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Outlook download free for 90 days

Microsoft announces pricing and plans for Outlook 98, and says it will make the final version a free download from its Web site for three months.

In an effort to tap into the user pools of Eudora Pro, Netscape Messenger, and Lotus cc:Mail, Microsoft will offer its Outlook messaging and collaboration for free download off its Web page for three months, the company said.

At spring Internet World '98 today the Redmond, Washington-based software giant announced final pricing and distribution plans for Outlook 98, and said it would make the final version of the package free for download to customers for 90 days beginning at the end of the month.

"It's yours to keep if you get there within three months," Scott Gode, an Outlook product manager, said. "At the end of 90 days, people will have to buy the new version."

Outlook 98, the client for the company's messaging server Exchange and desktop suite Office, adds support for a slew of Internet standards, such as IMAP4, LDAP, and S/MIME. It also includes support for Internet calendaring standards, like iCal and vCal, which allow users to share schedule information over the Web. Support for vCard, an emerging standard for electronic business cards, is also part of the new package.

Users will now have the option of either downloading the full Outlook 98 client for free from the Web (connect-time charges may apply) or ordering an Outlook 98 CD-ROM for $9.95 to cover the costs of CD production, shipping, and handling, the company said. Both options will be available on the Outlook Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/outlook/. After the first 90 days, Outlook 98 will continue to be free on the Web only to registered users of Microsoft Office 97, Outlook 97, and Exchange Server via the Office Update site at http://www.microsoft.com /office/.

In addition to providing a consistent interface, Microsoft has added synchronization features, search tools, and organizational tools in the new version.

Microsoft connected Outlook more closely to the back end, or server, to speed up its product, the company said. Background synchronization of public folders and field-level replication will also be added to the new version.

Microsoft has designed Outlook 98 to integrate with Office 97, Exchange Server, and IE 4.0. Users can start Outlook 98 from IE 4.0 to send and receive email and create contact lists. The new client also shares HTML rendering and the News Reader from IE 4.0, according to the company.

Gode admitted that the move to offer the messaging client for free is to try and allure users from some of the competition in the market, though not so much the huge customer base enjoyed by Lotus' cc:Mail.

"Obviously [cc:Mail users are] up for grabs. We'd like to get some of them on board," but they would also have to make the move to Exchange, Gode said. "They would have to purchase the exchange license for that. This is more for Eudora and Netscape messaging users."

Outlook 98 will be available through the usual Microsoft distribution channels, including software retail locations, at an estimated retail price of $109 beginning in late April. Eventually, the Outlook 98 client will also be available in the Exchange Server service pack at a date to be determined, Gode said.