Mac and iOS users: How to leave Outlook behind forever

Apple offers better mobile clients than Microsoft does, as well as a superior desktop experience

Mac and iOS users: How to leave Outlook behind forever
Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr

Practically any corporate user these days works with Microsoft's Outlook client for email, calendars, contacts, tasks, and notes. It's long been the standard in Windows, but if you use a Mac or an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, you know that Microsoft's clients are not very good on those platforms.

Outlook is slow and confusing on the Mac, as is OWA on iOS. And though the new, slicker but less-capable Outlook for iOS has improved since its poor debut, it can't handle POP emails (common for Internet service providers), out-of-office notifications, or anything other than basic contacts settings. It remains awkward at handling folders. Also, it can't access notes or tasks (neither can OWA).

That's OK because Macs and iOS devices come with really good client software from Apple -- Mail and Calendar -- that let you leave Outlook and OWA behind. 

Admittedly, Apple's other client apps are a mix bag:

  • The Notes app is merely adequate, but the new Notes app coming with iOS 9 is a major improvement. It's also simpler to use than Microsoft's complex OneNote app.
  • Contacts is very capable in terms of supported user information, but it falls apart in iOS in not allowing create or editing of groups, which must instead be done on a Mac or via iCloud. In iOS 9, you can finally address emails to groups, though still not edit or create groups.
  • Reminders, Apple's task manager, is basic and not well designed, but Microsoft has no equivalent for Reminders on iOS.

I'm amazed how many people don't use Apple's Mail and Calendar clients, instead suffering with Microsoft's. Typically, they fear they won't get all the capabilities they need from Apple's clients, but that's simply not true. Apple's clients do almost everything that Microsoft's Windows and Mac clients do, and they handle much more than Microsoft's iOS clients can take on.

The only significant omission for some users is in Mail, where you can't set up a delegated user, such as an assistant, to access your email from his or her account. Yet you can delegate calendars in Calendar on the Mac, such as for group calendars or management by an assistant. (On the Mac, choose Calendar > Preferences, go to the Accounts tab, then to the Delegates subtab.)

There are a couple tricks that let you take advantage of capabilities that Apple's clients don't seem to support, but actually do:

  • To set up an out-of-office notification on the Mac, right-click any folder in your Exchange account in the Mail app's mailbox list on the left side of the screen, then choose Out of Office from the contextual menu that appears. In iOS, go to the Settings app, go to the Mail, Contacts, Calendars pane, and select your Exchange account. Scroll down, tap Automatic Reply, then set the Automatic Reply switch to on. Next, set the dates for the reply, along with the internal and external reply text. (Before iOS 8.4, you couldn't set separate external and internal replies, but now you can.)
  • To book a meeting room, you have to invite the room (if it's set up in Exchange) as if it were a person using the Invitees field in your appointment. By the way, the same trick works on Microsoft's Outlook app for iOS and Android, as well as pretty much any other mobile calendar client.

Furthermore, Apple's clients work with core Apple services such as Handoff, which lets you start work on one device and finish it on another, and data detectors, where the operating system can recognize certain data in emails and other messages, such as dates and addresses, and with a tap add them to the appropriate app.

Still not convinced? Run the apps -- you can continue to use Microsoft's apps in parallel -- and see.

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