Dropping Outlook from Office: smart or dumb?

There have been some heated reactions to the announcement today that Office 2007 will drop Outlook in favor of OneNote in the Home and Student Edition. The two schools of thought are polarized as to whether home and education users need, want, or use Outlook as much more than an e-mail program. Or is this is simply a move by Microsoft to cut down on small business use of the Student and Teacher Edition. My take?

There have been some heated reactions to the announcement today that Office 2007 will drop Outlook in favor of OneNote in the Home and Student Edition. The two schools of thought are polarized as to whether home and education users need, want, or use Outlook as much more than an e-mail program. Ed Bott thinks that this an attempt by Microsoft to cut down on the use of the Office 2003 Student and Teacher Edition as a cheap solution for small businesses who have bent, if not broken, the terms of the EULA by using the three installations allowed by the S&T edition to save a considerable amount of money. My take?

I tend to side with the folks who believe that this decision will prove to be a sound one. In my experience speaking to user groups, interacting with blog readers, and talking with Outlook users in the small/home business market, Outlook is underutilized by a significant portion of this demographic. And, to put it bluntly, Outlook's out-of-the-box experience is not optimized for lightweight home or student use. Further, configuring Outlook can be pretty intimidating. Trust me on this one - I developed a half-day training course that devoted a substantial portion of that time allotment to teaching users how to deal with the cumbersome Customize Views... UI in Outlook.

Vista will include a calendar app in addition to Windows Mail (the successor to Outlook Express). Parallel this to the Mail and iCal applications built into Mac OS X which seems to meet the needs of many Mac users. Sure, Office users on the Mac get Entourage but I know many a Mac user who uses Word, PowerPoint, and Excel and favors Mail and iCal to the Mac OS answer to Outlook. Don't get me wrong - I think Entourage is a terrific application with a couple of features we won't see on the Windows side even in Outlook 2007. And the cost to add a standalone copy of Outlook to the Home and Student Edition is only ten bucks more than it previously cost to add OneNote to the 2003 package. So, if you're a home or education user and you want both, you're looking at pretty much the same investment.

I feel for the SMB users - their options just got more expensive. But I can appreciate Microsoft's position as well if Ed is right. What I find harder to swallow is the lack of an Office configuration for business that includes both Outlook and OneNote. All but the very largest businesses have to purchase OneNote as a separate package. I would have preferred to see it included in the Professional Edition. If you look at the configuration chart Microsoft has posted, I think you'll see that it would have made the graduation between versions more sensible, added tremendous value to those wavering between the Small Business and Professional versions, and would have introduced a great application to a large audience of potential evangelists.

Peter Wright makes a passionate (and pretty angry) argument that OneNote should be in every version of Office. He does some educated guessing about the sunk costs Microsoft has invested in the app and while his math might be a little fuzzy, his sentiments are hard to argue with. Although I have to say the whole thing about Bill Gates, bulldog clips, and a certain portion of anatomy gave me a serious case of the willies.

UPDATE: Tablet PC MVP Rob Bushway makes an excellent point about the consequences of this decision as it relates to the Tablet PC out of the box experience. Here's a choice quote but you should read the entire post if you use or are considering the purchase of a Tablet:

If Microsoft isn’t going to include Outlook in their Home / Student Editions, they MUST ink enable Windows Mail. While Vista is a huge step forward in terms of personalization and tablet pc functionality, the most glaring miss here is Windows Mail, which will be the defacto means of communications with ones peers, especially for those who buy the Home / Student Edition of Office 2007. Including ink as part of that standard experience would do nothing but increase tablet pc awareness in huge ways.

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