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A Poor Outlook For Outlook Alternatives

A friend of mine -- who has had almost as much bad luck with computers as Gene Weingarten -- recently e-mailed to ask about cryptic error messages that had begun to pop up in his copy of Microsoft Outlook 2002.

On further examination, he traced the problem to the fact that his Outlook file was hitting Outlook 2002's 2-gigabyte limit and, after considering his options, decided it was time to upgrade to a newer version.

The new copy put an end to those error messages, but at the cost losing all of the messages in his inbox.

This, unfortunately, is not that atypical when it comes to readers' experiences with Outlook. This sprawling combination of e-mail client, address book, calendar, to-do list and memo pad -- in addition to its long-standing security and usability issues -- seems all too capable of eating users' data if things go wrong.

(If anybody has suggestions on how to get those lost inbox messages back, please post them in the comments.)

And yet for all of Outlook's problems, it has no effective rival in Windows. Nobody else makes a program -- or a combination of programs -- that integrate e-mail, contacts and calendars in the way that Outlook does. Consider the alternatives:

* Mozilla Thunderbird is a highly capable e-mail program, but its address book is useless (with only vague plans for future improvement) and adding any calendar support requires installing a separate plug-in.

* Corel's $59 WordPerfect Mail offers only a minimal set of calendar and contacts-management tools and barely worked with an IMAP mail account when I tried it.

* The Windows port of Novell's Linux-based Evolution seems to have received only minimal effort. Its home page brushes off its incompatibility in Windows Vista ("honestly, that's not priority #1 right now"), it looks awful and the copy I just installed on an XP system crashes every time I try to exit it.

* There's Chandler, the in-perpetual-development project to create an open-source Outlook replacement. As of the current version 0.7.2, it still doesn't include an address book.

It's clearly possible to craft an approachable, effective and reliable Outlook equivalent: Just look on a Mac, where both Microsoft's Entourage and Apple's combination of Address Book, iCal and Mail each provide a saner, simpler alternative. But buying an entirely new computer seems a bit much if you just want a better way to stay on top of your e-mail, contacts and calendar.

So does nobody even want to try here? Or do we all think that Outlook is good enough and, furthermore, we don't need actual competition in this part of the market?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  November 30, 2007; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Windows  
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