What was the relationship between Outlook and Outlook Express?

Brian wonders whether project Stimpy became Outlook Express.

As noted in the article, projects Ren and Stimpy were merged into a single project, which became Outlook. You could say that Stimpy became Outlook, too.

Outlook Express (code name Athena) was originally known as Internet Mail and News. This was back in the day when the cool, hip thing for Web browsers to do was to incorporate as many Internet client features as possible. In the case of Internet Mail and News, this was POP (mail) and NNTP (news).

After Outlook became a breakout hit, the Internet Mail and News project was renamed to Outlook Express in an attempt to ride Outlook's coattails. It was a blatant grab at Outlook's brand awareness. (See also: SharePoint Workspaces was renamed OneDrive for Business; Lync was renamed Skype for Business.)

The decision to give two unrelated projects the same marketing name created all sorts of false expectations, because it implied that Outlook Express was a "light" version of Outlook. People expected that Outlook Express could be upgraded to Outlook, or that Outlook Express and Outlook data files were compatible with each other.

Code name reuse is common at Microsoft, and for a time, the code names Ren and Stimpy were popular, especially for projects that were closely-related. (As I vaguely recall, there was a networking client/server project that called the server Ren and the client Stimpy. But I may be misremembering, and Ren and Stimpy may just have been the names of the two source code servers.) You may have heard the names Ren and/or Stimpy in reference to some other projects. Doesn't mean that your projects are related to any others with the same name.

Comments (23)
  1. skSdnW says:

    And how does (Vista) Windows Mail fit into the picture? Is it just OE with the COM API finally documented or a different beast? I know it dropped several useful features and integration with SHSetUnreadMailCount etc. And what about the Windows Live stuff that replaced it?

  2. Thanks for the Information about the underlying difference about Outlook and OE. It is really stupid and I cannot understand, why Outlook does not Support some simple things like file formates of the other program. Will it ever change?

    PS: I am also interested in the question of skSdnW

  3. DROP TABLE comments says:

    Windows Live Mail is still OE if you peel back the covers. Look at the Accounts dialog.

  4. cheong00 says:

    And I really miss OE when I found Vista mail client drops NNTP connectivity. Although few people join newsgroup these days, at that time that was the only connection between me and a few newsgroup friends.

    I'm not happy with the decision for Microsoft to drop NNTP (both client and server) at all. Although I know there are other NNTP server/client… I'm just unhappy.

  5. DROP TABLE comments says:

    Huh? Vista and WLM should support NNTP. Vista explicitly had it connect to a (now killed) MS NNTP server.

  6. bzakharin says:

    If I recall, Frontpage Express came with IE too. Was that related to Frontpage codebase-wise any more than OE was to Outlook?

    Also, I recall Outlook having a "newsgroups" menu item that launched Outlook Express. Did Outlook ever support newsgroups on its own or was this added in response to the name confusion?

    [I believe FrontPage Express was the real FrontPage, just scaled back. Outlook never supported newsgroups; it delegated NNTP support to Outlook Express (a case of the parasite providing value to the host). -Raymond]
  7. xpclient says:

    They decided to confuse the hell out of customers and their own employees intentionally once again by rebranding Hotmail to Outlook. Just the other day I contacted their incompetent support for Outlook.com help, they ask me "What version of Outlook are you running?" Not to mention the Outlook.com search was so bad when it transitioned from Hotmail that I was unable to search my emails properly for a long time. Regressions and constant reset of past innovation to make their latest technology sell is Microsoft's hallmark.

    [Please be mindful of the ground rules. "Incompetent" counts as disrespectful. -Raymond]
  8. Yuhong Bao says:

    What is fun is that some of the myths about attachments from blogs.technet.com/…/405887.aspx probably comes from confusing Outlook and Outlook Express.

  9. Yuhong Bao says:

    Background: There used to be technet.microsoft.com/…/MS01-020 which affected Outlook Express, and then people thought Outlook was affected too (it wasn't).

  10. stickboy says:

    I always considered Outlook Express to be a better email client to Outlook anyway.  I remember it had a better mail filtering system, and Outlook Express' had a much friendlier search interface.  Almost 20 years later, and Outlook 2013's search still doesn't provide a graphical date picker for selecting date ranges, and instead offers fuzzy things like "This Week", "Last Week", "This Month", "Last Month".

  11. A Regular Viewer says:

    They really are different. I've used Internet Mail and News as a work setup, way back when. Not to be confused with Internet Mail OR Microsoft Mail. One related and the other, very different.

    My take is, if you use Exchange, invest in Outlook. If not, Outlook Express, and nowadays Windows Live Mail, is good for any old SMTP/POP3/IMAP requirements. Using Outlook without an Exchange backend is overkill/underutilized. Of course, YMMV.

  12. alegr1 says:

    Microsoft Branding people need to be taken out and shot. This .NET/Active/Direct/Live bacchanalia needs to stop.

  13. Henri Hein says:

    I love Outlook Express.  I love it so much that I keep a 10-year old XP system around, just so that I can run Outlook Express on it.  I have not found a substitute.  I have not had good luck with the Windows Live suite.  I have tried several other light-weight (so-called) email clients, but they are just not the same.  I hate to pile on with the Microsoft bashers, but it does make one wonder what product management is thinking in abandoning such a crowd-pleaser.

  14. Yuhong Bao says:

    Don't forget how Entourage for Mac was renamed to "Outlook" for Mac.

  15. Boris says:

    @Henri Hein: the substitute for Outlook Express is Outlook 201x.

  16. Azarien says:

    I like Outlook Express and its slightly broken counterpart from Vista.

    I don't really like the newer clients (various versions of Windows Live Mail). They seem to be OE/WinMail fork, but feel kinda weird to use.

  17. xpclient says:

    [Please be mindful of the ground rules…. -Raymond] Sorry about that. You can delete the offending parts.

  18. foo says:

    Lamest way ever of going in for the kill.

  19. Entegy says:

    @Yuhong Bao Entourage wasn't renamed, it IS Outlook for Mac.

  20. Henri Hein says:

    @Boris: Thanks, I'll check it out.

  21. "SharePoint Workspaces was renamed OneDrive for Business."

    Microsoft's official position is that it didn't; they are different things. I am not judging… out loud here.

  22. Boris says:

    @Henri Hein: I used Outlook Express at home back in the 1990s, and now I'm using Outlook 2013 at work. I really can't complain, especially given the advanced editing features which are consistent with those I'm used to from Word 2013. I don't have an Office 365 subscription at home, but that's because I'm not working from home, so it doesn't really matter if my occassional email is sent via iOS Mail, Gmail web interface or whatever. The age of competing email clients is pretty much over.

  23. bzakharin says:

    There was also the Exchange that shipped with Windows 95 which was a mail client (also fax, Compuserve, and other things), so confusign product names for mail server/client/services go way back. Nowadays I actually use the Mail app for mail (yes, the metro one) on Windows 8.1 at home.

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