Microsoft announced that it will abandon the WebDAV protocol as the communications protocol for Entourage connections with Exchange Server. A major Entourage 2008 under-the-hood upgrade later this year will switch to Exchange Web Services, a new service in Exchange Server 2007. The move should bring greater feature-parity with Outlook for Windows, improved performance, and provide a better platform for future Entourage development, Microsoft told MacWindows. Microsoft will release a public beta this month. The update will require Exchange 2007 SP1.
The update will add the ability to sync tasks, notes, and categories with Exchange, capabilities currently found in Outlook for Windows but not in Entourage. The new version should also sync calendar events faster current Entourage. Mike Tedesco, Senior Product Manager of the Macintosh Business Unit said that a private beta version is syncing twice as fast as Entourage.
Outlook clients have always used the MAPI protocol for collaboration with Exchange Server. Entourage has always used WebDAV. Tedesco said that performance increase in the new version will come from the fact that WebDAV places a lot of the computing burden on the Mac, while the server carries most of the load with Exchange Web Services and MAPI. WebDAV also talks to the server more than Exchange Web Services or MAPI.
"To accept a meeting request, Entourage makes six calls to Exchange," said Tedesco. "With Exchange Web Services, this is one call."
Moving most of the processing to the service also will man that for IT managers, most of the troubleshooting will be on the server side, not the client.
The legacy of WebDAV
For years, users and MacWindows readers have complained about the lack of MAPI in Entourage because of the lack of feature parity with Outlook and because of differences in administration. Microsoft has over the years added many Outlook features to Entourage (see Entourage version history), but WebDAV has not been an easy development platform for Microsoft.
"The WebDAV piece has presented some challenges for us," said Tedesco. He indicated that improvements to Entourage should be easier after this update.
"[Exchange Web Services] will enable us to be more agile for developing Entourage in the future.”
Commentators have been criticized in the past for having the server and Mac client developed in two different departments. The Mac Business Unit develops Entourage and Office and is a separate group from the Exchange developers within Microsoft. However, Tedesco said that the two teams are collaborating closely for this update.
"We meet with them daily or weekly," said Tedesco. "They want to make sure customers with Macs are able to do what they need to do."
Microsoft said that Outlook for Windows will continue to use MAPI. Windows users can take advantage of Exchange Web Services for out of office services. Exchange Web Services is also used to support iPhones.
The update is unusual for Microsoft in that Entourage 2008 is the only application in the Office suite being updated. Microsoft does not expect to update Word, Excel, and PowerPoint with this release.
The new version is currently in a private beta among 20 large customer sites, including NASA, Facebook, and several universities. The pubic beta will be be available at the Microsoft Mac site later this month.
When released later this year, the update will be free. The update will require Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 1 or later.