Integrating Instant Messaging and Email: Been There, Done That

In the article entitled Wonder Why MSN Didn't Think of This?  Mary Jo Foley writes

Or, maybe it has but just has yet to announce it…. On Monday, AOL announced a beta of AIM Sync, a tool that effectively turns Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client into a massive AOL Instant Messaging buddy list.

The implication here is that similar integration of instant messaging presence information does not exist between Outlook and MSN Messenger. This is actually incorrect. This feature exists today in Outlook 2003 and is called the Person Names Smart Tag. Below is a screenshot of my email inbox showing the feature in action.

email inbox shoing mike champion's online status

In fact, this feature is a cause of a common annoyance among users of MSN Messenger and Outlook. Many people have complained that they can't close MSN Messenger if Outlook is running. This is the feature responsible for that behavior. Disabling it removes the dependency between both applications.  

It's good to see yet another of our competitors learning from our innovations.

Comments (5)
  1. Nektar says:

    Yes but the implementation in Outlook has some bugs and lacks useful features. For example, you cannot sort your contacts by their online / offline status.

    In order for the feature to work you need to feel in for every contact the im field. This field is not filled automatically and does not auto-complete like the e-mail field.

    Also, the Actions menu in a contacts shows the command, Send Instant Message, but apparently it is always disabled. In fact, Outlook Express has much better integration with Messenger, than Office Outlook.

  2. Drew Marsh says:

    It should also be pointed out that if you run the MSN browser software (basically MSN’s version of the AOL client) which provides a rich client around Hotmail, the same feature exists. See here[1].




  3. Jon Leffers says:

    In my experience the main reason why this feature doesn’t work for me is because most of the outlook users I know (including myself) use Outlook for Pop3 or Exchange server access and have a seperate hotmail or msn email address for use exclusively with Messenger. I use Outlook to retrieve my email, therefore I have everyone send email to my Pop3 account and not my hotmail account. Most of my contacts do the same, so they only send and recieve email to/from their Pop3 accounts – not the email addresses used by messenger, so when I open an email from a contact that is in my messenger friends list, they don’t show as having a messenger account.

  4. Dude says:

    On Mac there is similar integration between the "Mail" application "iChat" and "Address Book"

  5. Paul Morriss says:

    I have Lotus Notes 6 which has similar integration with Sametime, it’s IM/videoconferencing etc. software. Do you know for sure that MS brought out this feature before IBM?

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