A Fallen Tree

From the Australian Outback to the Ozarks, one of man’s more unusual uses for trees is to hold messages.

Itinerant gold miners and others used them to keep in touch with friends they seldom saw. Such message trees have recently become popular in social gatherings such as weddings, but I suspect were not a feature at the 2010 launch party for Microsoft Office for Mac 2011, nor will they be at that for Office 2015.

I first used Microsoft Entourage when it arrived in Office 2001. Despite various drawbacks, most resulting from its monolithic message database and the application’s propensity to corrupt those data, Entourage and I got along remarkably well. When Apple’s Mail arrived on the scene shortly afterwards it felt kludgy by comparison, so I stuck with my favourite until I installed Office 2011.

By comparison with Entourage 2008, Outlook 2011 was a giant leap backwards.

Some of its worst afflictions were, I hoped, merely sloppy programming and result from attention to schedule rather than detail. The fact that it could not remember that I liked its progress window open all the time was irritating. Added to that its inability to recall that I also liked previews of junk messages, and my irritation became infuriation. So every time that I started Outlook up, typically once a day, I had to reconfigure it to get it working the way that I wanted.

Worse still, when I deleted a message, its viewer moved to the last message that I had read rather than the next one that I actually wanted to read. Although I fail to understand why anyone ever would ever want it to do that, what upset me was that Outlook’s runtime straitjacket was so dictatorial as to prevent me from making it work the logical and efficient way.

Then I had to read email with fingers poised over the keyboard, ready to press the Delete and Cursor Up keys. No other Mac application forces me to browse and navigate using a keyboard rather than trackpad.

Having used email copiously before it could support HTML, RTF, or other new-fangled prettifications, I like to correspond in plain text, my replies quoting relevant content from the original email indented with the ‘>’ character. Although Outlook pretended to give me all sorts of formatting options including plain text, it could not really be configured to work like that, and Entourage’s invaluable menu command of ‘Paste as Quotation’ has been blown away too.

To crown all this, Outlook 2011 appeared unable to save messages as text files, but I had to drag them out to .eml documents (a form of mutilated text), then change their extension to .text to open them in a text editor. This might have been part of some futile campaign to drive me do everything within Outlook, but when compiling content for these pages, archiving software registration details, and the like, it was another absurd impotence.

In short, Microsoft had taken quite a pleasant and eminently usable mail client and replaced it with one that worked even worse than the grim old version of Outlook that I had to use on Windows XP.

If I was that masochistic, why would I use a Mac in the first place? Maybe Outlook has been one good reason for the rise in social networking, as it ensures that it can only be easier to communicate by means other than email.

At the time, I suggested that by the time we reached Outlook 2014 we would be looking forward to upgrading to message trees. I also wished that we didn’t let Microsoft get at them first, or they might be pollarded into stunted Redmond trees.

Now we have the preview edition of Outlook (and the rest of Office) 2015, I have been able to check whether Microsoft has heeded any of these issues which drove so many users away from Outlook 2011. I am saddened to have to report that, thus far, Outlook 2015 is every bit a pollard like its predecessor. So I shall be sticking with Mailsmith a bit longer.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 27 issue 03, 2011.