Quickbitz – Outlook 2011 cost and Adobe shenanigans

How much is Outlook 2011 going to cost you?

Outlook Calendar

Outlook 2011 calendar on the Mac

As someone who has to use Microsoft Office extensively at work, I tend to take more than a passing interest in what’s on offer in the Mac version. Of course Office 2011 for Mac has been in beta for a while now and I have had a quick look at how its been shaping up, in particular Word and Outlook. First impressions are quite favourable and they’ve certainly done a lot of work. Word looks much more like its Windows counterpart with the ‘ribbon’ although functionally it’s still the poor relation. Whether or not some of the features I find useful in the Windows version (e.g. instant font preview) will make it into the Mac version who knows.

Outlook has also had a serious makeover, although the area that I’m really interested in, namely calendar synchronization, hasn’t yet made it into the beta builds (Contacts sync is there though). I for one will want to see how this shapes up as a lot of people, myself included, will be looking at ways to sync Outlook 2011 with Google Calendar, or even MobileMe and the iPhone. What has come as a bit of a shock though is the cost of Outlook 2011. Today Microsoft announced that Office 2011 will appear around the end of October 2010 and will cost $119 for the ‘Home & Student’ Edition. That’s Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Messenger.. but NO Outlook! If you want Outlook 2011 as well, then you’ll have to stump up another $80 to buy the $199 Office 2011 ‘Home & Business’ Edition (which will doubtless translate into something near £199 in the UK).

For anyone buying Office 2008 after August 1st, you’ll be able to get a free upgrade, but with the email client jumping ship from the ‘Home & Student’ Edition to the ‘Home & Business’ Edition, I wonder how that will work? I.e. Office 2008 Home & Student includes Entourage 2008, but Office 2011 Home & Student does NOT include Outlook 2011. All I can say is that for UK users of Entourage 2008 it looks like it’s gonna cost you a fair bit to get your hands on Outlook 2011. Also, there is no word on upgrade pricing for customers who bought Office 2008 prior to August 1st, and given that they’ve ditched upgrade pricing on the Windows platform, it doesn’t look good for the Microsoft faithful. I purchased Office 2008 Home & Student when I first got my Mac over two years ago, but if I was someone who’d bought Office 2008 just a month or two ago, I would be well miffed.

Will I be upgrading? Well Outlook 2011 would be my main reason for upgrading, but if it’s going to cost me nearly £200 to get it, then most probably not. If I can run a trial when it’s released so that I can explore all the synchronization features (and of course write about it), then I will, but I remain to be convinced that it would be a good use of £200 to upgrade.

Adobe, help yourself

Why is it that these big software companies feel they have some sort of right to take over your Mac? I have moaned in the past how installing Google Chrome allows a background process to run, checking for updates even when the main app you installed (in this case Chrome) isn’t even running? For most developers it’s enough to have a preference setting to check for an update when first launching the app.

Well I have to add Adobe to my list of companies who take the biscuit and try to litter your Mac with things you may not

Adobe Application Manager

Adobe Application Manager - never far away

necessarily want. Now there is no doubt that Adobe do make some great products. Photoshop Elements 8, Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5 to name a few, but one of the things that I’ve always had to do the hard way is to edit unwanted objects out of photos. You know how it goes – you take a picture of a beautiful landscape or architectural wonder only to find some person wandering around in the shot. Then it’s down to some deft use of copy/paste to try and remove the offender, which can be incredibly time consuming. So I was pretty excited to see the new ‘content aware fill‘ feature in Photoshop CS5 and decided to download the trial version… all 1.1Gb of it!

First up, Adobe made it pretty clear that I should download and install Akamai Download Manager first. You mean I’ve got to download and install an app just so I can download the app I’m really interested in? Well as it happens you can skip doing this and just download the trial directly, although it’s not so obvious at first glance. Then, having downloaded and installed Photoshop CS5, the first thing it tells me is that Adobe Air needs to be updated. What? Please don’t tell me installing CS5 has installed Adobe AIR?? That is something I don’t want on my Mac. Then it decides that the version of Adobe Bridge that I’ve got installed as part of Elements should be replaced with a new version, although once it’s done that the old version is still there (so I now have Bridge 4 and Bridge 5). Ok so all this I can live with if only to see how this intelligent new fill feature works.

