Is there life without Outlook?

I’m a huge Outlook fan. I’ve used it since Outlook 97, and before that, the “Exchange Client” that came with Window 95. Except for tasks, which live in OneNote, all of my day to day items live in Outlook.

The problem is, Outlook isn’t free. I have Outlook 2010 on my home PC, and Outlook 2011 on my MacBook Pro. Both of those were part of an Office license, so keeping myself in Outlook was a relatively small expense.

The problem of expense comes when I translate that to the scale of making Outlook available to everyone in my office.

We’re an (almost) all Microsoft shop, so of course we use Exchange 2010. Until Exchange 2007, Microsoft included an Outlook CAL with each Exchange CAL. Now they want you to buy Outlook (or Office) for every Exchange user. With over 100% growth in staff over the last 18 months, I just can’t justify the expense to myself.

The nature of our business is such that the majority of our users spend their days in a web browser, either using one of our in-house apps, or performing research on various state web sites. There is a lot of communication by e-mail, but the only real apps used are the web browser, Adobe reader, and Outlook.

Since having my users use OWA (Outlook Web App) as their e-mail client doesn’t require me to buy Outlook, I’d really like to replace that as the e-mail solution for everyone whose job function doesn’t require them to get the full version of Office 2010. (I might cover Open Office users later, since we use that too).

Also, moving away from the Outlook desktop client isn’t as painful as it would have been in previous versions. OWA now offers a great many compelling features as of the 2010 version. Some of these include: conversation view, delivery report, ignore, and the ability to forward as an attachment. Additionally, the web experience now almost mirrors the Outlook client experience.

So now I come to the bottlenecks in my plan:

1) I want OWA to be the “default mail program” for Windows

2) I want OWA to handle mailto links from webpages, and mailto calls from apps

3) I want OWA shell integration – meaning right click on a file, click “send to” and “mail recipient” and have the item so selected become an attachment in an OWA draft message

Many people have successfully accomplished the first two with registry hacks. I found examples at Experts Exchange and other techie sites, but no one seemed to have successfully managed the third.

Several discussion lists referred me to a product called ActiveSend by Messageware. I was hopeful. Their product seems to do everything I am looking for. I sent them an e-mail and was contacted by a sales rep. However, because their pricing is based on a subscription model, I decided not to pursue that route. Nothing wrong with the software mind you, I just prefer to pay once, and then either have an annual maintenance cost – or not. I’m not a fan of “when I stop paying you, I don’t get to use your software anymore”. No support, and no upgrades I’m OK with. You have to uninstall when you don’t want to pay us every quarter, not as much.

So, I kept looking, and found OWA Tray Monitor. I love it, it’s great. In addition to what I needed, it also gives new e-mail popups, upcoming appointment dialogs, and uses autodiscover seamlessly. Also, it is tiny, tiny, tiny. You need to have .NET 4.0 installed on the client (as well as OWAsmime and the Visual C++ redistributable), but otherwise it installs and works pretty effortlessly.

I’ve started testing with some new staff members, but if all goes well, we won’t be buying another stand alone license of Outlook again…

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