It's About Time

During the planning and development of Entourage 2008, I’ve had a chance to meet with many Mac Exchange users and administrators to discuss the direction of Exchange in Entourage.  I’ve read the comments, suggestions, and constructive criticism from a variety of sources, including recently here at Mac Mojo.  One clear message has emerged from this feedback:  “We want an Exchange client on the Mac with features, performance, documentation, and reliability on par with Outlook.” Of course, we hear this in different and sometimes more colorful terms, but I think it boils down the same. Today, I’d like to begin revealing the steps we’re taking towards meeting these expectations in Entourage. Up first is an absolutely critical Exchange area that we’ve done a lot of work to improve… the Calendar.


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In the Exchange world, “Calendar” means a lot of things: delegation, free/busy, attendee tracking, invite mail flow, updates, recurrence exceptions, cancellations… I could go on, but the point is clear, there are a lot of moving parts involved in coordinating Calendar interactions, especially when workflows like delegation are involved. I’m excited to finally be able to show off some of the work we’ve done in the Entourage 2008 Calendar to improve the feature consistency and reliability of this coordination.
Note: You’ll notice some new looks in these screenshots. They’ll serve as a teaser for an upcoming post that will dive into the new look and user experience of the Entourage 2008 Calendar.

Accept, Tentative, and Decline from the Calendar
Attendees will now be able to reflect changes in meeting status directly. Calendar management actions, like declining a previously accepted meeting directly from the event, are more straightforward and consistent with Outlook. This fills a big functionality gap and addresses a top sore spot.


Meeting updates and cancellations
As a meeting organizer in Entourage 2008, you’ll have more flexibility in managing your updates and cancellations. You’ll now be able to choose whether to update your attendees about a change or cancellation and include comments. If attendees are added or removed from a meeting, you can choose to update all attendees or just those attendees whose status has changed.

Reply, Reply-all, and Forward
One nice thing in Outlook is the standard set of mail actions for meetings: “Reply, Reply All, and Forward.”  It’s easy to quickly correspond with meeting participants through e-mail without opening or changing the meeting, just click “Reply” or “Reply To All.” Another useful Outlook option is what we affectionately call the “Party Crasher.” An attendee can easily “Forward” their meeting to others they think should participate. Those additional attendees will receive their own copy of the invitation and can choose to accept if they agree.


Stale Invites
One complaint we've consistently heard is that invites and their subsequent updates pile up in the Inbox. Despite the presence of multiple invites, only the most current invite is valid. Acting (e.g. Accepting) on a stale invite is at best confusing and at worst, the root cause of missed meetings and an unreliable Calendar. Sifting through multiple invites, finding the most recent, and acting on it is an effective, but ugly solution. Thankfully, Entourage 2008 is smarter here. By improving the identification and handling of incremental updates, stale invites are now labeled as “out of date” and more importantly its accept/tentative/decline buttons are disabled. This leaves only the current invite active and aligns closely with Outlook’s behavior.  To further improve the situation, processed invites (e.g. accepted) will be moved to Deleted Items, also consistent with Outlook.  This relatively small addition has a big impact on reliability.

Conflict and Adjacent Banners
Invite banner accuracy is another area we’ve improved, especially around delegation and single user concurrent Outlook and Entourage Calendar usage. In addition to shoring up the accuracy, we’ve added Outlook inspired time management banners: “Conflict” and “Adjacent”. When an invite comes in, its banner will indicate a conflict or if you’re running up against another meeting.

No response requested
There are times when an organizer doesn’t care to receive responses from attendees. For example, large company meetings will often have unmanageably large number of optional attendees and response tracking isn’t of much use. Entourage 2008 respects “No Response Requested” invites and will simply create the event on the Calendar without sending a response to the organizer.

Exchange 2007
Exchange 2007 users will see additional Calendar benefits in Entourage 2008. We've added support for Availability Web Service, which Andy mentioned in his Out of Office post. We're extending Entourage’s free/busy feature to take advantage of the Availability Web Service. With the right permissions, full free/busy details (location, subject, status) will be visible to assist with scheduling meetings.

Also, Exchange 2007 has transferred the responsibility of automatically accepting meetings tentatively from clients to the server. This is another seemingly small piece of the puzzle, but will add another important layer of consistency between Outlook and Entourage. It makes a big difference. 

Another area where Exchange 2007 has taken responsibility from clients is Resource Scheduling.  Exchange 2007 Resource Booking allows clients, like Entourage, to book resources without requiring additional client overhead and UI complexity. (For Exchange 2003, look here and here)
There are other highly requested features opening up for Entourage because of new capabilities in Exchange 2007. You’ll be hearing more about this soon…

It’s good to be able to show off some results from our efforts to improve Calendar UI consistency and workflow reliability with Exchange. We've also made substantial changes under the hood to better handle areas like recurrence patterns, negative exceptions, single instance cancellations, attendee tracking, and shared/delegated calendar interactions. We've partnered closely with our friends on the Exchange and Outlook teams on some important fixes and design changes from their end. The steps we've taken to build up this coordination within and between the moving parts represent a big move forward for Exchange in Entourage. I've heard and read the stories. We know there is real pain out there. Delegation, for one, is a serious point of frustration. We’ll soon have much more to say about Delegation and other Exchange topics we know you’re anxious for us to get into. OK, back to work…

- Richard