Microsoft's announcement overnight that they're planning on bringing Outlook to the next version of Office for Mac may not sound like the most exciting piece of news this week, but it is a huge game changer. Forgetting for a second that Microsoft should have done this years ago, banishing that bastard piece of software Entourage to the seventh level of software hell, the move to bring Outlook to the Mac is going to make Apple's machines even more appealing to enterprise, while at the same time forcing Apple to really bring changes to the way OS X's Mail, Address Book and iCal interact.
There's a simple truth when it comes to keeping your email, calendar, contacts and to do list in order: Nothing competes with Outlook in terms of offering a complete solution. This is especially true for Mac users. Despite the fact that Mail, iCal, and Address book all do a pretty solid job on their own, sharing information between the apps can at times be problematic. And of course there's the almost primitive implementation of a ToDo app as part of Mail... There are decent third party apps out there to manage this, yet once again they struggle to share that information across the other applications.
In comparison, Outlook does it all. It may not be as visually appealing as each of Apple's solutions, and it may seem a tad convoluted if you don't use some of the features, but it is a very complete solution to managing your day-to-day life. But what really makes Outlook stand out as an exemplary performer is its ability to work seamlessly with a smartphone. Pairing a Blackberry or WinMo phone with Outlook allows you to truly stay on top of your workload in a way the iPhone can only dream about. Being able to create, edit and tick off appointments, to do items, notes, and emails both on your PC and your smartphone allows you to manage your time and workload much more effectively.
That's what makes the decision to port Outlook to the Mac is such a huge move. Instead of requiring four separate apps running in order to stay on top of your hectic day-to-day existence, Mac users will now have one centralised program that manages everything. And that is going to appeal to a lot of businesses, especially those using Exchange to run their company email.
On top of that, it's going to force Apple to improve not only the way their calendar, email and contacts apps work together, but also how the information is shared with the iPhone. At the moment, syncing an iPhone with a Mac is done exclusively through Apple's dedicated apps, but when Outlook is available, that's going to have to change. Sure, Apple can (and probably will, for a while) argue that their programs do a good enough job of sharing information, but that won't be enough for larger corporations who use Exchange. And considering Apple's arguments that the iPhone is a great business-oriented smartphone, the only way they'll be able to persuade businesses to their way of thinking is by native Mac outlook support. Which in turn leads to a much more complete time management solution for Mac users.
It will be interesting to see just how Apple reacts to Outlook when it's released as part of the next Office suite for Mac. It's a huge opportunity for them to promote the OS X platform, so long as they do their best to welcome it into the Apple ecosystem by supporting it with the iPhone and improving their own software interoperability. Let's hope they don't screw it up...