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Windows email gets makeover

Microsoft is revamping its messaging software to make email more Internet-savvy.

NEW YORK--Less than a year after it introduced Windows 95 and three months after launching Exchange, Microsoft is revamping its client messaging software for both products in an attempt to make Windows email more Internet-savvy and easier to manage.

As email has become a more indispensable part of business communications, messaging software vendors have sought to expand the traditional capabilities of their applications to include group collaboration and personal information management capabilities. At this week's PC Expo show in New York, Microsoft outlined how two of its new email applications will take on these expanded roles, in the process replacing two existing email applications, Exchange Inbox, and Exchange Client

Exchange Inbox is the lightweight email client built into Windows 95. Microsoft will also later this year replace Inbox with a Internet Mail and News client, available in beta form since April, which includes both messaging and Usenet newsreading capabilities.

The new application reflects Microsoft's overall strategy of including more Internet capabilities--in this case, a Usenet newsreader--directly in Windows. Internet Mail and News is also designed to work more closely with a future beta release of Internet Explorer 3.0.

Exchange Client is currently the front end to Microsoft's Exchange Server, an enterprise messaging systems that allows company employees to communicate with each other and collaborate on projects. Microsoft is also going to swap out this client for a new product called Outlook, which will combine the PIM features of Microsoft's Schedule+ and the messaging and the group discussion capabilities of Exchange Client.

The change reflects Microsoft's position that email has become not only a way to communicate with other people, but also a tool used to organize and integrate everything else that a user is working on. The new Outlook application will be released as part of Office 97, the Exchange Server, and as a stand-alone program by the end of the year. It will allow users to easily schedule appointments in a group calendar, for example, over email instead of having to exchange messages and then book the meeting separately in a different application. Outlook also includes contact, tasks, and to-do lists, and keeps a "journal," or master list, of all documents worked on and organized chronologically for easy recovery.

"We're trying to make email more of a full-fledged productivity application," said Lani Ota, product manager at Microsoft. "This integration is very important. MIS doesn't have to support several applications."

Microsoft announced Outlook at last week's Intranet Day Strategy briefing in San Jose, California, but has not announced pricing for the stand-alone version of the application due by the end of the year.

One analyst applauded the further integration of Internet capabilities into Windows but said Microsoft's consolidation of its email and PIM applications could have an unhealthy effect on third-party vendors of competing applications.

"It's important in designing [Outlook] to allow users to swap in their own [email or PIM]," said Jerry Michalski, managing editor of newsletter Release 1.0. "The email client needs to be designed so that any address book works with it. Otherwise, that's another two markets that are going to whither and die. [Microsoft] can't stamp everyone out."

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