Outlook RT for Windows RT

A few days ago Mary Jo Foley  reported that Microsoft was testing an Outlook client for Windows RT.  She also reported on some of the internal controversy around this move, and I wanted to add some analysis to this apparent situation.

I believe there are two Outlook clients for Windows RT floating around inside Microsoft.  The first is the existing Outlook 2013 desktop client that, along with other parts of Office 2013 Pro, have been ported to ARM.  That such a build exists should not come as a surprise as this is merely a matter of recompiling the existing applications and addressing any platform-specific dependencies or bugs.  This was probably done for engineering cleanliness purposes many months ago, even if Microsoft had no intention of making the build available to customers.

I believe one of the debates that is going on inside of Microsoft is how, and if, they should release Office 2013 Professional, Enterprise, or Office 365 for Windows RT.  This is a far more complicated question than most observers would give it credit for.  It’s not that it is hard to do, it is that it may not meet customer expectations while creating a long-term support (and migration) headache.  Just on the support front it commits Microsoft to up to a decade of support for what is likely an interim offering (more on that later).  And it commits them to new releases of desktop Office for a while on Windows RT as well.  It also raises questions about more generally opening the desktop on Windows RT, which is something that is counter-strategic.

But I think the bigger question mark is around customer satisfaction with the offering.  Let’s focus on Outlook since that is where most of the user interest lies.  Imagine this scenario:  Surface GM Panos Panay is giving a briefing to a major pharmaceutical company’s CIO at Microsoft’s Executive Briefing Center (EBC) and hears that they would buy Surfaces for all 10,000 field reps if only they could run Outlook on it.  Panos is on the shuttle back to his building and calls the Director of Program Management over in Office who is driving the Outlook on Windows RT decision.  The Director runs over to the EBC to have coffee with the CIO staff member driving the Surface investigation to understand their requirement.  This might be the case he uses to convince Kurt Delbene they should go ahead and release the port!  Unfortunately he returns to his office dejected as the ported Outlook 2013 won’t work for this customer.  They need it to support the “Siebel Desktop for Microsoft Outlook”, and that uses an extensibility model that they can’t expose on Windows RT.

In fact, every major CRM package integrates with Microsoft Outlook using the same mechanisms as Siebel used.  You see, Outlook was never intended to be simply a mail client or PIM, it was intended to be an application platform.   And while CRM is perhaps the most obvious case of where Microsoft succeeded in that regard, many enterprises use other third-party or home-grown apps built on the Outlook platform.  So while bringing Outlook 2013 to Windows RT would certainly bring a first class email app to the platform, it actually wouldn’t meet the needs of the customers who would really pay for it and justify the long-term downside to the approach.

Meanwhile Microsoft is working on Metro/Windows Store/Modern versions of many of the Office apps, and I believe they are trying to ship those within the next year.  This brings up two conflicts.  The first is, if Outlook 2013 is simply a better Mail/PIM than the built-in Windows apps and not the app platform it is on X86, and if “Outlook RT” will be available within a year, how could the short-term gain be worth the long-term pain?  Shipping both makes little sense if the time frame is really that short.

The second is a topic that Mary Jo explored, which is the relationship between Office RT and the built-in Windows Mail, People, and Calendar apps.  I am sure that the Windows (Live) team is actively working to bring the built-in apps up to a more usable standard.  But in this case, how much of a difference will there be between them and Office RT?  In the old days when we had Outlook and Outlook Express there were significant differences.  Outlook supported Exchange, Outlook Express didn’t.  Outlook had full calendaring, Outlook Express didn’t.  Outlook Express supported Hotmail, Outlook didn’t without a kludgy add-in.  Etc.  But over the years, particularly with Hotmail’s adoption of the EAS protocol, the justification for two email clients has diminished.  So how will Microsoft differentiate a major upgrade to the built-in Windows Mail/People/Calendar and Outlook RT?  They might not be able to.  And thus they are probably debating if Outlook RT should just replace the built-in apps.

A year from now the mail client situation on Windows RT will look very different from today.  Hopefully we’ll have only one client with the richness (if not extensibility) of Outlook.  One that is a full Windows Store app.


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27 Responses to Outlook RT for Windows RT

  1. Joe Wood says:

    Another reason releasing desktop Outlook for RT would be a bad move is the signal it sends to the developers and ecosystem about the confidence Microsoft has on their new platform. It would say: “we tried to port Outlook’s functionality to WinRT but failed, so we’ll release Outlook desktop instead”. That’s important given current sentiment.

