First look: Snow Leopard and Exchange

Given that I’m in Palo Alto, and that probably half of my coworkers use Macs, it’s no surprise that I installed Snow Leopard today. I’m not going to review the OS, or even the Exchange capability, but here are a few notes based on my long-time Entourage use (and not a little time spent with Outlook 2010 over the past few months). Herewith my thoughts:

  • The first thing I noticed: is smokin’ fast compared to Entourage EWS. I mean, we’re talking lightning. EWS has much improved sync performance compared to DAV sync, but leaves it in the dust when it comes to scrolling, searching, and message rendering. I haven’t tried to compare the two programs’ sync speed (and probably won’t, since it’s mostly relevant when you set up a new account).
  • Speaking of setup: I was able to set up 4 Exchange accounts in about 10 seconds each: enter e-mail address and password, then let Autodiscover do the rest. EWS Autodiscover works well most of the time, but occasionally it will fail to detect an account.
  • By default, Mail creates a single unified Inbox view– exactly what I use in Entourage (and what I wish for in Outlook 2010). However, nowhere can I find where Mail tells me how many messages are in a folder, something I like to keep track of.
  • I like it that uses the same sounds for sent and received mail that the iPhone does. On the other hand, I dislike the fact that you can’t change these sounds (on either platform). C’mon, Apple.
  • Ironically, older versions of Mail would hide some Exchange folders when you connected because Mail couldn’t handle them. Guess what? This version fails to hide some folders, such as “Conversation Action Settings” and “Quick Step Settings”, that Outlook 2010 creates as ostensibly hidden folders in your mailbox root. Oops.
  • Entourage seems to do a better job of masking temporary connectivity problems. When decides that one of my servers is unreachable, it grays out that server’s entire folder tree and puts the little tilde-looking icon next to the account name. By contrast, Entourage will discreetly add “(Not Connected)” to the account name and leave it at that.
  • iCal… well, what can I say? I still don’t like it after all these years. Yes, it syncs with my Exchange calendars now, but its visual display is ugly compared to Entourage (especially for overlapping events), it’s lacking in features, and the task support appears to have been hastily bolted on.
  • I’ve never been a user of the Address Book app. Given the way this version works, I’m not about to start. Too much wasted white space and too many missing features. For example, want to see someone’s management chain? Too bad, Address Book doesn’t show that. Feel like searching the GAL? Sorry, no can do (at least not that I can find.)

There are other problems, too– no support for setting your out-of-office status, for example. In terms of fit and finish, there are lots of little grace notes that Entourage gets right but that Apple stumbled with. To show just one example, take a look at these two screen shots, one for each program.

Microsoft EntourageScreenSnapz001.png   iCalScreenSnapz001.png

IMHO, Entourage does a better job all around. It tells me that my machine and my appointment are in different time zones. It clearly shows the important data about when my test meeting’s invitees are available. Once you type in an invitee’s name, there’s no way to delete the event in iCal unless you remove all invitees first. Attempting to close the window gives you a chance to edit or send the invite, but not get rid of it altogether. (Bonus: thought it was interesting that Entourage could get and display Atalla’s status (OOF, in this case) but that iCal couldn’t, even though I took the screen shots on the same machine and more or less at the same time.)

More broadly I don’t like going back to the world of having three separate apps for PIM functions. It reminds me of Sidekick for DOS. I much prefer the Outlook/Entourage model of having several different (but related) data types in one place. What makes this worse is that there’s relatively little integration among the Snow Leopard apps. For example, if you’re looking at a contact in Address Book and want to send that person a mail message– too bad. There’s no way to do so. You can, however, right-click an e-mail address in Mail to open that address’ contact card.

Still more broadly, these applications are not very flexible or customizable compared to Entourage. For example, let’s say you want your message reading pane on the right. Too bad! There’s no way in to customize it; you need WideMail or something like it, of which there is no Snow Leopard version (yet).

So, Snow Leopard delivers what Apple promised: basic Exchange integration. There are so many things that they’ve left out, though, that I remain disappointed, and I’m thinking that the Microsoft Mac Business Unit has a huge lead already as they move into full-scale development of Outlook for Mac


Filed under General Tech Stuff, Reviews

5 responses to “First look: Snow Leopard and Exchange

  1. Rick Proctor

    I think there’s a couple of errors in your post. You can change sounds for incoming mail in the Mail app. Go into Preferences/General and change the “New messages sound”. I did this to make my macbook pro sound different than the iphone for incoming mail.
    As far as out of office messages, in the Preferences panel there’s a Rules icon. You can use it for out of office replies.
    As far as switching from Entourage to Mail, iCal, and Address Book, personally I like having all 3 functions combined in one application. But, I do wish that Entourage’s calendar had the ability to overlay various calendars like iCal does.

  2. Thanks for the tip on changing sounds, Rick– I didn’t know you could do that. For OOF replies, I know you can create client-side rules. However, Exchange handles OOF on the server, so the client doesn’t have to be running. In addition, Exchange OOFs can be set to fire only during preset time periods, and you can set separate messages for internal and external users. Mail still has some catching up to do in this regard. I totally agree about calendar overlays– I like the way Outlook 2010 implements side-by-side viewing and hope that Outlook for Mac has at least that much functionality.

  3. Rick Proctor

    Paul, excellent point on the OOF. After your comment, I tested it. OOF as implemented by Mail is only client side. Not good. I wasn’t planning on switching from Entourage anyway, but not being able to set OOF at the server is big miss. I can’t imagine that many corporate mac email users would be satisfied without that capability.

  4. Jose Alonso Leon

    “However, nowhere can I find where Mail tells me how many messages are in a folder, something I like to keep track of”.
    If you look on top of the window in any inbox you have it tells you how any emails the folder has!
    “For example, if you’re looking at a contact in Address Book and want to send that person a mail message– too bad. There’s no way to do so”.
    When you’re in a contact you can see its details in the pane to the right, if you click on any of the contacts email address you get a scroll down menu that allows you to send mail among several others functions that you will find very cool.

  5. You are 100% right that displays the message count right in the window title. Outlook and Entourage have me so used to ignoring the title bar of my mail app that it never even occurred to me to look there!
    You’re also right about the context menu in Address Book. It would help to have a less dynamic visual cue instead of the way the highlighting changes when you hover. When you hover over a phone number the highlighting changes, but you cannot right-click the phone number. Do the same hover over an e-mail address and you *can* right-click. Confusing, at least to me.