Friday, November 1, 2002

Outlook 11 and new mobility features


By Diane Poremsky

Many of the new upcoming Outlook features I'm discussing this week are improvements in Outlook that make the program easier to use when out of the office. These features will likely benefit Exchange users, especially Exchange Titanium users, more than standalone Outlook users, although the improvements to header handling and download updates may benefit POP3 Outlook client users the most.

Most of us have experienced connection problems and are well aware that Outlook doesn't handle noisy connections well. When Outlook is downloading POP3 email, it waits until all messages are downloaded before deleting (or marking as downloaded) the messages from the server. As a result, it's not unusual to get the same message downloaded multiple times. Outlook 11 will mark the headers downloaded after every 32kb, not at the end. This way, if Outlook looses the connection while downloading five messages, it will only need to re-download the last message or two, not all five.

Another new feature that sounds great is Outlook's ability to sense the connection speed. When you are using a high speed connection, Outlook will bring the entire message down when it's selected. For slower dialup connections, it will "drizzle" (get the message headers, then bodies) to improve download experience and eliminate the waiting to connect dialog we're all too familiar with.

Currently, when you connect to your mailbox, you have to choose online or offline mode and restart Outlook to change modes. With Outlook 11 you can switch modes on the fly, without restarting the program.

Both mobile users and security conscious Exchange administrators will like Outlook's ability to do "RPC over HTTP" (basically, the ability to do a "remote procedure call" over the standard Web HTTP protocol). This allows Outlook to speak with the Exchange server over the standard Web port, which is already open for OWA users. In plain English, this means users can use Outlook 11 as easily as they use OWA to access their mailboxes when out of the office, they won't have to use VPN to access the network first when they want to use Outlook. This will be more convenient for the users, and result in less hassle for the firewall administrator. The only catch is that this feature requires the new version of Exchange server, code named Titanium. It's unclear at this point if only the front end server needs to be Titanium or if server housing the users mailboxes also needs to be running Titanium as well. [Another thought: RPC over HTTP may also mean developers can tap into this as a new way to tinker with Exchange and add capabilities. We'll keep an eye on this and let you know. -- DG]