Then as I wake my Mac up this morning, there it is… sitting in the menu bar. Adobe Application Manager! Yes even though I’m not actually running any Adobe apps at this point in time, there’s an Adobe app that’s checking for updates (and telling me that just 24 hours after installing CS5 and a bunch of updates, it needs to apply three more updates). There seems to be some sort of ‘attitude’ with these big companies that says, your Mac is there for us to use as we see fit. If we want to clutter it up with processes… we will. That may not bother many people, but if you’re interested in keeping your Mac running smoothly, then you probably want an idea of what tasks run on it and people like Google and Adobe who ‘do their own thing’ don’t help.

Have to say though, the content aware fill in CS5 is pretty neat. It doesn’t always work as desired but in many cases it does a grand job. Check out the video.

Xobni for Mac OS X

XobniWhen I was a Windows user (over two years ago now), I used MS Outlook 2007 as my email client together with a great plug-in called Xobni. Xobni added features that allowed you to do all sorts of clever things, analysing your mail, showing you trends, info about your contacts, searching, etc., etc.

Now that I’m (mostly) a Mail.app user, Xobni is one of the few things I miss from my Windows days. In the early stages of the beta there was talk of Xobni being made available for other platforms like OS X but the emphasis was obviously on getting the Windows version cooked first. Two years on and sadly there’s still no hint of an OS X version ever emerging. I say sadly because Xobni has some great features, plus if figures are to be believed, Mac OS X represents something approaching 9% of the desktop OS market meaning there’s a LOT of Mac users and thus potential customers out there.

So if you’re a Mac OS X user and you’d be interested in a version of Xobni for the Mac then tell them, either here or by commenting on their blog, or by emailing them, or by commenting below.Who knows, with Office 2011 for Mac on the horizon, maybe a new version of ‘Outlook for Mac’ would be just the impetus they need for a Xobni plug-in?

PS, in case you’re wondering about the name – Xobni is ‘inbox’ spelled backwards.

How much more expensive is a Mac?

2008 Mac Pro

2008 Mac Pro

When I tell people that I spent £1,700 ($3,000) on a shiny new Mac Pro, there’s usually a sharp intake of breath followed quickly by a “How much?!” and “You must be loaded!”. The trouble is it’s very hard to explain to these people where the true savings lie.

My Mac replaced a Windows PC that cost me in the region of £800 ($1,400) to build, excluding software. Add to that the Windows XP license, a copy of NOD32 Antivirus, ZoneAlarm Pro and Webroot SpySweeper which runs to another £200 ($355) remembering that with the exception of XP the other software carries a year on year renewal cost. Now we’re looking at a more reasonable £1,700 vs. £1,000 in the first year, although that figure still seems heavily biased in favour of the Windows machine. So where does the Mac make up the difference?

Time. More to the point… My time.

You see I value my time. Like everyone I like doing the things I want to do, and not so much the things I have to do, and that’s where Windows lets you down. Over the past seven months all my Mac has ever done is exactly what I’ve asked it to. On the other hand, my Windows PC has managed to consume countless hours of my time with various puzzles:

  • One Windows PC won’t connect to a share on another with a ‘not enough memory’ error, even though both machines have 2Gb. After much searching I find a registry hack is needed.
  • ZoneAlarm dies after one particular Microsoft update, wasting hours before I have to finally back out the change and wait for a fix. (I’ve now switched to Eset Smart Security).
  • SpySweeper flags some registry keys suggesting evidence of some really nasty trojan, prompting me to run full scans on everything only to find out it was a false positive.
  • Every 2nd or 3rd reboot of the XP machines results in a blank desktop, prompting further reboots until it mysteriously returns.
  • Outlook becomes unresponsive for no apparent reason and then refuses to load properly until the machine is rebooted. Ultimately I backup my mail, then uninstall and reinstall to try and fix the problem.

I could go on, but it’s a list that is very familiar to tens of thousands of Windows users worldwide. Net result is that I spend needless hours nursing my XP machine along, not to mention the stress levels and over the course of seven months that more than makes up for the higher initial cost of the Mac. Don’t get me wrong, Windows XP is the most stable version of Windows there is for a lot of people, and I dare say there are lots of you who could quote me stories of ‘reliable’ Windows machines. Truth is, I own one myself – it’s a PC running Windows 2003 Server that sits in the loft and backs up my data. Yes I do have the intermittent connection problem where the shared drive on the server disappears from the OS X desktop, but aside from that it sits there and does what it does – helped a lot I’m sure, by the fact that I leave it alone. (I’m currently assessing MountWatcher as a solution to this random ‘disconnect’ problem).

