Microsoft Outlook 2002
Outlook's setup is silky smooth. The client checks your system for existing e-mailers, then imports your Net connection info, folders, existing mail, and contacts from programs such as Outlook Express, Eudora, Netscape Mail, or earlier editions of Outlook itself. (You can also import contact info from organizers such as ACT and Lotus Organizer.) Not everything makes it over--message filters in Eudora won't translate--but you'll get most of what you need. And if you're on an Exchange server, it's even easier to set up; just enter your server name and username, and you're off to the races.
Outlook 2002 handles e-mail like a pro, in large part because it integrates mail, contacts, and scheduling. For example, you can send messages from your calendar and search for e-mail related to a specific event. What's more, Outlook snakes out into every other Office XP application, so you can use the more flexible Word as your message-writing tool to check spelling and grammar and route documents you send to others for review from within Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other Office XP apps.
Of course, Outlook retains its most valued e-mail skills: a sophisticated filtering system, integration with POP3, IMAP, Microsoft Exchange, and HTTP mail servers. It also has the familiar three-pane interface. However, trust this client with serious PIM chores, and you'll find it lacking. The program covers the basics. You can keep a calendar, add events and to-do items, schedule reminders, and jot down Post-it-like notes. But Outlook's PIM skills haven't improved. It still can't quickly record and retrieve random information not tagged to a particular person or task. And its project scheduling and tracking skills remain minimal; you can't set up subtasks within a larger task, for instance.
Are you free for lunch?
Outlook 2002 boasts much improved collaboration skills. For example, it now saves multiple group calendars, which is handy for keeping track of several workgroups. But its No. 1 collaboration attraction is its tricky Free/Busy Sharing. This intricate process publishes your schedule, either for free to a server that Microsoft runs or to your company's intranet or Internet server. Other Outlook 2002 users (this feature won't work with older versions) can then see whether you're booked or free for meetings or coffee breaks. You determine who can access your schedule, of course, and you let Outlook know how often to update the online information, which is automatically added to your group calendar.
Beyond the business-end improvements, Outlook's other additions are just convenient--nothing flashy. Like its weaker cousin, Outlook Express, Outlook 2002 can now access Hotmail accounts and initiate an MSN Messenger chat session from within Outlook. A new e-mailbox cleanup tool identifies messages by age so that you can easily find and delete older messages. Another new feature automatically reformats plain-text e-mail to eliminate those weird line breaks that often occur, and you can use Outlook to display Web pages--a nifty substitute for opening yet another browser window--when you type a URL into the field below the toolbar.
Lock the door and throw away the key
Some changes, though, are sure to garner gripes. We're betting Outlook's new antivirus security tops most people's lists. To slam the door on viruses such as Melissa and I Love You, Outlook won't let you receive certain file formats, such as EXE (program files), BAT (batch files, a holdover from DOS), and HLP (help files), that it deems potential virus carriers. Outlook notifies you that you've been sent such an attachment, but you can't see it, open it, or save it to disk. We appreciate the security, but unless your company uses Microsoft Exchange Server, you can't modify this behavior, so if you use standalone Outlook, you're out of luck. Sure, Outlook's notoriously insecure, but this feels like overkill.
And don't forget: Outlook 2002, like all Office XP applications, won't run on Windows 95 machines.
By itself, using Outlook 2002 makes little sense. When tossed into the app mix that is Office XP, however, it more than carries its weight when it comes to e-mail. However, we wish Microsoft had spent more time bulking up its weak PIM.