you can, for instance, use Entourage X Calendar to automatically track who will and won't attend. As calendar and scheduling products adopt the iCalendar standard, calendar and group scheduling applications from multiple vendors will be able to interoperate.

With the Custom Views feature, users can create and save personalized views several different ways. Through the main Custom Views tab within the Entourage X UI, users have access to already existing views such as unread e-mail, flagged messages and messages received today that appear in their mailbox.

In addition, users can see views in their Address Book, Calendar, Notes and Tasks from the same location. You can add customized views to any of the main categories. What's more, with Categories, users can create personalized views of their personal info stored in Entourage X and organize their lives by activities, projects and work- or home-related info. Custom Views are fast and dynamic so as new data that meets the custom view criteria is downloaded or created, it's displayed in the Custom View. Entourage X includes several predefined custom views to get you started on this feature.

The Mac BU says it found that those who write lots of e-mail also write equal amounts of notes in their e-mail application. So Entourage X offers a new, sixth button on its user interface to let you quickly draft notes that you don't necessarily want to become e-mail messages. Notes let you draft text that you can return to frequently. They can be linked to other projects or files with the Links feature for easy accessibility.

Entourage X offers users a personal Address Book with beefed-up support for international contacts, enabling folks in Europe, Japan and anywhere else in the world to define and customize the addresses they need for any country. Plus, Entourage X offers the following features:

  • A summary view that displays all contact info at a glance. From this view, you can access the last e-mail message sent to and received from a selected contact.
  • Action buttons that are associated with contact info such as a street address can perform such common tasks as locating an address on a map or finding directions from the Expedia.com travel service, which can be activated from within the Summary view.
  • Custom fields in the Address Book that give you a tailored solution for handling special dates and data such as birthdays, anniversaries, and clothing sizes.
  • Contacts. Users can quickly view any contact in the Address Book using the Preview Pane without opening a contact. The Preview Pane provides quick access to complete contact info from the Summary view.
  • Entourage X has support for the Mac OS Keychain, which stores passwords in one location. It also deals with "smart attachments," making it easier to send and receive "readable" attachments by proper encoding and adding the ability to append the three-letter Windows extension to all files sent. This latter feature ensures that Windows users can open attached files.

    If you have been using Entourage 2001, your email messages, contacts, calendar etc. will import into the new OS X version. We also had no problems importing Eudora mail into Entourage X and with the Import Mail script included on the Office v. X CD, early adopters of Apple's built-in Mail application can make the switch if they wish.

    There are many under the hood changes in Entourage X, but in building an application for Mac OS X, the Aqua interface shows a company's attention to detail. Not only does Entourage X work well -- and as expected for previous users -- it also looks good.

    Related Links: Hands on with Office v. X: The Extras

    This story, "Hands on with Office v. X: Entourage X" was originally published by PCWorld.

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