Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from our feature “Office Remodeling,” pages 66-76 in the December 2001 issue of
magazine. The full article — which includes an examination of each Office X component and sidebars — is available in the print issue.
From an interface standpoint, Entourage 2001, Office 2001’s big addition, wasn’t much more than a buffed-up Outlook Express 5. Personal information manager features–the enhanced address book, calendar, tasks, and notes–were clearly shoehorned into Outlook Express’s interface. No longer; Entourage X was sent to the interface mechanics for an extensive overhaul (see “Entourage’s New Look”).
Easier to Switch
Besides the Aqua look, you’ll find big buttons that switch between Address Book, Calendar, Mail, Notes, and Tasks, plus the vastly improved Custom Views (more on that later). For the keyboard-oriented, each task area has a keyboard shortcut for quick switching.
In the Calendar, events spanning multiple days now show as banners rather than as a string of repeated events (see “Calendar Evolution”). Color-coded days indicate workdays and weekends, and you can display a task list next to the calendar. New buttons in the toolbar toggle between Day, Week, and Month views.
No part of Entourage X has changed more than the Calendar window. The central calendar has been redesigned, and the Tasks pane and thumbnail months have been rearranged for better visibility.
When you address a new e-mail message, a list of recently used addresses pops up, in addition to the usual address lookup as you type. These recently used addresses appear regardless of whether they’re in your Address Book, and the most-often used names are prioritized, migrating to the top of the list. If you accumulate too many names, you can clear the list or even turn it off altogether.
You can now copy formatted text, pictures, and even QuickTime movies from other applications and paste them into an e-mail message without losing the formatting. As one example, a realtor could drag a Word brochure for a property, including JPEG-formatted photos, into the body of an e-mail message for a prospective buyer, rather than enclosing the brochure as an attachment. Because many people–especially America Online and Windows users–have difficulty dealing with attachments, this addition could smooth the communication process.
New support for the Mac OS X Keychain means that you can let the system manage the passwords for all of your mail accounts without storing them in Entourage (and therefore leaving your e-mail vulnerable to anyone who wanders by your desk).
If you’re organizing your life in Entourage, you need tools that help you see just the information that’s relevant. All of the task areas now have dedicated Custom Views that let you show selected data–for example, Mail Received Today or Events Due in the Next Week. You can create and save your own Custom Views, slicing and dicing your data in almost unlimited ways. For example, if you assign a common category to all of the items associated with a particular project, a Custom View can show you everything about that project, including appointments, contacts, e-mail, notes, tasks, and all of the files you create to support the project.
New Way to Notify
Because Mac OS X doesn’t allow extensions, the new Office Notifications application takes over the job of popping up and alerting users when Entourage reminders come due (see “Tell Me About It”). Mike Connolly, Microsoft’s group program manager, notes that Entourage X’s database is always running in the background, even when no Office applications are running. “And unlike Office 2001,” Connolly says, “there’s no performance hit on the active application, even when the database is doing intensive operations, like searching through mail messages.”
Besides Entourage events, Office Notifications alerts you that a buddy is available for instant messaging (if you’re online and have the new MSN Messenger 2.1 for Mac OS X installed). MSN Messenger works with Office Notifications to display .NET Alerts, a new service that lets live information from the MSN Web site, such as stock price changes, pop up on your desktop.
Room for Improvement
Entourage X’s personal information manager features need improving before they can go head-to-head with PowerOn Software’s Now Up-to-Date and Contact. Entourage is still only single-user, so you can’t share your Calendar with coworkers. You can assign priorities to tasks but not to events. And when you complete tasks, they disappear from the Tasks pane next to the Calendar, rather than being shown with strikethrough, as in the Tasks area. Most annoyingly, because Palm hasn’t completed native Mac OS X conduits, you can’t synchronize Entourage to your Palm handheld. Microsoft promises to make a free update available for downloading when Palm gets up to speed.