“Productivity” is hard to define, and though we touched on this subject earlier, it’s far from being complete. In the subjective summary we outlined how Vista’s improved installation and runtime speeds for various programs made it a “more productive” operating system than the rest, but it’s much more than that. Vista’s productivity suite is getting better and better, with quite a few valuable applications in the mix.
Windows Mail Review
It’s no Outlook, but Windows Mail (formerly Outlook Express in case you haven’t heard) is no longer in last place when it comes to email clients of choice. With integrated Spell Checking, a much refined interface, performance that’s been rewritten from scratch, and a host of a new options (some of which that aren’t even available in Outlook 2007 yet!), Windows Mail is in a prime position to overtake Thunderbird as the free Windows email client of choice.
Outlook Express has traditionally lagged behind Outlook TM in that it never was a true PIM. It may have had basic contact support, and with a lot of hacking it could store appointments, but it was more like listing appointments and contacts on a big, messy notepad. It had little to no organization for those fields, and it was near impossible to tie them in together. But now with Windows Vista,
Outlook Express Windows Mail is no longer just something a newsgroup client. It interfaces directly with the much improved Windows Contacts and the new Windows Calendar, posing a real challenge to other PIMs of its price (free!) and even threatening to take market share away from Outlook TM.
We’re not going into details about Windows Calendar and Windows Contacts right now because they’re reviewed right below, but suffice to say that they’re quite powerful. What makes Outlook TM different from Windows Mail is once you get to the business aspect of things. For an individual managing the day’s activities, Windows Mail and it’s various sub-components are more than enough: access to Hotmail or Gmail via the native POP or HTTP webmail protocols, sending messages via SMTP, a place to store your contacts, a way to reference them from emails or appointments and vice versa; it’s enough.
But when you get to anything more than that, say a way to access the company’s Exchange Server 2007, or if you have to manage various profiles and several accounts; and at the same time juggle several calendars for various appointments, Windows Mail just won’t cut it. Windows Mail is missing anything that is normally associated with businesses, such as SharePoint compatibility or even the ability to minimize to the taskbar, something that has long been requested from Microsoft (you can use Nighthawk’s WMTray application to pull that off though!). But overall, Windows Mail has everything the average home user or technology enthusiast will ever need from a mail client, including RSS support and a very flexible frontend.
You can take a look at Windows Calendar for yourself, it’s quite easy on the eyes. At face value, it’s very similar to Outlook 2007’s own stunning calendar design (which is no surprise, it’s the same company after all!), but that’s about where the similarities end. That’s not to say it’s not a good program, but you need to put it in its place. Windows Calendar is a great utility to quickly schedule appointments and keep track of your time, but if you’re looking for an advanced interface that lets you synchronize your mobile device with your contacts and merge the info into your calendar, you’re out of luck. Even without the mobile device bit.
Windows Calendar is a home utility that lets you put your appointments in a graphical interface, create occurrences, remember your wife’s anniversary and your kid’s half-birthday, and that’s about it. The funny thing is, it synchronizes with SharePoint Server. No, we’re not kidding. It literally strips all the (really useful) information out of the SharePoint sync, then it pastes it as plain text smack-dab in the middle of your calendar. Useful, but a bit unbalanced. If Microsoft is going to provide SharePoint connectivity as an option, what about SharePoint compatibility too?
Windows Contacts is Windows ME’s “Windows Address Book” reborn. There’s only so much innovation that can go into an address book itself (by “itself” we mean other than interoperability with email clients and Exchange servers), and Windows Contacts seems to have mastered them all. It’s the WAB with several new fields, and a kick-ass new interface to match. It looks Vista through and through (which is more than we can say for some other applications *cough* Windows Mail *cough*), and has all the 3D effects one would expect from their everyday address book. After all, what’s a contact manager without several photos for each contact and revolving 3D frames around their (hopefully) smiling faces? OK, maybe this bit of the review isn’t all that deep, but it’s an address book, it works, it looks OK, and it synchronizes with Windows Messenger (but not WLM) and Windows Mail. What more do you need?
Windows Meeting Space
Windows Meeting Space is one of those things in Windows Vista that have been severely under-advertised thus far. It’s an amazing improvement over NetMeeting, with support for ad hoc wireless networks to create a meeting, perfect for those last-minute meetings in the big conference rooms where you plan to fire the IT guy because of how easy it makes using advanced features on the PC.
Windows Meeting Space is a NetMeeting replacement, but you wouldn’t guess it from the performance or the interface. It works perfectly with any microphone or webcam that Windows Vista recognizes (the whole bunch really), and seems to work great with 802.11b even, though with slightly less quality than 802.11g-capable laptops. However, it disappoints us that there is no remote capabilities available, so that other users can tunnel-in through the big tubes that connect computers together all around the world.
It only works with Wi-Fi networks as far as we can tell, so that’s kind of a disappointment. It also doesn’t allow for “server-mode” connections and is capped at a maximum of 10 users (probably for bandwidth reasons, and it can probably be hacked by a registry tweak). It’s a no-nonsense application, it’s not heavy on graphics like the rest of Vista, but it works.
Believe it or not, Windows Vista ships with WordPad in its original undying glory and complete with its antediluvian icons. It’s amazing just how well this amazing program has survived through the years, ever since Windows 95 when we were thrilled to see a Notepad replacement that didn’t actually replace Notepad. Seriously speaking though, if Microsoft isn’t going to provide a heavily stripped-down version of Microsoft Word 2003 (no need for 2007!), then they shouldn’t ship Vista with WordPad included.
It’s a down-right shame for such a modern OS to have spell-checking in it’s Calendar but not in its word processor. WordPad needs to go, and MS needs to figure that out. But the odds are, come Windows Vienna, WordPad will still be there (together with the ever-living Fonts Dialog!!).