Usability. Despite my comments above about configurability, I have to admit that Outlooks functionality is superb. As much as I like Thunderbird and others, their user interfaces pale in comparison. Ive tried dozens of different mailers on Windows, Linux, and OS X, and Ive yet to find a user interface like Outlook. While some people dont like the kitchen sink approach to having so many things embedded in one application, I always found the interface to be intuitive and easy to get along withat least, when things worked properly.
But wait, you say, you thought this was a security comparison. It (still) is. Im a firm believer that software should be easy to use to include configuration of security features and such.
Having said that, its been my observation that Outlooks user interface has been the victim of creeping featurism over the years, and some configuration attributes and such can be obfuscated in layers of menus. Still, kudos are due.
Qualitative score: Outlook gets an A- while Thunderbird gets a C.
The other guys. Ok, I said that Im comparing Outlook against its competition, but that Id stick primarily with Thunderbird. What about the security of the other guys? Well, if youre serious about email security, youll use a simple textual mailer that doesnt know HTML from its ASCII. Elm, Mutt, and Berkeley Mail come to mind. Of course, they all fail the usability test miserably in my view, but in terms of security, theyre unbeatable.
The vast majority of email borne security woes stem from rich context like HTML, embedded scripts, and attachments. Since many of these dumb mailers dont know how to interpret these things, theyre quite immune to such poxes.
Qualitative score: Outlook gets an F while the other guys get an A+.
So, its not so easy to compare security of emailers. Note that Ive completely ignored the ability to plug into proprietary mail servers such as Microsofts Exchange. Ive kept my comparisons principally to the user end and have assumed open standards on the back end. Ive also not talked about integration with security products and capabilities like PGP and S/MIME. Most enterprise grade emailers can handle both of these admirably these days. Well address these things in more detail in a future column.
For me, Im going to stick with anything but Outlook for email for the reasons Ive cited above. Im a big believer in Apples Mail.app mailer, coupled with Apples other Outlook-like apps like iCal and Address Book. Id still like to see more security features there, however. Lets hope Leopard brings us Mac users some of this.