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MS Office for MacintoshTitle: Entourage 2008 for Mac
Developer: Microsoft Corporation
Copyright: © 2007 (released in 2008)

Relevance: Entourage 2008 for the Mac is the latest rendition of the Mac communication package that comes included with Office 2008. Small improvements in interface and operation make this an incremental upgrade from its four-year-old sibling, but the lack of synchronization software (at least, at present) makes using Entourage with a BlackBerry problematic.

Review: We were very much looking forward to the new version of Microsoft Entourage, the analog (but not equivalent) of MS Outlook for the Mac. We say analog because although Entourage offers communication, calendaring and other “organizing” modules, it doesn’t match the power and comprehensive ability of the Windows communications software. If your news organization uses Outlook and Exchange, you won’t be able to link in as well as your PC colleagues due to serious platform-dependent software incompatibilities on the Mac side. At least, for now.

It’s easy to miss the few interface and other cosmetic changes that Entourage has undergone after a four-year lull in upgrades. Like other programs in the latest edition of Office for Mac, Entourage sports a far better Mac look and feel than its previous incarnation and is more logically designed and far more stable than its predecessor.

Microsoft’s programmers have obviously invested a majority of their time in stability issues rather than new functions. Entourage 2004 was widely (and deservingly) criticized as being very unstable (read: often crashed) with disastrous results to its finicky database. Reporters on the road who suffered through the twin indignities of dreadful power and expensive dial-up lines could often run afoul of Entourage’s sometimes-flaky database integrity problems. This is (mostly) gone with this version and we applaud Microsoft for spending its time working on these issues. These are all good changes but many users have felt stability issues should really be dealt with during a service release rather than in a “new” (i.e., money costing) upgrade.

On the other hand, we would have liked to see more functionality built in to this all-important module. For example, there are many third party applications – including Apple’s own Mail program – that still sport a better interface and possess perhaps 70 to 80 percent of the advanced functionality of Entourage. Only time will tell if the proverbial objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. In other words, will Mac users defect to other packages if Microsoft doesn’t provide what is needed in its e-mail package?

Of course, the advantage for Mac users is that Apple’s Mail comes free with the operating system. Entourage still has many functions that competing software packages don’t have, but we note these competitors are catching up. To complicate things still further, many road warriors are using Web browsers more and more (or their proprietary PDA-based e-mail programs) to keep in touch while out of the office. Dedicated e-mail clients may be on the way out.

Despite the many examples of templates in other modules of Office for Mac especially notable in Word and Excel, there are none in Entourage. We thought this was a shame, especially with the proliferation of blogging and e-mailed newsletters. Alas, Entourage will help neither of these two groups and we were surprised to find so little additional functionality for newsletters or bulk mailing in this version.

One nice feature we thought worth mentioning was Entourage’s ability to recognize junk mail and the way in which the package now handles this scourge. In the previous version of Entourage, the junk mail functionality was inadequate for the job. This version, however, seems both better at recognizing junk mail as well as having a new function called Block Sender. This option (Message > Block Sender) immediately places the offending message in the junk mail box, keeps a record of that e-mail address and automatically shunts subsequent mail from that address into your junk mailbox.

Yet another nice aspect of this feature is that junk mail once “deleted” gets immediately deleted. In Entourage 2004, one had to double-delete a junk mail message. You first had to identify it as junk, then you had to delete it a second time from your deleted folder. This is not the case in this update. The software now keeps track of messages placed in the junk mail folder and immediately deletes them upon your request without a secondary move to the Deleted Items folder (and a subsequent confirmation there).

PocketMac doesn’t work
At press time, the current version of PocketMac does not work with Entourage 2008 despite the fact the add-on has been happily synching BlackBerrys since the old Mac OS 8 days. Entourage 2004 also worked well with the PocketMac software, so we can only hope that the two will be on speaking terms soon. Right now, however, there is no way to seamlessly synchronize contacts or calendar information between Entourage and our BlackBerry devices. This is a real problem for many of us who depend on both to keep in touch. Prospective users who are anticipating upgrading to the new version of Entourage and depend on BlackBerry connectivity should carefully ascertain the cross-compatibility of these two products.

We didn’t quite understand the value of Entourage’s new To-Do/Office Reminders list. The module operates as a quasi stand-alone pop up displaying what items are due today (and overdue) somewhat independently of Entourage. We say “somewhat” because it automatically runs in the background (unless you figure out how to disable it) and immediately launches when you restart your Mac. The tricky bit is that if you want to change any parameters in the reminders (say, change the time or date of an appointment) it has to open up the main Entourage program anyway. We also couldn’t figure out how to print out anything from the meager menu options provided so we thought the Office Reminders sub-module was more of a work in progress, rather than a finished, feature-rich product.

We were disappointed that despite being on the Mac for quite a number of years, Entourage still lacks the ability to account for time zone differences while traveling, making, say, flights from New York to London last an inordinate amount of time but the return flights near instantaneous. We were also vexed at the prospect of not having the ability to enter 24-hour times in Entourage. One of our reviewers noted that if her Mac was telling her it was “17:05”, Entourage should be able to pick this up from the Mac’s System Preferences and display 24-hour time for appointments. Alas, it is not meant to be, at least in this version.

We were impressed with the greatly improved stability and increased Mac look and feel of this, the latest version of Entourage. While stability is crucial for reporters – especially for those who are often on the road – we would have liked to have seen additional functionality in this version. Aside from the issues already stated, recommended.

End of Review

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