    On the issue of supporting regular mail and Outlook, this is a difficult one. Outlook.com is the name of the service now, so calling the built-in mail client in windows 8 “Outlook” may confuse customers. In theory, the app should be free and part of Windows 8. If connected to an Exchange Server it should light up with functionality. But what if Gmail gains similar functions? Should the Windows 8 mail client still light up? Even if Microsoft is not receiving money for the service?

  2. I think that conversation goes more like “Need Siebel for desktop Outlook on Windows RT? Sure, we’re working with Siebel on getting that ported to the new HTML Office apps model in Office 2013; it’ll work in SharePoint too. But no, you can’t share from the Windows 8 SAP app you just started using into desktop Outlook, so you’ll have to train users to send mail that shares things from Mail and read it in Outlook; is that OK? No? Well, which requirement is more important to you?”

    And the existing desktop Office applications already commit Microsoft to a support lifecycle so that hardly flies as a problem. The issue is forward-looking platform technologies vs existing functionality vs what is the tablet usage model.

    • Brian says:

      Consumer product lifecycle isn’t the same as enterprise product lifecycle. Consumer software products get 5 years of support total. Enterprise software products get a minimum of 5 years of mainstream support and 5 additional years of “extended support”.

      The published support lifecycle for the Surface RT product provides only 4 years of support (i.e. support ends on Patch Tuesday in April 2017) because it is considered “consumer hardware”, a category with it’s own rules. You can find this on the standard Microsoft support lifecycle site (look under “hardware”).

      Putting an “enterprise” label on something for the Surface RT would confuse things immensely (from a support point of view).

      • halberenson says:

        Microsoft has not announced a support policy for Windows RT, only for the Surface hardware itself. Until they do we really don’t know the rules.

        However, “Consumer software” usually refers to things like Encarta and Money, not operating systems. Windows 8 support goes out to 1/10/2023 and it is possible that is what the Windows RT version of Windows 8 would get as well. However, since you can’t buy Windows RT separate from hardware it is possible that its life will extend to the last date that any manufacturer (including Microsoft) supports any hardware running that OS. But Enterprises, to whom Microsoft is indeed selling the Surface and Windows RT, will not accept such a definition. Perhaps that is why they haven’t published a product lifecycle policy for Windows RT yet.

    • halberenson says:

      That’s Microsoft’s argument for why the customer should buy a Surface, but not a good argument for why the Office team should bring Outlook 2013 to Windows RT.

  3. Mark says:

    I read one analyst the other day who thinks Windows RT is already DOA. Not saying he’s correct, but initial reception appears to have fallen well short of MS’s expectations. Does that influence the Office team’s decision one way or the other?

    • halberenson says:

      No, because that analysis is full of bovine excrement.

    • Brian says:

      Some day, I’d love to see someone go back through the various prognostications that “analysts” make and score them (i.e. with the benefit of hindsight).

      I haven’t read an actual Gartner report in over a decade, but they used to put a likelihood estimate in their reports. Do they still do that? Has anyone ever applied basic statistics 5 years later to see how close they came?

      • halberenson says:

        I think Gartner still does probabilities.

        I have no problem with analysts, reporters, and bloggers who make rational but wrong predictions. Being right a high percentage of the time would require you to literally be able to see the future. Make a good solid argument for a scenario and express your opinion of the one you think will play out and you’ve done your job. But sometimes they are just such stupid analysis that you wonder what they did in life to kill off so many brain cells. Other times they just show they don’t understand the organization or topic they are writing about.

        Today on CNBC everyone was spouting off analysis of the 128GB iPad that was so devoid of anything that made sense that Vogons listening to the broadcast would conclude there was no intelligent life on Earth and proceed to destroy it (to make way for an intergalactic highway). Ok, it wasn’t quite that bad. 1 out of about 12 of the analysts and reports I heard comment said something that demonstrated some intelligence. Maybe that’s why Earth is still here.

        • MarcelDevG says:

          “Vogons listening to the broadcast would conclude there was no intelligent life on Earth ”

          The road ahead I think will be a html/css/javascript based Outlook, as everything goes that way, the plug-in development model, Dynamics, the move to the cloud, etc….

