Outlook 2007 is slow, RSS broken

Users are reporting that Outlook 2007 is slow – much slower than Outlook 2003, which it is meant to replace.

Experiences vary, but the worst affected are those with large mailboxes. Large in this context means thousands of messages and several GB size. Looking at the newsgroups there may be a particular problem with Outlook on 64-bit Windows. I’m not impressed; though it’s not yet clear how widespread the problem is. I’d be interested in comments.

Confession time: I have a huge mailbox. That means I can easily find old email correspondence, and that’s a feature I value. Furthermore, I lack the time or patience to sift through and delete what is no longer required. Unfortunately, the most effective advice for those suffering from slow Outlook 2007 installations seems to be: reduce the size of your mailbox.

While there may be good organizational reasons for doing this, it seems odd that it is needed on today’s machines, with vast amounts of RAM and disk space, and unspeakably fast CPUs. And if you use Exchange, be sure that you archive to a server location, otherwise you can end up with several little archives littered over every machine you use, and they likely will not be backed up.

Why should users have to prune their mailbox because the very latest Outlook cannot cope with it as well as the older version? Surely it is not that difficult to query and display emails from a local database?

I’m also disappointed that, for all the talk of user experience, the new Outlook does not slow down gracefully. You know the kind of thing: you start the application and an unresponsive, semi-painted window appears for a while. You click to change folders and the application appears to hang. You click to drop-down a menu and the application freezes for several seconds. Isn’t this the kind of thing that background threads are meant to help with?

As for RSS, I can’t make sense of what Outlook 2007’s designers were aiming at here. Note that I think the RSS central store, installed with IE7, is a great idea. However, “central store” in this context means central to the local machine. What Outlook seems to do is to copy the contents of this store to your mailbox and then keep it synchronized. I think that’s a mistake: mailboxes are big enough already, and Outlook would do better to query the central store dynamically.

The real problem comes when you use Outlook with Exchange. Many users take advantage of the server-side mailboxes in Exchange by using Outlook on several different machines, all pointing to the same Exchange mailbox. For me, this is the primary advantage of Exchange and Outlook. But what if those several different machines have different RSS feeds in their central store, or even the same ones?

So far, it appears that Outlook cannot cope. I end up with duplicate feeds, I end up with feeds showing in the RSS feeds folder that are not listed in Tools – Account Settings – RSS Feeds; in fact this list is empty on my desktop machine, Sync is turned off, but I still have a ton of feeds in the Outlook RSS feeds folder.

It seems simple to me. Either Outlook’s RSS integration should be 100% local, in which case you just see what is in the central store on your current machine. Or it should be 100% server-based, in which case Exchange should handle the RSS updates. Mixing the two is just silly.

Tip for improving Outlook performance: if you are happy to do this, go into Tools – Account settings – Microsoft Exchange Server – Change – More settings – Security, and remove the checkbox from “Encrypt data between Outlook and Exchange”. Other factors may be search engine integration (Microsoft’s or other), A/V integration, or other add-ins.

Bottom line: I suggest caution before rolling this out over a network.

Update: other tips you can try

A few other things that have helped people:

  1. Exchange users: Remove Outlook 2003 and do a clean install of Outlook 2007, making sure that a new offline store is created from scratch.
  2. Run on Vista.
  3. Turn off indexing. Tools – Options – Search options – uncheck all folders. It’s a shame to do this as the indexed search is useful.
  4. Let indexing complete. Might be worth leaving the machine running overnight.
  5. Reduce the size of your mailbox (of course).

The above will not solve all the problems, but can mitigate performance issues.

Further update

Microsoft has posted some official workarounds. See here for comment and link

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Vista on a Tablet

I tested Vista RTM on a Toshiba Portege M400. This is a great though expensive Tablet PC: Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 CPU, fingerprint reader (handy for logging onto a table without tapping in a password), FireWire, Bluetooth, etc etc. Perhaps its most notable feature is the “slim select bay”, which comes as standard with a DVD rewriter, but can be replaced with a 2nd hard drive or a 2nd battery. Hence this is one of few laptops with an integrated RAID controller. The 2nd drive is also handy for testing multiple operating systems.

I had this running reasonably well with Vista RC2, and rather optimistically tried an in-place upgrade to Vista RTM. It failed badly. I left it chugging away and came back a couple of hours later to find it in a blue-screen, reboot cycle. I suspect the problem was with one of the beta drivers I’d installed in an attempt to get all the integrated devices working. Who knows what would happen if you tried the in-place upgrade from XP: probably bad things.

