I Love Microsoft Entourage (Again)

Microsoft EntourageAs I’ve been juggling with a few different projects lately plus some upcoming schooling I’ve found myself suffering from a bit of information overload. I was having some trouble managing my research, my appointments, my project artifacts, my writing, my contacts and my personal and business task lists.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying out different pieces of software, both desktop and web-based, to assist me in organizing and controlling all this data and kept finding that, for one reason or another, none of them quite worked.

Then on a whim the other day, I opened up my old copy of Microsoft Entourage and fell in love. (Entourage is a component of Microsoft’s Office suite for Mac.)

This was a bit of a surprise because I’d all but written this software off a couple of years ago. Yet, after just a few hours using it I find myself a convert. I love Entourage again.

I say that I was surprised because, some time ago, I quit Entourage. I don’t recall why, but I opted to use Apple’s Mail and iCal applications instead.

Since then I’ve been dabbling with different project management interfaces and artifact management systems but they all bugged me for one reason or another. The primary issue I faced with a lot of these apps was their lack of information integration. I found I was duplicating information in different applications and they weren’t sharing very well.

For example, I tried a very nice piece of software from Marketcircle (a Canadian Mac software publisher) called Daylite. It’s sort of like a PIM on steroids and is clearly targeted at multi-user environments, so excels at sharing information among workgroups. However, it was incapable of automatically syncing calendar events with the Mac OS’ built-in Sync engine and therefore sharing that information with other applications.

I also found the interface and workflow model in Daylite a tad confusing.

I also tried other project management systems such as the web-based BaseCamp. I find the interface of BaseCamp very kludgy, however, and I had problems again with information sharing (like, why do I have to manually re-type in contact information when it already exists on my desktop?).

Plus, over time that I’ve found that I’ve grown weary of the click-and-wait interfaces of web-based applications. I prefer the snappiness of a desktop application, especially for performing fast tasks. (Not to mention that this sparse, block-colour Web 2.0 design aesthetic is worn out like an old sock. Yuck!)

One more note inregards to web versus desktop software, I’ve found that I’m not a fan of subscription-based software licensing models such as that with Basecamp. I prefer to pay my money and have full, unlimited ongoing use of the software until such time as an upgrade becomes available. I further like to retain the right to decide whether to upgrade my software or not.

These are just a couple of criticisms of just a couple of pieces of software I’ve tried. I could go on at great length.

When I opened up Entourage again the other day, a few key qualities caught my eye: its exceptional level of information integration; its zippy performance; its extremely intuitive and, yes, pretty interface; its management flexibility. Oh yeah, and it has a cool desktop icon.

Entourage automatically links everything up. When a message arrived in my In box, it automatically links it to the sender’s contact item. When I create a new task in project view, it automatically links the task to the project. When I create an appointment with a contact associated with a particular project, it automatically links the appointment to the project.

It’s a very well thought out user experience design as its behaviours and workflows seem based on how a person actually works, rather than how the information needs to be managed.

Entourage is not without its shortcomings, however. It’s not a Cocoa app, so my favourite Mac keyboard shortcut, command-control-D, doesn’t work (try that one in Safari, just point at a word first). It’s a few years old so it doesn’t take full advantage of the Mac OS Quartz engine, leaving things looking a bit flat.

But what it lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in zip. Because it’s a couple of years old now, Entourage literally cooks on my Power Mac G5 tower. Everything is instantaneous. How much time I’ve spent waiting for a page to load in BaseCamp when Entourage handles the same tasks without delay!

It’s nice, too, that Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit has just started publising their own blog, called MacMojo. It’s very interesting to read about the exploits, feelings and thoughts of the folks who build this software, especially when they invite feedback and feature requests.

5 thoughts on “I Love Microsoft Entourage (Again)

  1. (omg! you dissed basecamp! geof’s gonna be all over your <bleep>! 😉

    i want to defend web-based apps, but it’s always been hard to justify that darn reload pause, in spite of the benefits of a server-centric design. hopefully the current trend towards ajax-enabled and smart-client apps, (where only the necessary traffic goes across the wire) will help to alleviate that.

    as with everything, there’s a trade-off to be made, depending on your current and foreseeable uses…what happens when, a while down the road, you discover you and a co-worker or colleague need common access to all that ‘stuff’ in entourage? and you’re not on the same network…or on the same continent? you might be wishing for some cool web 2.0 (3.1? 4.9?) app to fill your needs…

    (by the way….nice ads…cashmere yarn? lace socks? hosiery?….lmao!….shouldn’t those be based on the content of the site, and not the title?)

  2. Hey I’m glad you brought up that issue of remote access. I’d intended to mention the flip side of that: what happens when you find yourself somewhere without internet access and all your data is stuck in a web database?

    I thought on both sides of this architectural issue and it occurs to me that the best model of application development would be hybrid. For example, a user who prefers the desktop environment would work in that fashion, and the other way around for someone who prefers a browser environment (but who really “prefers” a browser environment?).

    The data/file could be in a continuously synchronous state between a local copy and a server copy so that, either environment will always be in an constant state of sync.

    Apple’s .Mac services actually do this with contact, event, notes and bookmark data and it’s really cool. There are desktop applications I use and via SyncServices in MacOS their data is constantly published to the internet. So when I go elsewhere I can log in to access and manage the exact same data in a web environment. Once I return to my desktop any modifications I’ve made on the web are pulled back down to my Mac. (Entourage hooks into this system now and it’s sweet.)

    I’d love to be able to do this with other types of applications such as text editors and project management environments.

  3. Don’t be a Basecamp hater, Andrew 🙂

    Actually, I’m still a fan of Basecamp, but don’t use it as much as I previously did – mostly because I’ve moved onto other responsibilities and roles.

    That said, Basecamp had started to fail me. It was too simple for its own good and the minimalist features drove me nuts. I much prefer the user experience and capabilities of Devshop now.

    It really comes down to circumstances, as Patrick as pointed out. Entourage is fine when you’re working for yourself with very little to no interaction on the outside.

    On the other side of the coin, I’m currently managing a project with 2 external contractors, 2 project clients and 6 internal staff. That’s a lot of communications, deliverables and timelines to be met, at least for me…

    I’m using Basecamp because for the audience it’s more appropriate (less technically oriented) but if the work was more complex/inter-disciplinary and the users more savvy, Devshop would win out for sure. It really is that good.

  4. good points – but unfortunately there’s that mega expensive office package around entourage… anyone an idea how to avoid this and get the goodies anyway?
    cheers christian

  5. Hey Christian, yeah, it’s such a drag that Microsoft discontinued the Office products as separate component products, eh? You used to be able to purchase just Entourage from the “X” suite, but it’s all or nothing now. Interestingly, Microsoft is still hawking the “Professional” version of Office 2004 which features the now-obsolete Virtual PC. Go figure.

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