Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bringing Outlook into the Internet age

Until recently, I had only used Outlook for a short period in 1998-99. It was okay, but I only used it inside a corporate context. The feature I most enjoyed was the calendaring and appointments function. I've tried several email clients since then and settled on Gnus as the most useful I've found.

Over the years, I've participated in a number of mailing lists, and I've noticed that some people struggle with what others regard as basic courtesy: failing to trim excess quotations out of replies and top posting are things many seem to get complaints on. I've wondered why that was so hard to get right. (If you're wondering what's the problem with top posting, see the example at the bottom of the Top Posting section on Wikipedia, starting with "A: Because it messes up the order....")

Now I'm back using Outlook in one part of my professional life, even as I continue with Gnus in another. I begin to see why people struggle with some of the basics. It's quite hard to do the basics well in Outlook, including trimming quotes and bottom posting. Seeing real email addresses involves extra work, and the Outlook text editor is limited in its power. After using Gnus for years, I get the impression of Outlook as a tool with limited capability even compared to simpler tools such as Thunderbird. The only advantage I see to Outlook is its appointment tracking, and one can do that in multiple ways today including with the free Google Calendar.

Yet I realize most Outlook users have little say in which client they use. I recently found a tool that seems reliable and does help offset Outlook's weaknesses: Outlook QuoteFix (there's also a version for Outlook Express, although I've never used it nor OE). If you use Outlook and communicate with people on mailing lists or with people who don't use Outlook, check it out. It's been quite unobtrusive so far and lets me treat email either in the Outlook fashion or in ways I've grown comfortable with over the past 20+ years of using Internet email.

PS: Gmail didn't do it so well, either, the last time I tried it; it put the cursor at the top of replies. In researching this article, At least it's not too hard to do it manually in Gmail. I found Gmail bottom posting in replies, which seems to promise help.

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Blogger Tom Fiddaman said...

I feel your pain - I'm making the transition to Outlook at the moment too.

We've come to rely a lot on Groove messaging for internal stuff - it's much less distracting than email, because you only get messages from a closed group of people. It's also much dumber than email in many ways though - no organization tools at all.

16 April, 2009 15:56  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

In the "misery loves company" sense, thanks very much for your comments, Tom. :-)

Since starting to compose this posting, I've noticed that Outlook is even worse than I thought. I'm used to formatting plain text messages carefully, with tables and even, on occasion, with ascii art (both graphs and diagrams).

I can still do half of that. I can use the limited Outlook editor while composing my email in plain text using Courier as the typeface, or I can compose it in Emacs and copy / paste it into my email. Presumably it comes out looking good when sent to someone with most any email client.

Unfortunately, I cannot make Outlook 2002 display incoming plain text email in a non-proportional font. I've Googled, and I've experimented, but I've failed. That unfortunately means that it's no good to send nice emails to anyone who uses Outlook; it would be too hard to describe how to make it work even if I could finally discover the secret. (If anyone has the secret, I'd still like to know it.)

There are other disadvantages, too, but I won't make this a litany of complaints about Outlook. My advice? If you have any choice at all, grab Thunderbird or whatever other email client you prefer. If you have no choice, at least grab Outlook QuoteFix.

16 April, 2009 19:41  

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