Anyway, I zapped RC2 and did a clean install instead. That was straightforward, although you still need to download Toshiba’s SATA RAID driver in order to get Vista to see the drive. Contrary to some reports, you don’t actually have to enable the RAID controller.

The laptop was immediately usable, though I did have to install Intel’s wireless driver to get the wireless network working. I’ve not reinstalled all the other beta drivers, since Toshiba will likely come up with better versions shortly. This laptop is promoted as “Vista Capable”. For the time being, some devices are disabled.

The Tablet side of things works very well indeed. My main use of Tablet mode is for meetings and conferences. Taking notes is easier and more natural when writing on a screen.

I realize that the Tablet has not been a big commercial win for Microsoft, and has probably proved a costly experiment for some hardware partners like Acer. Nevertheless, it’s an important advance in mobile computing. Tablets are a vast improvement on touch-sensitive screens such as those found on a Pocket PC. The electromagnetic digitizer means you can lean your hand on the screen as you write (just like paper), and finer drawing is possible.

Here’s what impressed me most. I opened up Word 2007 and started text input using the handwriting tool. I have poor handwriting, but my first sentence or two came out letter-perfect.

Overall Vista RTM does seem a little snappier than the RC2 release. It’s just those pesky drivers – which is no doubt why the laptop has problems resuming sometimes after sleep or hibernation.

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Vista Media Center: remarkably good

This is one of several notes on testing Windows Vista final version in various scenarios.

One of these is Media Center. This is an alternate, simplified user interface to your TV and other media content, intended to be operated with a remote rather than mouse and keyboard. In XP days this was offered as a separate, dedicated version of Windows, but now it is part of Vista Ultimate. A side-effect handy for journalists and others who run multi-purpose networks is that Media Center PCs can be joined to a Windows domain.

The tricky part of Media Center is the prerequisites. Ideally, you need:

  • A PC in your living room or wherever you prefer to watch TV*
  • A wide-screen TV with a high-resolution screen (eg LCD TV)
  • This PC also connected to broadband internet
  • This PC also connected to a hi-fi or equipped with very high-quality PC speakers
  • This PC also quiet enough not to be annoying when in stand-by
  • A TV card with BDA (Broadcast Driver Architecture) driver
  • The special Media Center remote

I tested Vista on a home-assembled machine which more or less conforms to the above. The soundcard is a Creative Audigy Platinum ZS; the TV card is a Nebula DigiTV, for which there are beta BDA drivers. I’ve been using this for a while with XP and Nebula’s own TV software.

Vista RTM went on as a clean install in its own partition. Next, I had to download the beta Vista drivers from Creative, and the beta BDA drivers from Nebula. This is the Vista life right now: the OS may be finished, but the third-party drivers are far from done. The Creative drivers actually time-out in January. Nevertheless, after a restart or two I was able to setup Media Center and successfully scan for TV channels. I also pointed the media library to a folder of ripped CDs in MP3 format. Media Center downloaded a TV guide and also found artwork for most of the ripped CDs, making for a polished presentation.

Overall, Media Center is a delight to use. The UI is easy to navigate, though scrolling through lists can be ponderous. Shortcuts to important screens like “My music” and “Live TV” work well, and the reassuring big green button always brings you back to the media center home screen. It really is not too geeky, provided that everything works as it should. Browsing through the guide works great, recording programs is a snap, and so is browsing and playing your ripped CD library (or, I presume, “plays for sure” downloads, though I don’t have any).

Not sure yet how Zune fits in here.

A neat touch is that you can play games with the remote. For example, the new 3D chess game works beautifully played from 10 feet back.

Microsoft has built in some interesting download options, most of which don’t seem to be enabled yet. A link to an online store got me a page not found error. Clearly the foundations are in place for a complete integrated home entertainment system based on download rather than purchased CDs or DVDs.

But does everything work perfectly? Not quite. From time to time yesterday I got “Unknown Audio error” with an error code, though it seemed to be harmless. The system has problems waking from sleep, and on one occasion the audio went silent. Another issue is that occasionally Media Center starts continually flashing, making it unusable, and there is no way (that I’ve found) to stop it other than to restart the application.

Are these errors the fault of Vista, or Media Center, or third-party beta drivers? My guess is mostly the last of these; but it still tarnishes the overall experience.

