THE BLOG
01/06/2015 05:53 pm ET Updated Mar 08, 2015

The Dumbing Down of Microsoft Outlook

Many years ago, I used a personal information management program called Echo Pro. Its ability to manage and present information in different ways was exceptional. It did not "do" email, but that did not matter to me. Of course, Microsoft Outlook crushed it, despite not having nearly the flexibility.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, I finally upgraded from Outlook 2007 to Outlook 2013 and greatly regret the change. Microsoft appears to be catering to the lowest-common denominator: the user who only does email with Outlook, rather than the serious business user who wants to use Outlook to actually manage information. Nowhere is this clearer than in the removal of the activities tab and the journal function in Outlook.

You need only visit one of Microsoft's key competitors to understand this. Salesforce.com's page for small businesses leads with "Work smarter with a complete view of your customers, including activity history, key contracts, customer communications, and account discussions..." These are the exact abilities that were covered by the activities tab and the journal function in Outlook. It's as if Microsoft's slogan is "work harder, not smarter."

Microsoft has been dumbing down Outlook for years. First, it removed the contact field from tasks, so one could no longer link a contact with a task unless assigning it via email. But there was a registry hack to restore it, thankfully. But in 2007, searching in tasks did not look at the contact or contacts fields, a major change and reduction of the program's abilities. And one could still use the activities tab to find all such tasks. An adequate but not completely satisfying alternative.

And, of course, in 2013, Microsoft killed the activities tab.

One has to wonder what Microsoft's goal is in "delinking" the various modules of Outlook. If one can't link contacts to calendar or task items, it quickly fails to provide a true picture of all of your interactions with any one contact, a major selling point of Salesforce.com.

Microsoft would probably argue that most people did not use the journal feature or activities tab. And it may be right. But most people also do not use the vast, vast majority of functions in Word or Excel, but is Microsoft removing those functions? No. For those of us in sales, marketing, and other contact-intensive businesses, the activities tab and journal were mission-critical features of the program. Microsoft needs to restore them via an immediate patch to the program or risk losing even more market share to Salesforce.com.