Microsoft blames Apple for Outlook 2011 sync snafu

Changes to MobileMe mean that next week's Office 2011 SP1 won't sync calendars with Apple's service

Microsoft today blamed Apple for changes that will prevent users of Office for Mac 2011 from synchronizing their Outlook calendars with Apple's MobileMe service.

The company also announced that it will ship Office for Mac 2011's first major update, Service Pack 1 (SP1), next week.

Service Pack 1 (SP1) will add several new features to Office, including synchronizing the calendar in the Outlook email client with the calendars on users' iPhones and iPads.

"This has been one of our top feature requests," said Pat Fox, senior director of product development, in a Wednesday blog post.

Users will be able to sync the Outlook 2011 calendar with their iPhone or iPad by plugging the mobile devices into their Mac or PC, then running iTunes. (Microsoft has published a step-by-step guide to switching on sync.)

But a recent change by Apple to decouple the MobileMe calendar from its own Sync Service framework means that Outlook 2011 will not sync with the calendars on other computers -- Macs or PCs -- and mobile devices via MobileMe.

Apple charges $99 yearly for the MobileMe sync and storage service, but rumors have spread that it will soon offer a free version of the service. In late February, Apple pulled the retail version of MobileMe from its online and brick-and-mortar stores.

"MobileMe will no longer sync with Mac OS Sync Services as of May 5, or now if you have already moved your account to the new version of MobileMe calendar," said Fox "As a result, Outlook 2011 SP1 calendars that sync with Sync Services on the Mac, will NOT be synced with MobileMe calendars."

The bottom line is that users will not be able to synchronize Outlook's calendar using the Internet-based MobileMe.

Apple began migrating MobileMe users to its new calendar platform several months ago, and has given customers until May 5 to complete the move.

The new MobileMe calendar supports CalDAV, the same standard supported by Mac OS' iCal application, Google's Web-based calendar and Yahoo's calendar. Outlook 2011 does not currently support synchronization with either Google's or Yahoo's calendar, nor will it once SP1 is in place.

Today, Fox declined to comment on when, or whether, Microsoft would add Google and Yahoo sync support to its Outlook client.

Apple's changes to MobileMe apparently caught Microsoft off-guard. Last November, the Office for Mac 2011 team promised to add Outlook-to-MobileMe calendar sync to the suite in the first half of 2011.

"Apple has long touted Sync Services as the hub for sync support and as such we were focused on delivering that support to our customers," said Fox in an email reply to questions today. "We learned about the MobileMe changes when Apple made it public on their Web site. That said, we are continuing to work with Apple on ways to meet the needs of our users."

Apple first launched the new MobileMe calendar with a July 2010 beta.

Other changes slated for Office for Mac 2011 SP1 include support in Outlook 2011 for Exchange-based server-side rules, a Resend button in Outlook, and a new Redirect button that lets users shunt a message to a more appropriate recipient. When the latter's used, all replies are delivered to the original sender, not to the person who redirected the message.

SP1 will also package all security and stability updates issued thus far for Office for Mac 2011.

Microsoft launched Office for Mac 2011 last October, putting the pace of its first service pack slightly behind the four-month span between Office for Mac 2008 and its initial update.

The service pack will be available next week on the Microsoft Web site; users can also grab SP1 by running the suite's own update tool.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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