So how do non-geeks get this lot set up and working? The best way is to buy a complete Media Center system with the software pre-installed, and then to have an expert come to your home and set it all up. That’s expensive. Plus, can you trust the cheaper OEM PC vendors not to mess things up with sub-standard hardware, dodgy drivers, noisy fans, and third-party foistware that wrecks Microsoft’s carefully-designed user experience?

By contrast I imagine Apple will come into this space with a couple of boxes that plug in and just work. However it will likely be more expensive and will tie in to iTunes and iPod with Apple’s lock-in DRM. Of course Vista is DRM-laden as well, though at least Microsoft will license its DRM to third-parties. Note however that Media Center works fine with unprotected MP3s and standard CDs and DVDs – and no doubt Apple’s system will as well.

Time will tell who wins, or whether both get a decent market share. And there is also Sony to come. In the meantime, and despite the hassles, I’m impressed with Media Center so far.

*Note on Media Center Extenders

You can avoid the requirement for a PC in your living room by using a Media Center Extender instead. This could be an XBox 360 or a dedicated hardware device, hopefully smaller and quieter than a typical PC. A Media Center Extender has most of the same features as Media Center, a bit like a remote desktop to your Media Center PC. You can have multiple Extenders for a single Media Center PC. You need a fast network (802.11b won’t cut it), and you still need to be able to connect a TV aerial (or cable TV) to the Media Center PC, which could be a problem in some homes.

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Vista is on MSDN. Now for the tricky decisions.

MSDN subscribers can now download the final build of Vista, which means it is available to a large number of people outside Microsoft for the first time.

If you are one of them, you will have one or maybe two tricky decisions to make.

I take it for granted that you will install it, for test and development of course.

First, do you upgrade the release candidate? Or clean install? Daniel Moth says the upgrade is OK, but I plan to do a clean install eventually, despite the hassle. Otherwise there is always the nagging worry that something which doesn’t work right is broken because you upgraded.

Second, do you enable or disable UAC? This is a hot potato. If UAC is widely disabled, then Microsoft’s best effort yet to secure Windows will have been wasted. On the other hand, it is undoubtedly annoying, and in the worst case some app you depend on might not work at all.

I’m keeping it on. With RC2, I’ve found ways to run all the apps that I need to have working, even including Borland Developer Studio 2006 (a very problematic install, though it may be better in the final release build).

As I said to Dan Fernandez:

My view is that Windows security is a huge issue both for Microsoft and actually for every internet user. UAC looks like a pretty good effort to improve it, so to my mind it is in all our interests to try and make it work.

That said, I’m not optimistic. I think lots of people will disable it; I’m also waiting for the first support notes from third-parties that give users the steps to do this – like the little leaflets that come with video cards and other hardware, explaining that you must ignore the warnings in XP about unsigned drivers.

By the way, although Vista is now final, there is still going to be a lot of pain around drivers as well as application compatibility. For example, the Vista drivers for my Toshiba Portege M400 are still in various states of beta, and no doubt the fingerprint reader still does not work. It’s going to be a while before the situation improves and users get anything like a smooth upgrade on this kind of hardware.


See Ed Bott’s post and the linked article for an illustration of the extent and impact of the Windows security problem. The article analyzes a recent pump-and-dump spam attack. Apparently 99.95 of the botnet machines used were Windows, 47.23% XP with SP2.

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Borland keeps its developer tools after all

Nine months ago, Borland said it would “seek a buyer” for its developer tools, including Delphi and JBuilder. I blogged about it here. But it’s not happening. Instead, the company announced today the formation of CodeGear, a wholly-owned subsidiary. Why no sale? Here’s the official version (PDF):

The challenge came when we went about separating two operations that have been interlinked for over 23 years. We found we were not able to adequately separate the financials in a way that could demonstrate what we believe to be the true value of this business.

Not what I would call clear, but I think it translates to two things. First, nobody wanted to pay what Borland was asking. Second, there is actually some synergy between the IDE business and the ALM business, a benefit that would have disappeared had the sale gone ahead.

My hunch is that the former is a bigger factor than the latter. Embarrassing for Borland.

Still, a wholly-owned subsidiary is a significant separation. It may be sufficient to deal with the key problem which seemed to be expressed by those on the IDE side of the business: that the company had under-invested in the development tools, using the profits to invest in building up the ALM business.

