Saving what many will consider the best until last, we come to Outlook. We’ll do Entourage as much kindness as we can, and simply that its replacement with Outlook is nothing if not welcome. The most useful feature day to day is likely to be the conversation view, which works just as you’d expect, grouping emails from the same, well, conversation together for easy reading.
If you prefer, however, there are numerous other ways to group conversations, whether by particular senders, by (colour coded) categories, by date received, or using a custom combination of all the possible options. These organisation features prove particularly useful combined with Outlook 2011’s support for combined inboxes.
Exchange support is as comprehensive as you’d expect from a Microsoft email client, and we had no problems connecting to, and syncing our mail calendar and contacts with, an Exchange server. Of particular note was that we didn’t have to set this up manually because Outlook 2011 supports importing of PST files from other versions of Outlook – a massive improvement on Entourage which used its own file format. The transition works from Mac to PC as well as vice versa, making switching platforms a less daunting proposition. The Outlook database even interfaces with Time Machine offering recovery options for your important emails.
Outlook’s calendar is comprehensively featured, too. Obviously to get the full benefit you really want to be syncing with an Exchange server, but even so there’s enough flexibility to let you micromanage your time to an almost obscene degree. Contact syncing is noteworthy as not only does Outlook sync with Exchange, you can also sync with OS X’s built in Address Book and with Mobile Me.
Obviously casual users aren’t likely to need the features that Outlook offers over Mail and iCal, which explains why the Home and Student version of Office for Mac 2011 doesn’t offer Outlook. But then, casual users probably won’t use 90 per cent of the features in any of Office’s applications. It would be unfair to penalise Office for being a more powerful productivity suite than most of its users really need – the point is, that power is there to be unleashed if and when needed.
If you're just typing up the occasional letter to a relative, managing your personal finances or performing similarly basic tasks, you could easily make do with iWork, or possibly even a free alternative, such as Google Docs. But when you need more power, you'll find yourself flagging long before Office for Mac 2011 does.