My Windows XP PCs (yes there are others lurking in my loft!) are now switched off most of the time, and when I need to run a Windows program I use VMware Fusion to do the honours. In fact I could argue that my Mac Pro takes the place of several PCs – my XP ‘leisure’ PC, my XP work laptop, my experimental OpenSUSE PC and the dedicated PC I use for remotely supporting clients, as all those bits of hardware are now virtual machines on my Mac.

Now that’s good value!

My (all things Apple) wish list

While I ponder whether or not the Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro was such a good purchase, I thought I might bore the world with my Apple/Mac wish list. So here (in no particular order) are the things I wish were different in my Mac-esque world:

  1. A Logitech webcam with a microphone that supports OS X Speech Recognition.
  2. A ‘watch folder(s)’ feature in iTunes.
  3. Better (more intelligent) integration of OS X ‘Spaces’ on dual-monitor setups.
  4. An iPhone with a user-changeable battery.
  5. iPhones available on any UK network.
  6. An AT&T client for OS X.
  7. A choice of reasonably priced USB/Firewire add-in cards for the Mac Pro.
  8. A second CPU upgrade option for Mac Pro users with (only) one 4-core processor.
  9. A Mac Mini with easily upgradeable RAM and that supports more than 2Gb.
  10. A Blu-Ray DVD upgrade for the Mac Pro.
  11. An end to the $1 = £1 exchange rate on technology products (OK, maybe I pushed the scope of this list a little bit).
  12. Outlook to MobileMe syncing in Windows, WITHOUT having to install iTunes.
  13. Colour-coded categories in iCal.
  14. Better control of Time Machine built-in to OS X (I know you can get 3rd party add-ons, but this really should be built-in).
  15. Better login support for mapping SMB shares, not this Login Items bodge.
  16. A proper tree view in Finder. (I use Mac Rage, but it’s not ideal).
  17. A two or even three button mouse made by Apple!
  18. An Apple wireless keyboard with the same key layout as the wired one.
  19. At least one eSATA port on the Mac Pro.
  20. And finally (for now)… an Apple PVR/Blu-Ray DVD Recorder that supports DiVX, mp3, DVBT, FreeSat, has HDMI 1.3a, etc., etc., …and the bank balance to buy such a monster!

Duplicates on your Mac? Check Outlook!

They have been the bane of my life. Duplicate calendar entries and duplicated fields in my Contacts, all because I wanted to sync my important data between Outlook and my Mac. Things have certainly improved since I embarked on this quest, but a few stubborn calendar and contact items just kept coming back over and over again. No matter how much I ‘went back to square one’ or manually removed duplicate items in Google, iCal or Address Book, sure enough after the next sync they’d be back!

I just couldn’t figure it out. Everything in Outlook was exactly as it should be, yet Google and the Mac were seeing double. So, I went exploring again and to my surprise I finally found the culprit… Outlook!!

Outlook - All Appointments

Outlook - All Appointments

Now I’m using Outlook 2007 but I’m guessing that the same thing can happen in earlier versions. Let’s start with the calendar. When I’m in Outlook I always use one of three views – Day, Week or Month, and there’s not a duplicate in sight. However, when setting up a ‘work’ calendar in Outlook yesterday I started looking around for a way to change the default colour Outlook had chosen for the calendar. I went to the View menu, chose Current View then looked at my options. All Appointments caught my eye for some reason so I had a look. Great, a long list of everything that’s in my calendar and I mean everything! But – I could see duplicates. I flipped back to Month view and the duplicates disappeared, returned to All Appointments and there they were again, large as life.

In some cases I could see minor differences between entries, like ‘all day’ events that had different start/end times, other entries were identical as far as I could tell.  Even so, I didn’t figure out why my Outlook Month view was hiding these duplicates from me. Anyway, I deleted every duplicate I could find, sync’ed across to gCal and hey presto – the few duplicates that had persisted all along were finally gone!

I did the same for my Contacts. I found a view that showed ‘all fields’ for a contact and sure enough, the person had the same address stored in FOUR different places, all of which had been faithfully replicated across to Address Book on the Mac. Once I cleaned up this hidden data in Outlook, everything was fine.

What I haven’t managed to figure out is how calendar items and address book items got duplicated in the first place. Perhaps it was a result of my early attempts to sync my data with Google? Perhaps there’s something about how Outlook handles certain changes. In any case I’m just relieved that I’m finally seeing light at the end of my sync tunnel.