Then again, IDE sales have been declining for some time, which would suggest that the cash-cow years had come to a natural end. It is not surprising that finding a buyer was hard.

Can CodeGear succeed? Delphi is a wonderful product, but wounded by the rise of Microsoft .NET versus native Win32 code in Enterprise development. On the Java side, CodeGear has “Peloton”, a new version of JBuilder built on Eclipse. I hope to report on Peloton next week. It is up against the free unadorned Eclipse, and Sun’s free NetBeans, both of which are formidable competition. Even so, there are opportunities. JetBrains has proved that an independent, commercial Java IDE can still find a market if there is high quality combined with distinctive features.

For Delphi and JBuilder developers, at least the formation of CodeGear is a better outcome than a sale to the wrong company would have been. So welcome to CodeGear.

Microsoft’s deeply-ingrained local admin culture

If you go along to the Microsoft Office Developer Center you are currently offered a “Developer Map for the 2007 Microsoft Office System”. It’s described as a poster, but is delivered as an executable. I’m normally suspicious of documents that come as executables, but this is a Microsoft site so I downloaded and ran.

You know what? This thing installs by default into a new folder on the C drive, which means it requires local admin rights. And what does it install? Just a PDF.

Personally I think delivering a PDF as an executable is crazy. Perhaps the author wanted to be sure it wouldn’t open within the browser; a zip would have been fine for this.

You can avoid the admin rights requirement by manually changing the target directory. Few people will do this, because we have learned that changing default directories is often a mistake.

This small incident demonstrates something big, which is the deeply ingrained culture of local admin rights on Windows. I presume that whoever tested this little executable was running as admin, otherwise this unnecessary and annoying requirement would have been spotted and removed.

It chimes with a remark made to me informally at last week’s Tech-Ed, that Microsoft staff running Vista commonly disable UAC (User Account Control), thus removing the most significant security feature in the new Windows.

It is a vicious circle. Microsoft runs with local admin rights, so it issues resources that require local admin rights without even noticing. That means users with lesser permissions or UAC get annoying problems, making them inclined to run with local admin rights as well.

The outcome: Windows stays insecure. Windows botnets proliferate. Malware flourishes.

If Microsoft is serious about security – which I believe it is in some quarters, it must get its own house in order. For the vast majority of computer users, including developers, running as local admin should not be necessary. That means a change of culture and will be hard to achieve; but if Microsoft itself does not make the effort, the world at large has no chance.

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First encounter with Office 2007 document compatibility

I’ve was living the Vista/Office 2007 life while out of the office last week, still on the last public betas though the RTM Office is downloading as I type.

I created several Word documents while out and about, and when I got back I copied them to a desktop PC for further editing. I noticed that they were .docx – proving that Office 2007 really does default to the new XML file format. I decided to try opening them in Word 2003, which is what I run on the desktop.

Word announced that the document was created by a newer version of itself. Would I like to download an update that would import it? I clicked OK, and downloaded a 27 MB file called FileFormatConverters.exe. At this point I was on my own. I figured that I should close Word and then run the file. It seemed to be installing, then said I needed administrator rights and quit.

This illustrates why Vista’s approach offers a better user experience. In Vista, you can run with a user account that has local admin rights, but runs with standard user privileges. An executable that requires admin rights can request elevation, so that instead of appearing to run and then giving up, it requests permission upfront.

This was XP though, so I right-clicked the file and tried again with Run As – Administrator. This time it worked, though there is a buglet. At the end of the install, it asked to restart now; I clicked Cancel as I wanted to defer the restart. A further dialog then said that the install had failed. Not true – the installation had succeeded and I was able to open the .docx in Word 2003.

When I did so, I got this dialog:

I find this perplexing. I understand about features that do not exist; but what does the comment about layout actually mean? Which features cannot be edited? A link to a document describing these limitations in detail would be valuable. It is tempting to Save As – Word document to return to what is familiar. However, in my simple document I couldn’t see any evidence of things not working.

It appears that you get this dialog whenever you open a .docx saved from Word 2007, but not once the document has been saved from Word 2003, even if you keep the .docx format.

When people start using Office 2007, they will be emailing .docx documents back and forth so this experience will be common. Has Microsoft done enough? My initial impression is that the technical work is there, but the user experience is not so good.

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Tech-Ed: Don’t start new projects in Delphi or FoxPro

Yesterday I attended two sessions aimed at FoxPro and Delphi developers, on how and why they should migrate to .NET.

