Entourage, the poor (and troubled) cousin

As a recent switcher to the Apple Mac camp, and a long time user of Microsoft Outlook up to the one included with Office 2007, I was decidedly underwhelmed with the default Mail application in OS X Leopard. I was used to seeing everything I needed to organize my day in one place – mail, contacts, calendar and to do list. The OS X counterparts were separate applications and seemed too, well… simple.

To be honest I probably didn’t persist with them for long enough before buying a copy of Office 2008 for Mac, in the hopes that Entourage would fill the Outlook gap. However as I was soon to find out, Microsoft don’t see Entourage as ‘Outlook for the Mac’, they see it as (deliberately) only having a subset of the Outlook feature set.

One of the biggest things you’ll find is the lack of customization possible. Apart from changing icons on toolbars, and where the preview pane appears, you’re pretty much stuck with how Microsoft designed it, and this strange lilac colour scheme. The Address Book for example is a table – that’s it. Yes you can sort on the various column headings, but there’s no Business Card view, Address Card view etc. With the calendar you can’t change the level of detail or look at it alongside your To Do list, and annoyingly on my monthly view it insists on using the 24-hour clock where everywhere in Office (and even Entourage) it uses the system setting of a 12-hour clock.

The second bugbear I have is that there is no easy way to migrate from Outlook 2003 or 2007 across to Entourage 2008. What were Microsoft thinking of? Why not give Entourage the ability to import .pst files from it’s Windows cousin?

But the biggest issue I have is that if data security. Entourage uses a monolithic database in which it stores everything. Your mail items, contacts, rules, yes I mean everything! This means that it can soon become unwieldy, plus it’s a pain to try and backup and restore, and even the Entourage evangelists seem to put out a mixed message.

In an article over at http://blog.entourage.mvps.org/2008/03/microsoft_ditch_the_entourage_database.html it says:

Time Machine and other backup applications must copy each file to a different location. To do this, the file must be closed. However, the Entourage Database is always open because of the Microsoft Database Daemon.

A daemon is a process on your computer that runs in the background. The Microsoft Database Daemon is constantly using the Entourage Database so that it can remind you of events, create Spotlight caches for searching and monitor the health of the Database itself. Even if Entourage is not running, the daemon is still using it.

If Time Machine or any other backup utility were to copy the Database file while it’s in use then the backup would be corrupted (although your original is still just fine).

That means that to make a successful copy of the Entourage database file you must kill the Microsoft Database Daemon process that runs even while Entourage is not running. However, another article on the same website says you just need to exclude the Entourage database from your Time Machine backup, then once a day close down Entourage, copy the database to another location and back that up, not mentioning the daemon at all. So who is right? Time will tell, but it worries me that I could lose my Entourage mail at any point and have no guaranteed way of getting it back!