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Deciding if an Outlook 2013 upgrade is right for your organization

Organizations looking at an Outlook 2013 upgrade will compare its advantages and cost, but some will benefit from its new features more than others.

Since Microsoft has officially released Outlook 2013, many organizations are wondering if they should take on an Outlook 2013 upgrade. The best way to decide if Outlook 2013 is worth the upgrade is to look at what's new in the release. Even though Outlook 2013 is viewed as only a minor improvement over Outlook 2010, it has some new features worth considering.

One of my favorite new features in the upgrade is the Attachment Reminder. When a user attempts to send a message, Outlook 2013 checks the message's wording to see if there are any clues that the message should include an attachment. If Outlook determines that an attachment may be missing, it alerts the user before sending the message. This feature could be a huge time-saver and eliminate the frustration and lost productivity that come with receiving a message that's missing an attachment.

Microsoft also has improved offline caching. Outlook 2013 uses a new type of OST file that compresses mailboxes' content so they are up to 40% smaller than they were in Outlook 2010. A feature called the Sync Slider lets admins control the amount of data synchronized to the OST file. By default, Outlook 2013 synchronizes 12 months of data, whereas previous versions of Outlook synchronized a user's entire mailbox. The idea of shrinking the OST file and storing a limited number of messages might seem trivial. After all, desktop computers routinely feature multi-terabyte hard drives, so what are a few gigabytes of Outlook data? But for organizations switching to virtual desktops, controlling the volume of Outlook data stored on the desktop can be a big deal.

The Outlook 2013 feature that has received the most press is the inclusion of Exchange ActiveSync. Previous versions connected to Exchange Server using protocols such as MAPI, but Outlook 2013 makes it possible to use ActiveSync instead.

Outlook 2013 also has a few features specifically designed to work with Exchange 2013. For example, it supports Site Mailboxes for Exchange and SharePoint collaboration. There is also a Policy Tips feature that replaces Mail Tips; it informs users of potential policy violations before they send potentially problematic messages. It works with some of the Exchange 2013 Data Loss Prevention features.

Outlook 2013 upgrade: The verdict

So, is Outlook 2013 worth the upgrade? Every organization has different needs, and it's impossible to give a simple answer to satisfy everyone.

There is no new, single killer feature that makes Outlook 2013 a must-have upgrade. Outlook 2010 will continue to provide functions that will be adequate for the majority of organizations into the foreseeable future. But that doesn't mean you should avoid an Outlook 2013 update.

There are at least two situations that might warrant an Outlook 2013 upgrade. First, if you have a Microsoft volume licensing agreement with Software Assurance, upgrading to Outlook 2013 is a no-brainer. Software Assurance customers are entitled to the latest versions of the Microsoft software they license. If your organization is entitled to an Outlook 2013 upgrade, definitely take advantage of it.

Second, if your organization upgraded to Exchange 2013 because of its Data Loss Prevention capabilities, for example, it makes sense to upgrade to Outlook 2013 because of Outlook's Policy Tips feature.

Deciding to upgrade to Outlook 2013 means that you'll have to compare the benefit with the cost. In most cases, Outlook's new features probably won't justify the cost of upgrading, but there are certainly some organizations that will see the benefits.

About the author:
Brien Posey is a 10-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before becoming a freelance technical writer, Brien worked as a chief information officer at a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He also has served as a network administrator for some of the nation's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.

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