More and more often, it seems that I write about e-mail's shortcomings as a collaboration tool. In a post earlier today about Booz Allen Hamilton's experiences with collaboration software, I quoted the company's Walton Smith:
[E-mail is] not searchable. It's not scalable. But it's what we have.
Still, ingrained habits are hard to break. For most of us, e-mail has been our "de facto collaboration tool" (quoting Smith again) for years. Many companies are just beginning to experiment with e-mail alternatives, and it'll almost certainly take some time for leading contenders to emerge.
In the meantime, vendors continue to tweak e-mail to make it more useful. Microsoft Outlook 2010 is better at handling lengthy e-mail conversations, giving users the ability to opt out of conversations and also offering more options for grouping conversations, said Rob Helm, managing VP of research at Directions on Microsoft, when I interviewed him about Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010. Outlook 2010 also offers an add-on called Social Connector that tries to integrate data from social networks into the Outlook client.
Microsoft seemingly is trying to tie a number of Office 2010 capabilities to SharePoint. With SharePoint 2010, for example, users of Word and PowerPoint can work simultaneously on content stored in SharePoint. Said Helm:
Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 together deliver a lot of new interesting capabilities that people have begun to see in Web competitors to Office.
But mindful of the fact that many companies won't want to reduce their dependency on e-mail just yet -- and some may never make the leap -- Microsoft gives Outlook users some goodies in Office 2010. Said Helm:
Microsoft is trying to cover all of the bases. It's not stuck in the e-mail past. With this release, it's tried to make e-mail more manageable and less distracting.