Microsoft Overhypes Biggest Change to Outlook for Windows

But It’s All Marketing Brown Smelly Stuff

I had a quiet chuckle when I read Microsoft’s assertion that the release of shared calendar improvements in Outlook for Windows is “arguably the biggest change to Outlook for Windows since its initial release in 1997.” This hyperbole exists only in the minds of Microsoft marketing and is absolutely untrue. It amuses me that sites like the Verge and ZDnet give credence to the claim.

What’s true is this: after nearly twenty-five years of sharing calendars, Microsoft is gradually getting control of the mess that allowing other people access to your calendar can be. The new model extends across OWA and Outlook for Mac (both there now) and is reaching Outlook for Windows slowly. That’s goodness, even if the Outlook mobile team is trying to forge their own path with delegate access (only for the Inbox for now). I’m sure that my MVP colleague, Ingo Geganwarth, who spends more time than anyone else I know battling with delegate issues, will be happy with the progress.

What Microsoft doesn’t say is that the changes only apply to Exchange Online. There’s no mention of Outlook for Windows perpetual versions connected to Exchange Server. That’s a pity, but it’s not unexpected.

Good Progress in Calendaring

There’s no doubt the Outlook calendaring team is doing some nice work, such as adding the new board view to the calendar in OWA. Work has also been done to take the OWA version of the Room Finder across to Outlook for Windows as part of Microsoft’s One Outlook initiative where common components are shared across clients. Some of my favorite engineering contacts at Microsoft work on Outlook calendaring, so I don’t wish to be unkind about their work.

But fixing something which should have been fixed a long time ago isn’t even close in the pantheon of major developments in Outlook for Windows. When I consider the most important and far-reaching changes since Outlook 97 debuted, I think of things like:

  • Drizzle mode synchronization, introduced in Outlook 2003 along with some extra network smarts, gave Outlook the ability to synchronize a complete mailbox and to do so intelligently with high-priority threads used for outgoing messages and lower-priority threads synchronizing folders in the background.
  • Autodiscover gave Outlook an auto-configuration capability by delivering a manifest of available services which clients could then connect to. Teams uses Autodiscover to learn how to find Exchange resources like user calendars.
  • Outlook Anywhere allowed Outlook clients to connect to Exchange across the Internet without needing a VPN. Its successor, MAPI over HTTP, connects Outlook clients to Exchange Online. Without these protocols, Outlook for Windows wouldn’t be a viable Office 365 client.

I’m sure you can come up with your own candidates for Outlook stardom. The point is that many fundamental technical advances have happened in the past which are still in use and have proven their worth over long periods. I’m sure the change in shared calendar behaviour will improve matters, but the jury’s still out whether it is a change of import.

Oh well. Marketing is marketing. What do you think is the most important change made to Outlook since 1997?

4 Replies to “Microsoft Overhypes Biggest Change to Outlook for Windows”

  1. When I think of big changes the first thing that comes to mind is unicode pst files. Allowing Multiple Exchange accounts in a single profile is also up there. Even Breaking things so bad in delegation that using MFCMapi to fix mailboxes has become a daily task across my organization. Speaking of which MFCMapi was more significant towards supporting Outlook and delegation than the delegation itself.

    As for this version of Calendar Improvements. I have been and have had others testing this since early 2019. While it is more stabile to some regards, and easier to delegate, even if incorrectly done, it still has many issues that have been reported and MS simply states that this is desired behavior. I do ask desired by programmers that do not use calendars, not by organizations that need this to work. Here is my short list of Failures (or is it a feature).
    1. The backend sync is up to an hour our of date at times. This is terrible for and assistant trying to figure out if a meeting can happen in the next few minutes.
    2. Deleted items end up in the deleted folder of the person deleting the item rather than the folder of the mailbox that it was deleted from.
    3. Sent items end up in the delegates sent item folder rather than the primary mailbox to which they were sent from.
    Items 2 and 3 represent a significant cross mailbox contamination issue which can result in anything from mailbox overload on a delegate, to a confusion for the primary mailbox owner when they are unsure of what happened. Both of these can be fixed by various switches or group policies in Outlook, but then when MS starts to fix some of this we start to see duplications in sent items to which they say, stop using the GPO. So they really need to make this one more reliable. I could go on, but those are my top 3 complaints that I hear from real world use.

  2. I think I either lost my long reply or it is being inspected. So lets try a short reply first.
    Clearly Unicode PST’s were the most significant advancement. They both offered larger support and greater stability in PST files. This made Outlook useful again in the growing mailbox size allowances of the early 2000’s.

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