Exchange 14: Times are changing

Michael looks at what's coming with Outlook Live, and reckons that there is a sea change in what users expect from their email clients

Times are definitely changing for the users of Email clients such as Outlook. Exchange 14 (E14), the internal name of the next version of Exchange, brings with it a greatly enhanced premium version of OWA (Outlook Web Access), now renamed Outlook Live. The significance of all the effort into providing a better, browser-based email client is that Microsoft is now convinced of the trend toward mobile access. This means that access via your phone, iPod, or Blackberry will be easier and better.

OWA Light could be used by all browsers, but it was awkward and primitive. With Outlook Live, Microsoft now provides an AJAX-based app that not only works properly on Internet Explorer, FireFox and Safari but also provides ‘drag and drop’ along with all of the other features you normally associate with PC applications. This means that Mac and Linux users can all come to the party and enjoy exactly the same features as Windows users.

This means
 that Mac and
 Linux users
can all come
to the party

Outlook Live is even more impressive than some of the Adobe Air email clients that we’ve seen recently, such as ‘Pronto’. Instant Messaging is there, and seems to work fine. The developers have also introduced a long overdue ‘conversation view’ that will be familiar to users of newsgroups and forums. This allows you to view ‘threaded conversations’ on particular topics, so as to mirror natural conversation. It allows branching of threads, again borrowing from newsgroup practice. You can mix sent and received emails to get a much better feel for email-based discussions. All told, it goes a long way towards providing a single client that unifies email, voicemail, and instant messaging in a single interface that can be accessed anywhere.

Adobe Air has made it easy to produce applications that run on any platform. Pioneering applications such as Communigate’s Pronto, as well as the likes of Tweetdeck, SedThink and Universal Inbox, have used this technology to show what is possible when one looks beyond plain email clients. They have shown show how we can begin to integrate the huge range of ways in which we communicate, be it via social networks, web services, voice, forums, RSS, or IM. If Microsoft rises to the challenge, and produces an application that provides a unified way to deal with all these different forms of communication, that we can use anywhere, then we’ll all benefit.

How many of you have had an early look at E14? If you have, we’d love to hear what you think. Post your thoughts as a comment to the editorial blog – the most interesting response will receive a $50 Amazon voucher.