Outlook RT unveiled

With Windows 8.1 for Surface RT comes a new Outlook – what’s it like?

If you have a Surface RT device then there’s an update to Windows 8.1 available* and within that is a new Office program – Outlook RT.

The ‘RT’ versions of Office programs look much like the traditional Windows programs but have been remade to work with the ARM chips instead of Intel.

There’s already Word RT, Excel RT and PowerPoint RT but, until now no Outlook. Without Outlook you have to rely on the Windows Mail App, which is a poor substitute.

Moving a program to another platform is big and largely thankless task. The end result should look and act the same as the original program but ‘under the hood’ is a lot of work as the fundamental foundation of the program has changed.

So it’s nice to say that the Outlook RT team has done an excellent job. There’ll certainly be bugs to squash but it came through our testing without any complaints.

When you start Outlook RT you’re prompted to setup email account just as you would with regular Outlook.

All the usual mail systems are supported – POP, IMAP and Exchange Server (naturally). That covers Hotmail / Outlook.com, Gmail and any form of Exchange Server including Office 365.

You could copy in an existing PST file (we haven’t tested that) and resume getting mail via POP. But we suggest storing your mail on a central server (Gmail, Outlook.com, Office 365 etc) and using Outlook to manage a copy of that information via IMAP or ActiveSync.

As you can see, Outlook RT looks warmly familiar to any current Outlook 2013 user.

Outlook RT overview image from Outlook RT unveiled at Office-Watch.com

There’s only a few obvious differences. The ribbon and folder pane are minimized by default to leave more room for the main contents. On the right are a series of buttons for reply/reply all/forward, delete, move and flag.

The other views, Calendar, Contacts etc look the same as Outlook 2013.

Keep in mind that, if you don’t have a keyboard attached then almost half the screen will be taken up with the virtual keyboard. Really if the Surface devices make any sense at all, it is with the better of the keyboard/cover accessories.

All this is intended for touch screen use but you can change that from the button on the Quick Access toolbar, the same button is available on Office 2013 programs.

Mouse - Touch control in Office 2013 image from Outlook RT unveiled at Office-Watch.com

Outlook RT is slower than you’ll be accustomed to but not as bad as we expected, even on the first generation Surface devices. However, as the PST/OST data file grows, Outlook RT will slow down. Unlike traditional Outlook, Outlook RT doesn’t have a lot of memory to use for caching.

Despite the arrival of Outlook RT, it’s hard to recommend Surface devices. The software support is still limited even after a year. Just one example, there’s no decent video player that can handle a range of formats like MP4, AVI, MKV etc. The VLC team have been working on a port to Windows RT but it’s been hard going. Microsoft can’t expect people to be tempted away from Apple and Android tablets when basic uses like playing video and audio aren’t decently supported.

The Office RT applications are OK but don’t bridge the gap between a touch interface and the keyboard/mouse world. There’s always the possibility of Office tile/Metro apps but it’s hard to see how those apps would have the broad range of features we’ve come to expect from Word, Excel etc on Windows or Mac.

Disk Space warning

Surface RT devices take up a lot of disk space before you even start using them. All devices have some overhead disk use but not to the same extent as Windows RT. As we’ve noted before, the ’32GB’ Surface RT gives you only half that space out of the box with 16GB to store your data and documents.

That’s an issue for Outlook RT since a PST/OST file can easily grow to 10GB or more these days. On a standard Windows computer that’s not a big deal but on a Surface RT machine you can exhaust the limited space very quickly.

If possible, limit the size of your PST/OST storage. For Exchange Server users it’s possible to only allow the most recent emails to be kept locally as well as choose which folders to synchronize – a new feature in Outlook 2013 and RT. IMAP and POP users don’t have the level of control.

What’s missing from Outlook RT

From Microsoft, here’s the list of what’s missing in Outlook RT compared to Outlook 2013

Macros, Add-Ins, Forms, and Custom Programs – there’s no VBA support in any of the Office RT programs so say goodbye to macros, programs and forms.

Site mailboxes – SharePoint integration with Exchange using site mailboxes is not supported with Outlook 2013 RT.

Archiving, Compliance, and Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Outlook RT doesn’t have the ‘premium’ features found in Office Professional Plus 2013, such as In-Place Archive, retention policies, DLP Policy Tips, and sending Information Rights Management (IRM) protected email.

Windows Media Player Integration Since there’s no Media Player in Windows RT (you read that right!) there’s no integration with Outlook RT. So there’s no voicemail preview nor name pronunciation assistance

Manageability through Group Policy – the tools that network admins use to control an organizations computers aren’t available on Windows RT and thus Office RT.

* at the time of writing, the Win8.1 upgrade for Surface RT devices is offline while Microsoft fixes an install bug. We must have worn our lucky socks when successfully upgrading our test machine.

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