So my message is – don’t take it for granted that what you see using the standard views in Outlook is actually a true picture of what is there. If you’re suffering from duplicate entries in Google, on your Mac or even MobileMe after sync’ing with your PC, there’s a good chance that Outlook is hiding the truth!

The new improved Entourage 2008…

…same as the old improved Entourage 2008?

MicrosoftIt’s always interesting to see what’s new when Microsoft releases an update for their Office products, and Office 2008 is no different. So if you can’t contain your excitement any longer, have a look here to see how much better Entourage 2008 is going to be as a result of the latest 12.1.1 update released June 24th.

Scroll down the list, past the many improvements for Word, Excel and PowerPoint and you’ll finally arrive at… tada…!! ONE solitary change to Entourage to fix a problem when exiting sleep mode. Unfortunately, no fix for the calendar time display problem then? Ok, how about doing something with the database daemon to make it easier to get reliable backups of your Entourage data? How about a fix for the ‘new calendar entry display bug’? (That’s when new calendar entries won’t appear in month view until you scroll ahead of your current view and then back again).

Seriously though, I’m not expecting anything significant to change in Entourage 2008 until the next major release of Office for the Mac in 2012 perhaps. Talking of which, I hoping that the Mac team at Microsoft will listen to their customers and start adding the features Entourage so obviously lacks to make it the killer Mac email client. Surely it can’t be beyond them to spend a while looking at what’s in Outlook 2007 and adding it to Entourage 2012? Well how about gathering feedback from business and home Entourage users as to what they’d like to see? It’s all achievable, just don’t ask me to bet money on it happening.

MacBitz Calender 2.0

I’ll get there one day – a seamless instantly updated calendar on whatever platform I’m using, and with no duplicates!

Calendar v1.0Right now I’m doing a reasonably good job at keeping four calendars in step by using Google Calendar as a central hub and then running various bits of synchronization software to get it talking to the various platforms I use. It’s good but it’s not without its problems. CompanionLink for Google works beautifully, it sits there and just works which is what you want software to do (it’s a shame the same can’t be said for Lotus Notes 8.0 that it connects to, but that’s another story). Likewise, Google Calendar Sync lets Outlook 2007 chat to Google every two hours and it all works.

The fly in the ointment at the moment is iCal. For some strange reason it chooses to duplicate certain ‘All Day’ events when replicating with Google Calendar using Calgoo Connect. Calgoo itself seems to be working fine because those duplicate events don’t appear in either Google or in Entourage 2008 which syncs automatically in the background via its preferences. When I get a bit more time I’ll dig deeper and try to see why iCal is being difficult.

However, things are going to change as I am thinking about a new plan for my unified calendar and it’s based around the newly announced MobileMe service and the 3G iPhone.

As an existing .Mac user, I’ll be getting the free upgrade to MobileMe some time in July this year. I’ve watched the Guided Tour and have to say that it looks promising, particularly if the synchronization between MobileMe and Outlook 2007 works like they say it will. The other thing is Apple has finally seen the light and is allowing mobile operators to offer the iPhone at a much more realistic price. Whereas before the old iPhone was an eye-watering £259 with an 18 month contract starting at £35 from O2 (meaning the iPhone would cost you a minimum of £889), you’ll now be able to get it for just £99 plus £30 over 18 months. That’s still £639 over 18 months, but for what the iPhone can do that seems like a more reasonable price.

In my favour is the fact that I don’t change my mobile that often so maybe 18 months won’t seem too long. Calendar v2.0My trusty Orange SPV C500 is around 3 years old and is showing it’s age, with keys that work when they feel like it and a heavily scarred case. I had thought about staying with Orange UK and perhaps getting an HTC Touch Dual or maybe the Diamond or Touch Pro if Orange take them up, but as various commentators have pointed out – the touch screen while pretty good, is still an afterthought for the current Windows Mobile platform, plus the iPhone is largely navigable with just your finger while the Touch quickly has you using a stylus… something small and pointy that’s just begging to be lost!

The final link in my new calendar system is CompanionLink who have kindly pointed out that they are planning a version that will allow you to sync Lotus Notes with your iPhone. I can’t wait for this, and if it’s as easy and reliable as their current Notes to Google offering, then I’ll be, well… truly organized for a change.

What remains to be seen is whether switching to the MobileMe service lets iCal play nice with Entourage 2008, rather than duplicating birthdays and the like. The only other dealbreaker would be if I can’t get an O2 signal at home, in which case I’ll have to stick with MacBitz Calendar v1.0 for longer than I’d hoped.