New Outlook for Mac

The ongoing BETA of the next version of MacOS, Big Sur, comes with the bonus of a preview of the upcoming Microsoft Outlook for Mac. And just as there are some issues with the Big Sur BETA that Apple is working through, the preview of Outlook has some glaring, and extremely alarming, changes that will affect any user of any on-premises email server. It also gives some insight into the direction Microsoft is moving, and that direction itself is somewhat disturbing and may have people thinking twice if they want to continue using Microsoft's email clients.

The 2 biggest issues with the latest preview of Outlook for Mac are:

  1. It currently only works with Office365, and Google accounts. It offers ZERO SUPPORT for IMAP or iCloud accounts
  2. It DOES NOT SUPPORT on-premises Exchange accounts or connect to any on-premises mail servers that use Exchange protocols. (E.g., EWS)

In fact, when you install the latest Big Sur build, and then open Outlook for Mac, this is what you see if you have any Exchange accounts set up:

New Outlook for Mac Exchange Error

Is support for IMAP, iCloud and Exchange coming? It's unclear at this time, but it would be surprising if Microsoft didn't at least support IMAP. It, along with POP, have been the backbone of the receipt of emails since Day One. As for Exchange support, Microsoft did say back in late 2019 that support for on-premises Exchange was coming. But we're now in the middle of October 2020, and Big Sur, which Outlook for Mac was apparently designed for, is slated to release in November. So, if Microsoft DOES include support for on-prem Exchange accounts, it is coming down to the wire.

Where Microsoft Is Headed

Back in 2014, Microsoft purchased a company called Accompli. Accompli was a service aimed to provide its users with a desktop email client experience on a mobile device. Their client included support for email, calendars, contacts and file sharing, and included support for cloud file services like Dropbox, OneDrive, etc. It even made all these items -- including files -- searchable from the device. It did this by sending all that information through Accompli servers, thereby aggregating the information to make it easier to index and search. Microsoft was so impressed they purchased Accompli and re-branded it as Outlook Mobile.

Now, however, it appears that this aggregation of data is where Microsoft is taking Outlook and this is where things start getting alarming, if not downright scary.

Imagine losing the ability to use your own mail server if you want to use any version of the Outlook client, and probably Windows Mail. Instead, you have to use Office 365. Or consider this scenario: You're able to use your own mail server, but in order to use an Outlook client, all the information that passes through your mail server first needs to "pass through" a Microsoft server before it downloads to Outlook. All your personal and business information, your contacts, your stored files and attachments filtering through, and probably stored on, a Microsoft cloud before it gets to you. The privacy implications of that boggles the mind. What enterprise organization will allow that?

Where Outlook Is Headed

Forget the aggregation of data. Let's say Microsoft does NOT go in that direction. What's the future of Outlook? Sure, Microsoft says they're going to be including support for IMAP and on-premises Exchange, but they've had months to included it in the Outlook for Mac previews and it's nowhere to be seen. And there's no guarantee – if we look at Outlook for Mac – that any Outlook version, even Outlook for Windows, will support IMAP or Exchange protocols like EAS, EWS or MAPI.

Microsoft is already moving in a direction to unify Outlook's look and usability, offering users the same experience regardless of the platform they're on. Outlook for Mac is being re-designed to give Big Sur users a "more Big Sur-like" experience, so an overhaul of Outlook for Windows can't be too far behind. And with that overhaul, does Microsoft shepherd in the demise of the standard methods of using Outlook? Namely, using the tried-and-true methods of connecting Outlook to your email account that have become the standard. Along with unifying the user experience, they've also talked about a new synchronization protocol that they're testing with Windows 10 Mail: Microsoft Sync. That seems to be a pretty good indication of things to come.

All indications are that all of this is the future of Microsoft. And if it IS, it's a scary direction. Considering the huge privacy issues surrounding Microsoft acting as an information repository, and the complete overhaul of how Outlook works on Windows and Mac, there's a huge storm coming about whether this is right or really wrong. What is your opinion?

For more information on the changes to Outlook for Mac, see the following: