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Entourage X integrates e-mail, contacts, calendar


December 16, 2001

It takes a spectacular piece of software to break through the rind surrounding this crusty old Mac user. Microsoft Entourage X shredded my defenses. It's powerful, simple, and completely integrates e-mail, an address book, and appointments.

I've used practically every e-mail program for the Mac along with every contact manager and scheduler over the past decade. Individually, each program has its strengths; I've sworn by (and often at) Eudora for years. It has a combination of simplicity and fast searching through old messages that made it superior to other e-mail programs.

But there was always something missing, tying all the pieces of my business and personal life together through scheduling, contacts, and e-mail. Eudora once tried to release a contact manager and calendar program but it never quite made it to prime time. Meanwhile, OS X versions of Now's suite don't talk to an e-mail program at all.

Although Microsoft's recent Office v. X release for OS X 10.1 and later buffed and shined the three productivity applications, the company's Macintosh division focused on making Entourage better. The original Entourage wasn't a contender for an all-in-one replacement, but Entourage X has what it takes: ease of use, integration, and power. It's easy to learn and rewarding, too. The more time I spend with the program, the more I learn how to better use it.

Take a routine set of tasks. Incoming e-mail arrives from Dudley Yazoo. Dudley's already in my address book. I've created a rule (using a simple, easy-to-understand process) that sets any incoming mail from Dudley a higher priority than other correspondents. (I could even set his e-mail to open automatically on arrival.)

I need to call Dudley, so I double-click his name in the incoming message, and his contact card pops up. I note in his message that his phone number has changed and his birthday is upcoming; I click a tab, and enter the new data.

Before I call, I want to look at the original e-mail I sent him. I click the blue hyperlink labeled "Show Original" at the top of his e-mail next to a note reading, "This is a reply to one of your messages," which brings up that original.

I've done all this with a few clicks and keystrokes. All the information is arrayed before me and connected.

Entourage's calendar and contact features are as good or better than similar programs. The integration of people, time, and e-mail mean that you can build relationships between events and e-mail. You can also create tasks that have completion dates and status information that get tied to all parts of Entourage. Reminders of events appear through a nifty pop-up menu that lets you snooze or dismiss them.

Entourage's e-mail features are rich and deep. Every day, I discover more ways to automate drag-and-drop operations. The built-in junk-mail filter now captures most of the spam that lands in my inbox.

I've tinkered with a feature called Rules that lets you define how incoming and outgoing mail is handled: setting all mail that arrives at one of your e-mail addresses to red, for instance. Another rule checks the names of attachments and automatically deletes anything suspicious.

My biggest difficulty with Entourage X came from importing my old Eudora settings. I discovered what appear to be a couple of obscure bugs, which the Microsoft team was very interested in, causing a crash on importing Eudora's rules. I ultimately recreated these rules from scratch, but turned 15 Eudora filters into five more sophisticated Entourage rules. (Address books in Eudora also imported slightly strangely, but Palm Desktop files imported perfectly.)

It took nearly 20 hours to import 320 Mb of e-mail from Eudora; my Entourage database is over 400 Mb now. In testing and purposely causing crashes (some of which were caused by leftover files from my beta installation of Office v. X), I was never able to cause Entourage to lose information or require any salvage.

Entourage X works only with OS X 10.1 or later. To get Entourage X, you must purchase the entire Office v. X suite, or upgrade from Office:Mac 2001, the previous release. The upgrade price that Microsoft notes is $300; the full release $500. You can find slightly better street prices.

Because Palm and Apple haven't yet released OS X tools for Palm developers, Entourage X can't synchronize items with Palm OS handhelds. I can't fault Microsoft for something that's out of their hands, and the Office for Mac team assured me that the support is in Entourage: they just need the hooks to tie it in, and will release a free update once it's available.

Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to gfleishman@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

by Practical Mac / Glenn Fleishman. Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company


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