Nothing is more fundamental to your satisfaction with an email program than your ability to manage your inbox efficiently. Both Outlook and Gmail allow you to ignore unwanted email and change the layout of the reading pane, but Gmail won’t let you create rules, insert Microsoft Word editing and formatting tools or cells from Microsoft Excel spreadsheets into email, or send email with high, medium or low importance. In addition, Gmail gives you only limited ability to flag, categorize and sort email, and to drag and drop attachments into email messages. The Microsoft email solution offers all of those features and more.
Performing intelligent triage
One of the exciting new features coming soon to OWA is code-named “Clutter,” a program that removes unimportant messages from your inbox and declutters it, allowing you to focus on important messages. It does so by learning from your treatment of similar emails in the past. If you always respond quickly to email from your boss, Clutter makes such emails display more prominently. If you tend to ignore your cousin’s emailed vacation photos, Clutter puts those messages aside for you to deal with later. And the more you use Clutter, the smarter it gets. Gmail offers only a very limited version of clutter control by redirecting bulk email to a few pre-set tabs. This is very static when compared to Clutter in OWA, which provides individual decluttering based on each user’s activity.
Accessing your email offline
Having the ability to access email offline, and to continue working when no Internet connection is available, is important to people on the go. Outlook desktop client provides complete offline access, and OWA allows you to access your email offline using a wide range of browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer 10 (with HTML 5 support). Gmail users are limited to using only the Google Chrome browser to access their email offline.
Collecting and coordinating your contacts
With each of these three email applications you can create contact cards and import contacts when you switch from another email program or adopt a new email address. OWA and Outlook go several steps further, however, enabling you to view team and hierarchical organization information through your company address book via Active Directory integration, and to import your contacts from social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Gmail doesn’t.
Managing your calendar
A truly functional calendar does more than show you the day, week and month, find an available meeting room, and determine whether your contacts are free or busy at a certain time. Gmail does all that, and so do the two Microsoft applications. But OWA and Outlook also let you see who forwarded your meeting notice and to whom, while providing other useful features that Gmail lacks, and Outlook allows you to propose a new time if you have a conflict with a suggested meeting.
Granting a delegate access to your calendar
Busy people sometimes need help managing their lives. For executives, managers or other people who must constantly juggle competing priorities and demands, the ability to choose a delegate and give that person access to your calendar can be a godsend. OWA and Outlook not only enable you to share your calendar like Google does, they also let you hide private events from your delegate, downgrade permission rights when it suits you, and choose to have notifications sent only to your delegate or to both you and your delegate simultaneously. Both Microsoft applications also let you give your delegate access to individual folders as needed. Gmail offers none of those delegation features.
Getting real with real-time communications
All three applications offer instant messaging and presence, which lets you know the status and availability of your contacts and how they can be reached. But Gmail offers no unified messaging integration with voicemail and the ability to skip to any part of the voicemail, or even one-click “Reply All” on instant messaging. Both OWA and Outlook do allow that via Lync.
Taking advantage of enterprise social technologies
Enterprise social is still pretty new, but it’s a rapidly growing trend in technology solutions designed to improve communication and collaboration both inside and outside organizations. Microsoft has either already added or has announced new email features that support enterprise social and position both OWA and Outlook for rich integration. The jury is still out on Gmail.
Security and compliance
In today’s complex world, few things are as important in business or personal communications as security and compliance. Although each of the three applications lets you add email senders to your safe or blocked lists, block external content, and access your archiving folder, that’s where the similarities between the Google and Microsoft products end. Unlike OWA and Outlook, Gmail does not offer Information Rights Management, document fingerprinting, or native Data Loss Prevention measures. Gmail also fails to provide protected voicemail and retention policies that can be set at the user level.