Outlook add-ins and Outlook Apps: who is who?

As computerization and the Internet have become ubiquitous and electronic mail constitutes the basis of digital communications, it is hard to overestimate the meaning of email clients and their supplementary tools. Although many Internet users prefer a simpler and lighter web interface when they need to access their mailboxes, business and corporate users rarely ignore the vast scope of extra capabilities offered by modern email clients. Presently there is a variety of email clients to satisfy a most fastidious user.

However, given that corporate mail servers are usually Microsoft Exchange Servers, and employees use the Microsoft Office suite to solve other working tasks, no surprise that Outlook, an email client included in the suite, is possibly the most widespread mailing solution. Naturally, it would be a serious understatement to claim that this application owes its popularity only to the fact that it is a part of the Office suite: Outlook is a powerful and handy communication manager with a lot of space for personalization and fine-tuning. What is more, it supports all standard mail protocols and, most importantly, enables you to make the most of Microsoft Exchange features. Not to mention that you can choose between desktop and online Outlook versions. Sounds like perfection! Or is it? When you get to know Outlook and become a more or less experienced user, you begin to realize, however, that its capabilities have certain boundaries, in contrast to the endless diversity of your working tasks.

Luckily, Outlook is not a ‘thing-in-itself’, and its set of features can be extended with the help of specialized tools and solutions which include a huge array of original and third-party add-ins and applications. In this article you will find an explanation of the difference between them and an overview of the most typical functional groups.

In essence, Outlook add-ins, sometimes also referred to as add-ons or plug-ins, are software modules that are installed in the email client on premise to add some extra features, for instance, advanced message scheduling or additional security management. You can browse the list of installed add-ins in Outlook Options under the relevant tab. Even if you haven’t yet started expanding the functionality of your Outlook, you might be surprised to find a dozen of items already active – mostly Office modules responsible for the communication between Outlook and other components of the suite, and probably you anti-virus add-in. You may wonder what ‘COM’ means. In brief, it means that the add-in exists in the form of a .DLL library that runs in-process with the host application. Such approach to plugin development is now almost standard throughout the entire Office suite, as it decreases load on resources and does not require source code to be disclosed to end users in any form, unlike a VBA-based add-in, or XLA. COM add-ins also boast higher compatibility with multiple applications, so Office add-in developers generally adhere to this standard. Anyway, if you do not plan to develop your own Outlook add-ins, their functions should be a lot more interesting to you than minor technical details. Let us cast a glance upon a few add-in groups. First and foremost, there are add-ins that help to organize mail flow by managing folders and items with the help of various filters and automatic actions. This group features a number of spam filters, duplicate removers, and archiving tools. Second, we have add-ins that deal with attachments and their processing, thus optimizing your Outlook’s file transfer capabilities. Be advised that in this group you can also find tools enabling to make the most of your corporate Shared Folders on the Exchange server. Third, there are add-ins with a wide range of mass mailing functions, including scheduling and mail merge. Fourth, add-ins for items other than messages, namely Contacts, Tasks, and Calendar… And last but not least, vendors offer us topical bundles of add-ins, for instance, the celebrated MAPILab “All inclusive” Package for Microsoft Outlook, which consists of all Outlook add-ins offered by MAPILab separately or as part of other bundles.

As for Outlook Apps, these are components for your Office Online, not the local desktop version. Just like add-ins, they offer a range of handy tools, but the installation process is different. In order to use an App, you need to purchase it from the Office Store. Although this may sound a bit disappointing for some users who prefer to pick their software from more exotic sources, this cloud has a tangible silver lining, as Microsoft conducts a thorough testing of every App before putting it on sale to ensure adequate compatibility and the overall quality of products.

To sum up, Outlook is not just a powerful and reliable email client, but also a platform for deployment of many other working tools. So if you feel that your particular task cannot be performed in Outlook with the help of a certain add-in or app, you probably should take a closer look. In some cases a combination of two or more add-ins is required, and it works wonders!

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