Around the world with Outlook ‘Road Warrior’ edition

When I travel, I rely on Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook to be my link to the world. At one point recently, in Korea, ISP problems left me no choice but to dial direct to the U.S. With link speeds running around 12Kbps and charges running several dollars per minute, I sure am glad that I was running Outlook 2001’s “Road Warrior” edition.

For starters, “Road Warrior” incorporates a new “quick connect” feature. By maintaining connection on the central-site Exchange server, the session bypasses the time-consuming “start from scratch” logon/handshaking sequence. So, instead of waiting a minute or two after the modem answers, Exchange traffic starts flowing almost immediately.

The old Outlook/remote-access servers offered four common messages to an unsuccessful dial-up attempt: “busy,” “no answer,” “dial-up networking not responding” and “Exchange server not responding.” All of them meant the same thing – try again. This required manual intervention. For a road warrior, this means leaving the room thinking you are sending the file you promised and coming back hours later to find out that after one try, the system had given up and the important message languishes in your outbox.

Now, a bit of added logic lets you program the “synchronization engine” to respond automatically to situations where the connection just doesn’t go through. You can specify maximum retries, length of time to wait between retries and so forth. This dramatically improves your chances for a successful upload/download of your mailbag.

The best new feature, though, is what Microsoft calls LinkSense. Like Power Saver mode on your laptop, LinkSense provides connection-speed awareness to Outlook. This situation-awareness is critically important. When plugged into wall power, users care little whether the disk keeps spinning and the screen stays bright, but when running on battery the careful management of these functions is what allows users to eke out more life from the battery and improve productivity.

Correspondingly, we care little if a noncritical, multimegabyte attachment finds its way into our in-boxes when we are sitting on a Fast Ethernet campus LAN or even across a T-1 line. But it is the kiss of death when that same file tries to squeeze down a pipe like my 12Kbps trickle.

When LinkSense determines the pipe is 56Kbps or slower, it automatically adjusts its behavior – which can be further configured by the user. Only attachments directed explicitly to you are delivered. If you are a “cc” or “bcc” recipient, the file stays on the Exchange server. Your message lists the name and size of the attachment. Outlook calculates how long each download will take at the current link speed and prompts you to accept any file that will take more than 10 minutes. With older versions of Outlook, one could filter files with certain characteristics, but that left a lot to be desired.

The new edition even includes detailed state information, so you know exactly what Outlook is doing. No more wondering, “Is it hung or is it just thinking?” When it does crash, detailed logging and diagnostic utilities help pinpoint the problem.

However, “Road Warrior” is a figment of my imagination. Maybe some day Microsoft will buy into my outlook.

Tolly is chairman and CEO of Tolly Research, and founder, president and CEO of The Tolly Group. He can be reached at [email protected]

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