For better or worse, there are fewer and fewer excuses for being disconnected from your office or workplace. Today Microsoft Research released a free beta version of Outlook Mobile Manager 2.0, a downloadable plug-in for Outlook that forwards a user’s e-mail, reminders, tasks, and the like to his or her cell phone or PDA in the form of an SMS message. It isn’t the first program to integrate Outlook with mobile devices; Mobile Manager 1.0 has been around for more than four years. The new twist in version 2.0 is that the program now has the smarts to prioritize e-mail messages, forwarding only the messages that seem urgent. In the words of a Microsoft writeup:
OMM reads each e-mail, identifies who sent it, considers numerous aspects of the content and structure of the message header and body, and determines if the user can wait until later to see it or would prefer having a time-critical message while away from a computer. Only the most urgent mail is sent to the user’s mobile device.
OMM determines urgency by analyzing many categories of findings or features of messages, including the number of people receiving the message, how long a message is, whether questions are being asked within its body, what sort of verb tenses are employed, and whether it contains dates and times and how close they are to the present. The message sender’s identity and relationship to the recipient are analyzed by accessing the user’s address book and an organizational chart via Microsoft’s Active Directory Service to determine such relationships as whether the sender is a peer, a direct report, a manager, somebody else up or down the org chart, or external—defined as somebody who doesn’t appear in the personal address book or the organizational chart.
I’ve downloaded OMM 2.0 and set it to forward urgent e-mails to my Treo 650. Using the program’s scheduling feature, I’ve elected to receive e-mails with medium priority or higher during work hours, and only e-mails with high priority during non-work hours.
We’ll see whether the service turns out to be useful or merely bothersome. I can already get all my work e-mail on the Treo using PalmOne’s own VersaMail system, but it requires at least two clicks to initiate a download. If the most urgent messages are pushed to me via SMS, I’ll see them sooner. And since I work in the San Francisco bureau of Technology Review – a continent away from all of my colleagues back at MIT – anything that can keep me stay in closer touch with the mother ship should be helpful. (In theory, anyway.)