I travel a lot. I’m in and out of our Seattle and Mountain View offices on a regular basis and spend way too much time sitting on the airplane. One of the most frustrating things about using Entourage 2004 is that every time I travel, I have no easy way to indicate to folks e-mailing me that I am unable to reply for the next few hours. Microsoft’s culture is driven by e-mail communications and not responding to an important e-mail in the middle of a workday is the equivalent of skipping an important meeting or not answering your boss’ phone calls. It’s a tough standard to meet when sitting offline at 30,000 feet.
There’s a real handy feature in Exchange, Outlook and Outlook Web Access called “Out of Office. ”Around here, we call it “OOF” (pronounced ooo-ph–see more historical details on the Exchange team blog). OOF allows you to configure your Exchange account to automatically reply to incoming messages with a quick note telling the sender that you are not able to respond because you are currently out of the office. Whenever I fly, I set my OOF to respond with the time I should be back on the ground and connected once again. The message is generated by the server, so I whenever I close my laptop and hop on the flight, I am confident that my coworkers are still notified of my current status.
This hasn’t always been very easy on the Mac. For years, you’ve had to launch Safari, log into Outlook Web Access, and hunt down my Out of Office settings. Then, after every flight and an Inbox full of new messages demanding attention, you must remember to log back into Outlook Web Access and turn the auto-reply off. Personally, I forget to do this a lot, only realizing my OOF message is still on a week later after a coworker replies with “are you still on vacation?”
With Entourage 2008, you now have the ability to configure your Out of Office settings without ever launching your web browser. It’s now right there, in Entourage’s Tools menu. Just like in Outlook 2007, you can configure your OOF to send separate replies based on who sent you a message and automatically turn on and off between certain date and times—no more worrying about remembering to turn off your OOF message.
For setting OOF, Entourage communicates with an Exchange 2007 server in the exact same way as Outlook 2007, through web services. As Craig mentioned, we’ve worked a lot with the Exchange team on determining ways we could bring new functionality to Entourage in the future and OOF is one of the first features taking this exciting new direction. For users on Exchange 2000 and 2003 servers, OOF will continue to work, though the more advanced features under “more options” are not available.
One question: the protocols we use to communicate with is exactly the kind of information we’ve included in updates to our Office Resource Kit and will be included in updates for Office 2008. However, we realize there’s a lot more issues you’d like to hear detailed from us. We’ve been working on publishing Entourage-specific articles on TechNet. Any suggestions for topics that would make your life easier as someone in an enterprise with Entourage users?