Microsoft scrambles for last grip on Mac users

Microsoft has announced a new version of Outlook for the Mac – for late 2010. This is good news for many Mac users, irrelevant for many others and might indicate some desperation at Redmond.

It’s good news because Mac users have never had a good way to connect to MS Exchange, the dominant mail/calendar server for businesses. MS dropped Mac.Outlook after 1998, offering OS X users the Entourage program – which was and still is a dog: it lacks many Outlook features and is horrible to use. The new Outlook promises to have the same features as Windows.Outlook whilst being a true Mac application – e.g. storing data in files rather than a huge database (source of most Outlook problems).

Why did MS hobble Outlook/Entourage for the Mac? Presumably because Exchange has been essential for most businesses, so this would keep business users on Windows and perpetuate sales of MS Office. Indeed, Outlook is theirreplaceable part of Office – powerful, effective and unrivalled. Up to now, this has worked – at Conosco we’ve discouraged our customers from Macs for good practical reasons.

So why this change of heart and why announce it now, more than a year before it’s due? FUD – the old MS trick of spiking the opposition. Within a month Apple releases the Snow Leopard upgrade to OS X, which makes the Mac’s native mail and calendar apps work properly with Exchange. And many are now moving to web-based services such as Google Apps and Zoho anyway.

Too little too late. MS has probably lost the Apple community now – if you can drop Entourage/Outlook, you can drop MS Office (there are already good alternatives to Word/Excel/Powerpoint). Macs are eating into the PC market – in the last few months we’ve suddenly started selling a lot of Macs at Conosco. The best hope for MS is that their new software+service version of Office can outflank the competition – but it’s not even in beta yet.