Sadly, in a Windows centric environment, such as an Exchange organization, the Macs often get left behind. The Macs can play nicely with the PCs in terms of collaboration, but we can probably never expect them to have all the same features that Outlook and Exchange are capable of achieving.
On a Mac there are really only two options for accessing your Exchange mailbox, and that is an IMAP client or an OWA (Outlook Web Access) based client. Thankfully for us, most Apple computers already have both of these; Apple Mail and Microsoft Entourage. Both of these clients can interface with Exchange both over OWA or IMAP.
Apple Mail is the email client of choice for most Mac users, but its not the most ideal for an Exchange environment. Apple Mail includes the Exchange protocol as a choice when setting up a new account, but it is a hybrid of sorts. The Exchange protocol in Apple Mail uses IMAP to access the mailboxes and then it uses OWA to access the public folders. This works decently with Exchange 2003, but unfortunately support for Exchange 2007 is completely broken (and as far as I have been able to test is completely broken in Mail.app 3.0 included with 10.5). At least with Exchange 2003 the email function works, but many users have reported problems when working with large mailboxes (2GB+) and when working with public folders. Mail.app has a tendency to corrupt its message database when it is working with large folders and then the mailbox has to be rebuilt. Rebuilding the mailboxes is a very easy procedure, but it is still an unnecessary waste of a few minutes while you have to wait for the database to piece itself back together from the .emlx message store.
Next we have the issue of using Exchange’s collaborative features with Apple Mail. Exchange allows users to share address lists and resources/events through calendars. Apple’s programs for dealing with calendars and address lists are iCal and Address Book respectively. Apple’s sync services can synchronize with the user’s address list from Address Book on an hourly interval to save changes back to the server. This is not the greatest solution because if a users is only logging in for short periods of time their information may not always be synced back to the server. Apple’s Address Book application also allows for the Global Address List (GAL) to be accessed as an LDAP directory.
Accessing Exchange calendars through iCal is possible using a third party program called Groupcal by Snerdware. Snerdware’s Groupcal is supposed to be able to map Exchange categories to different iCal calendars and synchronize at a user specified interval. I purchased and tried using Groupcal with Exchange 2003, and ultimately became frustrated with the mistakes that it made, such as duplicates and recurring event errors. Also, Groupcal struggled while I was editing other users’ shared Exchange calendars.
Ultimately, I recommend users stay away from using the Apple messaging/collaboration products in an Exchange environment due to the complexity of configuration and broken support for Exchange 2007 with IMAP and Exchange protocols in Mail.app.
Here enters our second contender for Microsoft Exchange connectivity on a Mac, Microsoft Entourage 2004. Entourage 2004 by no means offers perfect Exchange support, but at the moment it is the best solution that I have tested for Apple computers. Entourage 2004 offers access to all of the primary Exchange features such as:
- Mail via OWA
- Read/unread & follow-up message flags
- Public Folders
- Personal Contacts
- Shared Contacts
- GAL via LDAP
- Personal Calendar
- Shared Calendars
- Public Calendars
And what it does not support:
- MAPI (RPC over HTTPS)
- Server-side categories
- Server-side rules
- Message reply flags
- Free/Busy scheduling – Updating attendee status
- Shared resource scheduling
Here are some Mac extras that Entourage 2004 has to offer:
- Spotlight indexing/searching
- Sync Services (iSync support for mobile devices and Synchronization with iCal and Address Book)
Most basic Exchange users will have no idea that they are missing any features that their Outlook counterparts have access too. The differences between Outlook and Entourage are even less noticeable when a user only uses a single computer. It is likely that Entourage 2008 will fill in many of the voids of Entourage 2004, with features such as server-side search, message reply flags, server-side categories, server-side rules, and free/busy scheduling (when paired with Exchange 2007). If you are trying to decide which platform to put your Mac organization on, it at least makes sense to go with Entourage 2004 knowing that it will be an easy upgrade to Entourage 2008 later this year.
As a side note, I run Parallels on my Mac in coherence and use Outlook 2007 as my mail client with Entourage 2004 configured just for the purpose of mailto: links. I intend on asking the Parallels team if they can at some point make some code so that Outlook can grab the Mac mailto: links.