Office 365 vs Open-Xchange – Web E-Mail Client

(This post is part of a series comparing our experiences with Microsoft Office 365 and Open-Xchange e-mail hosted by Rackspace. Click here for the overview)

Office 365 Client

I have used Microsoft Outlook on the desktop for about 15 years for my personal POP-based e-mail accounts and have generally been quite happy with it. As such, I had high hopes for Office 365. Get the same function as Outlook in a web browser? It sounded promising.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The Office 365 e-mail client is definitely not Office reimplemented in a browser. Rather than simply moan, however, let’s cover three specific points that I can give side-by-side comparisons for.

Threaded Conversation View

Confusing Conversation View

Confusing Conversation View

Somewhere in the lab that invented Mr. Clippy for Microsoft Office about 20 years ago, a brilliant idea emerged that e-mails should be grouped as threaded conversations. To be fair, the idea may have some merit. Unfortunately, its implementation in the Office 365 mail client is confusing. E-mails disappear. You can’t see what came in which sequence.

Of course, you can turn the threaded view off. However, Microsoft is so sure that the threaded view is good for you, that they don’t let you turn it totally off. You have to turn it off for each folder, one folder at a time.

Junk Mail Folder

Junk Mail Folder Easy to Overlook

Junk Mail Folder Easy to Overlook

Can you spot the junk mail folder in the image at the right? I wasn’t able to either. Unlike most e-mail clients, rather than placing the junk mail folder at the top of the display, Office 365 sorts “Junk Mail” into the alphabetical list of your personal folders. In this position it is easy to overlook. This problem is compounded by the fact that the Office 365 junk mail filter isn’t very good and generates a rather high percentage of false positives. I missed quite a few important messages before I figured out what was going on here.

Contacts

The handling of e-mail and other contacts is the most infuriating aspect of Office 365. The poor design is especially appalling given the excellent design of Office on the desktop.

UI Won't Let You Copy E-Mail Address

UI Won’t Let You Copy E-Mail Address

If you want to open an e-mail, mark an e-mail address, and copy the address to the clipboard, the UI actively fights you. Microsoft has decided that it is against the rules for you to simply copy an e-mail address to the clipboard and do something with it. Once you have selected an e-mail address and right click you are NOT allowed to copy it. You are required to create a contact for it.

Add to Contacts Triggers Pop-Up Blocker

Add to Contacts Triggers Pop-Up Blocker

OK, I give up. I will create a contact for it. (Even though what I wanted to do with the e-mail address had nothing to do with creating a contact for it) Opps! The Office 365 add-to-contact function is specially designed to trigger popup blockers in every browser known to man. In fact, the excessive use of popups is a common thread throughout the Office 365 experience.

Add to Contacts too Stupid to Guess Name

Add to Contacts Can’t Guess Name

Once you do decide to make a contact, the implementation is really primitive. It isn’t smart enough to guess anything. Even if the person’s name is right in front of the e-mail address, the Office 365 function won’t guess the name. Instead you will have to type it in from scratch.

Rackspace/Open-Xchange Client

So, how does the Rackspace E-Mail client compare?

Threaded Conversation View

Open-Xchange - Compact, Responsive, E-Mail Interface

Open-Xchange – Compact, Responsive, E-Mail Interface

the Rackspace e-mail service is based on Open-Xchange technology. The browser client is compact, efficient, fast and intuitive. There is no threaded view. Traditional. No unnecessary distractions. It just works like you expect an e-mail client to work.

Junk Mail Folder

As you can see from the figure above, the spam folder is at the top of the explorer where you would expect it to be. Also, the key system folders (Inbox, Drafts, Sent, Spam, Trash) are subtly separated from your personal folders making them easy to find.

Contacts

Open-Xchange - Contacts Easier to Add

Open-Xchange – Contacts Easier to Add

Contacts are easier to add in the Open-Xchange client. The contact form does correctly guess the person’s name. The UI does not fight you and prevent you from copying and pasting e-mail addresses.

Although the contacts implementation in Open-Xchange is better than the implementation in Office 365, it is still not everything I would wish for. What I want is something like this:

  1. Multiple Folders – I want to have my own personal contact folders as well as folders shared with different sets of people. For example, I would like to have a family folder, a department folder, and a company wide folder.
  2. Nested Folders – I want to be able to either have multiple personal folders or nested folders so I can organize a lot of contacts. That is, I would be happy to have say 10 personal folders with different names and 4 folders shared with different sets of people.
  3. High Function Editor – In terms of editing, I like the contact editor in Microsoft Outlook for the desktop. I want to be able to easily set pictures for contacts. I also want to be able to use rich text in the notes field. I use the notes field to keep track of all kinds of things I know about that contact. I want to be able to put lists, set fonts, make certain items bold, etc..
  4. Download to My Mobile Devices – I want all of the contacts to download to all of my mobile devices. I want ALL the contacts to download (including the shared contacts). I want ALL the information in each contact to download including images and rich text, and I want the folder structure to be retained on my mobile device.
  5. XML Export and Import – I want all of the contact information to import or export in some well-defined and open format. I would like the images and RTF note information to extract to well-defined individual file names and have the entire thing tied together in an XML structure so that other software can interact with it.
  6. Nickname Field – I want an additional “nickname” field that can be either used for Western nicknames or to show Chinese characters for Asian names or whatever. Right now, I end up using the job description field, an imperfect solution.
  7. Free or Low-Cost Central Archival Service – I would like some sort of central archival service that doesn’t cost $50/month which all the different e-mail services, mobile devices, and so on can synchronize to. I would be willing to pay $2/month.

At any rate, even with mobile synch (an extra $1/month per mailbox) the Rackspace E-mail does not meet this level of requirements. Rackspace does offer a more expensive Exchange hosting service, but that would put me back into a lot of things I don’t like about Office 365.

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