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First look: Microsoft Outlook 2015 promises few new features but better performance

Christopher Breen | Nov. 17, 2014
Breaking with tradition, Microsoft recently issued a new version of Outlook for the Mac. Normally, the company waits until all of its Office components are finished and then releases them as part of an application suite.

Apps. Outlook now includes apps — contextual widgets that enhance your email messages. For example, bundled with Outlook is a Bing Maps app. If a message has an embedded street address, a Bing Maps entry will appear on the top-left of the message. Click on it and an inline map appears showing the location contained in the message.

You can access additional apps by clicking the Manage Apps entry at the top-right of a message. When you do, you're taken to the Outlook Web App page where you can enable or disable apps you currently have as well as obtain new ones from Microsoft's Office Store. You can, for example, add a FedEx package tracker or install a widget that translates email messages.

Weather conditions. The Calendar component has changed little but for the addition of weather forecasts. Taking advantage of OS X's location services, you simply ask Outlook to update your location automatically and current and forecast weather conditions appear near the top of the calendar. You can ask it to search other locations as well.

Send feedback. Previous versions of Outlook let you send feedback to Microsoft via the Send Feedback About Outlook command in the Help menu. Outlook 2015 makes that action cuter. Just below the Search field is a gray smiley face. Click on it and two entries appear — Tell Us What You Like and Tell Us What Can Be Better. Select one and a Microsoft Office Feedback window appears where you can enter feedback, include a screen shot if you like, also optionally include your email address, and send your message.

Under the hood

You can hardly be blamed for feeling that this release is a little underwhelming in regard to new features. But talk to any longtime Outlook for Mac user and they'll tell you that the primary features they want from the app are stability and speed. Outlook 2015 promises both.

New database. Outlook's database was notorious for its susceptibility to corruption, particularly if you had a lot of email messages. Microsoft has jettisoned its old proprietary database and instead adopted a SQLite database. Microsoft claims that the database will be both faster and more robust. If this ends the crashes and corruptions of old, it alone makes the upgrade worthwhile.

Pushier email. If you have an Exchange account you may have noticed that these messages often arrived on other devices before Outlook became aware of them. This is due to the way Exchange Web Services (EWS) polled the server for new messages every minute or so. The new Outlook does away with this delay and so, through push notifications, you should receive messages as soon as they hit the server.


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