Fun with Microsoft Outlook Exchange

Oh, the irony.  I’m highly engaged in the question of computer user interface literacy, and advocate the development of a facility with navigating a variety of GUIs in my teaching.  On Monday my college flipped the switch and moved me from our old mail server to the new server using Outlook Exchange. I’m feeling like a flustered/frustrated novice user.

I’m not so bothered that the long-promised transfer of my mail folders and content from Thunderbird into Outlook didn’t materialize in advance.  I can limp along using two or three different clients. I’m not so bothered that they never actually set up Outlook on my office computer before switching me over.  I’m treating the whole thing as a reason to move all my email work into my laptop. I more than half expected these issues.

What is killing me here is that I can’t actually get the Exchange server to talk to Mac Mail, particularly on the outgoing end, and that the entire email and calendaring product drives users right into Internet Explorer (for web mail) and into Outlook (as a client).  IE hasn’t been made for a Mac since IE5.  There can’t be organized tech support for this issue since the campus doesn’t really support Mac OS implementations of a MS-only product.

Workarounds advocated by the 6 Mac users on campus include using GMail as the outgoing server, using the old (soon-to-be-unplugged) mail server’s outgoing settings, run IE 6 in WINE, or just use bootcamp on the Mac to boot into Windows and run IE there.  These are good ideas, and I guess they work for some of the users. Since I have yet to actually make the first two workarounds actually work, I don’t have WINE, and I’m loathe to boot into Win just to check email, I’m using webmail light.

This IS 2009, isn’t it? Odd that a company can still get away with actually selling a browser (and apparently platform) dependent web mail solution. Perhaps it’s even more odd that an organization would actually purchase such a product. I guess the product is stable, has good synchronization, and there’s the shared calendaring element. But I suspect there are other products out there that can handle this stuff.