The FoxPro session drew sparse attendance, which did not surprise me. Fox developers do not attend Tech-Ed, as there is nothing here for them. Speaker Remi Caron made the point that FoxPro forms will never look quite right on Vista as the widgets are custom drawn, and the the FoxPro language is not as deeply object-oriented as C#. Many Fox application are utilitarian in nature, and Microsoft is doing and update codenamed Sedna, which focuses on .NET interop and Vista compatibility, so I am not sure that the arguments were fully persuasive. FoxPro applications will trundle on for a while yet. It is also interesting that C# 3.0 is only now getting integrated database query, which has been a feature of xBase from its earliest days. Still, FoxPro is undoubtedly coming to the end of its life as a product under active development.

The Delphi session was more interesting. Of course I make allowance for the fact that this is a Microsoft conference and that Delphi comes from a competitor in the tools space. Even so, it was a grim event from Borland’s perspective. Presenter Hadi Hariri is a Delphi person. He works for Atozed software, whose main product is a web application framework for Delphi. Also present was Chad Hower who worked on the Indy internet components for Delphi as well as Atozed’s Intraweb. Nobody could say that either speaker lacked Delphi knowledge. Around 25 delegates came to debate Delphi’s future.

Hariri and Hower did not advise developers to port their Delphi projects, unless there is really a compelling reason. However they did strongly advise against new projects in Delphi.* The main factor is integration with new .NET goodies such as those in .NET Framework 3.0, especially Windows Presentation Foundation and Windows Communication Foundation.

But surely you could use Delphi for .NET? Indeed, but there are two problems here. One is that according to Hariri the VCL.NET, Delphi’s backward-compatible .NET library, is failing to win significant adoption. He observes that hardly any of Atozed’s customers use Intraweb with VCL.NET, although it is fully supported. They all use either native Win32 VCL, or a few Kylix, the abandoned Linux port of Delphi. Other third-party vendors say the same thing: there is hardly any market for VCL.NET components.

Then surely you could use Delphi’s .NET compiler with Microsoft’s class libraries? Indeed, but will Borland or the new “DevCo” ever catch up with Microsoft? This week the .NET Framework 3.0 is fully released; yet Delphi 2006 only supports .NET 1.1. By the time Delphi appears with .NET 2.0 support, Microsoft will have updated Visual Studio with a designer for Windows Presentation Foundation and other .NET 3.0 features, which Delphi will likely lack for some time.

We used to laugh at vb applications. Unfortunately it is completely reversed now. We are always going to be behind now.

said Hariri. The session lends weight to recent calls for Borland to focus on Delphi capabilities in native code rather than .NET; yet that too is not ideal when so much of Microsoft’s development platform is focused on .NET.


* Hower has commented below and also written at length to emphasise that from his perspective this only applies to .NET projects, not Win32.

Live.com for developers

I attended two sessions today given by Danny Thorpe, formerly of Borland, on the developer API for live.com, Microsoft’s attempt to match Google as a Web 2.0 platform. Even the business model is Google-style: everything is free, supported by advertising with the possibility of revenue sharing for users. Unlike ASP.NET, the Live.com API is cross-platform on both client and server – presumably Live.com itself runs on .NET, but that is not a requirement for users of the various gadgets and services.

It’s strange to hear Thorpe talking about doing clever stuff with JavaScript – quite a change from Delphi’s native code compiler – but he describes it as just another way to write libraries for Microsoft’s platform. He is an enthusiast for doing aggregation (mash-ups) client-side aggregation, explaining that it improves scalability by reducing the amount of processing needed on web servers.

A key theme is how to build social applications that draw on the vast userbase of Hotmail and Windows Messenger, but without compromising privacy.

Interesting stuff, and I don’t doubt Microsoft’s commitment to live.com even though it is not centre-stage here at Tech-Ed. At the same time I am picking up lack of cohesion in the overall platform strategy. Microsoft has endeavoured to create an internal startup culture, and while this is clearly generating some energy it comes at a price. There seem to be a number of different sub-organizations which do not work closely together. The Office Live initiative, which provides web hosting and cloud-based applications aimed at small businesses, is apparently separate from Live.com. The ASP.NET AJAX libraries are different from the Live.com JavaScript libraries, even though there is overlap in the problems they address. Danny Thorpe is aware of these issues and says the company is working on internal collaboration, but it seems to me that fragmentation will be a growing problem as the various groups evolve.