Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Microsoft Is Working on New Outlook Apps Based on Its Web App

Zac Bowden, Windows Central:

Microsoft is building a universal Outlook client for Windows and Mac that will also replace the default Mail & Calendar apps on Windows 10 when ready. This new client is codenamed Monarch and is based on the already available Outlook Web app available in a browser today.

Project Monarch is the end-goal for Microsoft’s “One Outlook” vision, which aims to build a single Outlook client that works across PC, Mac, and the Web. Right now, Microsoft has a number of different Outlook clients for desktop, including Outlook Web, Outlook (Win32) for Windows, Outlook for Mac, and Mail & Calendar on Windows 10.

Microsoft wants to replace the existing desktop clients with one app built with web technologies. The project will deliver Outlook as a single product, with the same user experience and codebase whether that be on Windows or Mac. It’ll also have a much smaller footprint and be accessible to all users whether they’re free Outlook consumers or commercial business customers.

Some reports have interpreted this as though Microsoft will discard the Mac app redesign it previewed in September. I am not sure that is the case. The new version of Outlook for Mac looks an awful lot like an Electron app already.

Like most web apps in a native wrapper, this sounds like a stopgap way of easing cross-platform development at the cost of usability, quality, speed, and platform integration. To be fair, I am not sure that anyone would pitch today’s desktop Outlook apps as shining examples of quality or speed, but I spend a lot of time from Monday through Friday in the Outlook web app and it is poor.

It feels like a website, of course, so everything performs just a little bit worse. You can open messages in new windows if you would like but, because websites do not know how to do multiwindowing, everything appears by default in the same tab. The app generates multiple <div>s masquerading as tabs within its own tab, but it is HTML with window and tab management brought to you by JavaScript, so how well do you think that works?

My favourite bug is that when you are composing an inline reply it sometimes interprets the delete key not as though it should remove the most recently-typed character but that it should delete the current message thread. And, of course, you cannot undo that with a keyboard shortcut. If you miss the app’s built-in small notification balloon that appears nowhere near where you are typing but has an “undo” button that doesn’t look like a button in it, you’ll have to manually find the thread in the trash and move it back to the inbox.

Websites make for very bad apps.