          In the meantime, the current mail program on Windows RT is really bad!. So, there’s opportunity for third party programs!


  4. I’ve lamented that my Surface RT doesn’t have Outlook but now I’m hooked on using Xobni so unless there’s Xobni RT I probably won’t be able to use it.

  5. Dan Sutton says:

    Hmmm… I have to believe that whatever they do with Outlook, it’s got to be better than the native RT mail client, which I studiously avoid using. We’ll see… but despite the fact that the cloud services can share all my different mailbox setups between the various computers I have running Windows 8, I still use Outlook for everything and never use the RT client — as it turned out, I only ever set it up just to see what it would do. I wanted to use it… but in the end it turned out to be a failed experiment. Shame, really.

    • halberenson says:

      Why the built-in apps are so wimpy at V1 is one of life’s great mysteries. But Outlook RT or not, they almost certainly will be n par with other mobile device email/calendar/contact apps by V2.

  6. WTF says:

    “The road ahead I think will be a html/css/javascript based Outlook, as everything goes that way, the plug-in development model, Dynamics, the move to the cloud, etc…. ”

    Dear god I hope not. Outlook would go from a powerful enterprise class application to Google Apps if that’s the case — good enough for 75% of small businesses, crap for anybody else.

    • halberenson says:

      I expect that an “Outlook RT” will be comparatively light weight for V1.0 and then grow to be a more complete client desktop Outlook replacement. But that doesn’t mean it will be a functional clone. Particularly in its extensibility model.

    • Joe Wood says:

      I think one of the reasons the current email client is so slow and cumbersome is the fact that it’s written using WinJS HTML/JS (correct me here if I’m wrong, this is what I understood from the initial analysis). I don’t completely blame the language “projection”, but I think a native email client is a must.

      • Tim says:

        But don’t WinJS/HTML and C#/XAML sit on top of the WinRT just like a C++ app…at least for WinRT-targeted apps? In other words, a modern (formerly “metro”) Windows app should be the same regardless of whether it was done with C++/DirectX, C++/XAML, C#/XAML or WinJS/HTML, right? (Not saying that C++ doesn’t have obvious performance benefits when written against the Win32 API. But for modern apps, I thought they’re all going against the WinRT stack so it shouldn’t matter.)

    • MarcelDevG says:

      Well, the plug in model moved to html/css/javascript. There will be no more investments in the current model. But they will keep it compatible for a while.
      That’s wat the office dev people told me at /Build 2012…..


  7. Dave O says:

    Now if they’d made a Metro port of the “Windows Live” mail app we possibly wouldn’t all get so excited about a potential Outlook for RT.

    It’s just that the bundled mail & calender apps are SOOOO lacking!

    • halberenson says:

      Sadly the built-in apps were produced by the organization responsible for the Windows Live Mail app. That’s what makes it so odd. The same management that is pushing hard to make outlook.com the richest web mail offering imaginable made a client app that is still in Beta mode from a functionality standpoint.

      • Muz says:

        Perhaps that is why the native e-mail client is garbage, they want you to use Outlook.com instead? …and they don’t want to release “Outlook RT” for the same reason…

        Besides, Enterprises whould buy Surface Pro and get the full desktop version.

        Of course you will then have to lug the heavier Pro around, including the power supply because the battery won’t last…

        For me, the only way I would buy a Surface at all is if I can have Suface RT with OutlookRT.

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  9. Interesting read…
    In your example you call out a legacy add-on that would prevent a large pharmaceutical company from deploying Outlook RT. This is a classic example of “backwards compatibility being an anchor to innovation”. This kind of thinking is very typical from a technical person (guilty as charged) as they think through all of the various uses cases, however, at the end of the day, it’s like saying: “Why bother wearing a seatbelt if there is a chance that the seatbelt ends up locking me in the burning car that I just crashed.”
    One forgets that there are many folks out there that run Outlook today in a non-domain joined environment (especially with all of the small and medium size companies moving to Exchange Online via Office 365). Outlook runs the lives of many of my friends and colleagues.
    In my opinion, this argument that Microsoft shouldn’t develop desktop Apps for Windows RT is a bit silly as this OS dichotomy is in fact a feature of Surface RT or any other Windows RT device that utilizes a keyboard and mouse.
    I believe Outlook RT would absolutely accelerate Windows RT sales.

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