Why Outlook isn't on Windows RT - and what you can do instead
21st Oct 2012 | 09:00
The alternatives to Outlook on Windows RT
Windows RT comes with 'Office'. That may not mean what you think it means.
You get Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote as desktop applications. And you should get the OneNote and Link Windows Store applications as well, since they're included in the Office 2013 licence, just like the iOS and Android versions.
There are limitations on what you can do with the Office applications on RT, because this is the Home & Student version of Office.
Using Office on RT for work
If you want to run a business using Office, you need a commercial licence, but if you already have a volume licence for your business, that will cover you on Windows RT as well (and again, if you have Office 365, that counts).
But whatever licence you have for Office, you don't get and can't run Outlook on Windows RT. There are a couple of reasons for that. The irritating one is that Microsoft thinks of Outlook as a business application, because it's far more useful when it's connected to Exchange, and few home users will have Exchange.
But plenty of people have Exchange at work and will want to get email, contacts, calendar and tasks from it on a Windows RT tablet. The official Mail, Calendar and People applications do some of that - but not all.
Outlook gets disconnected
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The better reason is that unlike Mail and any other Windows Store messaging application, Outlook doesn't work in Connected Standby.
This is the new 'better than Sleep' low power mode for Windows RT and System on Chip PCs (which means new Intel Atoms and some AMD systems). Connected Standby is like pressing the power button on your phone; the screen is off, apps aren't running, but there's still a network connection.
Incoming messages can arrive, whether they're emails, instant messages or even a Skype call, but applications can't keep the PC awake and running down battery.
The fan is off to save power (and because leaving the fan running when you stuff a PC into your bag is more likely to make it overheat than keep it cool). Windows Store applications are suspended, desktop applications think they've been hibernated and desktop services think your PC is running incredibly slowly (in technical terms, they've been throttled).
Say you're sent 100 emails overnight while your Surface RT is in Connected Standby. In the morning, when you turn the screen on the Mail app will already have those 100 messages ready for you to read - even if you're out somewhere with no internet connection.
The same thing happens with Mail on a Windows 8 tablet with Connected Standby, but Outlook won't have any of those 100 emails and it won't get them until you get somewhere with a connection.
If your first meeting of the day has been changed, the Calendar app could tell you but Outlook couldn't. And if someone added an important task to your to-do list in Outlook, you'll have to wait until Outlook gets a connection, because neither the Mail nor Calendar apps show you your tasks.
Getting messages in Connected Standby is just one of the things a Windows Store app can do that desktop Outlook can't.
Windows Store apps can also work with the Share and Search charms, so you can send the recipe you find to a friend by email or search all your email from the Start screen with Mail. To do that in Outlook, you have to go and do everything on the desktop.
Apps to fill the gap
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Do you need Outlook on Windows RT? After all, there aren't any smartphones or tablets today that have the same features as desktop Outlook. But the appeal of Windows RT is that it's supposed to give us the best of desktop Office on a tablet.
Without Outlook, you can't use colour-coded categories, create rules to handle new messages, see Mail Tips, easily get information from an email into a meeting or even mark email as spam.
The Mail, Calendar and People apps are getting better with each release, but you don't get any of those features.
Early next year, Nitrodesk will release TouchDown For Windows RT, a version of the excellent Android mail and calendar app that will give you mail, contacts, calendar, tasks and even notes.
If it has everything that's in the Android version you'll be able to create events and tasks, set out of office messages and even use categories.
Until then, there are plenty of (free) to-do apps in the Windows Store that will sync tasks between all the PCs you use the same Live ID on. And several, including Tasks free, promise to add Google Tasks support in the future.
If you want tasks from Exchange, the first app to offer this is EziConnect, which also gets email, contacts and calendar information if you'd rather see that in one app.
We had some issues getting EziConnect to connect, and irritatingly you can't pin tasks to the Start screen.
Until TouchDown is out, the best option will be to use the Outlook Web App, which gives you most Outlook features in the browser (and it doesn't need to be the desktop browser).
If you have Exchange 2013, the Outlook Web App gives you all the features of Outlook, with the same interface. And you can even use it offline.
You can't get new mail while offline of course, but you can read email (up to 400 messages in the inbox, Drafts and other recently used folders), write messages, look at your calendar (up to one year of appointments) and create new meetings.
You'll even get alerts for meetings, in the browser at least. Go back online and your offline messages are sent automatically.
Despite some earlier rumours, all that works in the Metro version of IE on Windows 8 today, not just the desktop browser. That means the easiest way to get Outlook on Windows RT will be to use it in the browser.