The case for a free Outlook 2010

Now, now – don’t go throwing your hands in the air all at once. I’m not going crazy over one of Microsoft’s flagship products. I don’t hate Microsoft. I actually like them, I have been working with the products for more than ten years now and have built a company around support most of the products they offer. I wouldn’t call myself an evangelist – but it is clear that the continued success of Microsoft is going to be tied to my own company’s success. Microsoft seems to be at a real crossroads with their flagship product: Office. The recent fighting, twitter movement, and protests over the support of HTML in Outlook 2010 had me thinking what Microsoft would need to do to set themselves apart and really do something special. Microsoft needs to offer Outlook 2010 (Without Word HTML rendering) for free when they release the 2010 version of their Office product.

Consider these points:

- Outlook has always been stand-alone capable. It has (up until version 2007) been bundled with the Exchange Server products. The last time I checked, MSDN subscriptions included a standalone version of Outlook.

- The Office package itself faces competition from a number of different alternatives including: Sun StarOffice, Google Premier Apps, Lotus Symphony, and Zoho.

- The free alternatives Google Apps and Staroffice have been improving at an alarming rate

- Office’s Market share is in the 80% Range and likely facing one of the biggest challenges with the coming up-tick in PC purchases expected with the release of Windows 7 and the (hopefully) return of the economy from recession in late 2009. One of the things really benefiting the Office package is because it’s so entrenched. By making Outlook 2010 free, this would create further entrenchment.

- The Personal Storage Folder (PST) format of storing messages is a reasonably good format for storing messages in one encapsulated file. Opening this standard up to the greater community for other applications would likely ensure future use of all Outlook’s technology and goodwill towards Microsoft from Techies. The PST format continues to be one of the most useful and yet useless formats to store messages. Think of this scenario: You have 1000 email messages you want to save and transport to a very not technical user. I can take the messages and make 1000 standard .EML files – but the PST is useful for mobility. I put that on an Optical Disk or flash drive, give it to the user, they would have no idea how to use or open this file.

- Microsoft can simplify and end the confusion. There has always been an insane amount confusion between Microsoft’s free mail product and the paid-for full mail client package. if you ask a very casual user what the differences between these (Mail-old, Outlook, Outlook Express, Mail-new) packages are, expect a blank stare. Microsoft would be able to remove the redundant mail package from being bundled in Windows and offer this package to anyone as a free download. The world needs a trim, fast, streamlined Windows.

- Standards support would finally be possible with the Client application out for free and open to community scrutiny. This would likely lead to vast improvements on one of Outlook/Exchange’s best features: Outlook Anywhere.

- Outlook Web access has been improving in newer version of Exchange server. So much so, that Microsoft may be able to cut the “fat” of Outlook entirely if they move to a paid/subscription online version of the Office applications

This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Outlook is great platform for applications that extend it with add-ins. With an open and free version of Outlook – users may finally have real choice as far as extending Outlook and this may even lead to a more customized experience a-la Firefox leading to all sorts of applications (a built-in Outlook/Mail Server hybrid anyone?).

What do you think?
Find me on twitter at @calwell

Published Jun 26 2009 by