Price as rated: £349.95 as part of Microsoft Office 2008 (also includes Microsoft Word 2008, Microsoft Excel 2008, Microsoft PowerPoint 2008), upgrade £219.95; Home and Student version, £99.95; Special Media Edition (includes Expression Media), £449.95, upgrade £299.99.

In the four years since the last major version of Microsoft Office, Entourage has probably come under more attack from Apple’s applications than any other member of the Office suite. OS X’s Mail, Address Book, and iCal have all come to offer credible alternatives to Entourage’s core features. So how does Entourage 2008 stand up to Apple’s triumvirate? Pretty well, especially for users working in a corporate environment who use an Exchange server for their email and calendar needs. For the rest of us – overall – Entourage is still superior to Apple’s offerings. Entourage maintains its advantage because it has built a strong feature set over the years, especially in email. But Entourage 2008 offers few exciting new features, leaving the program vulnerable to Apple’s next onslaught.

Welcome facelift
Entourage finally looks like a native Mac application. Entourage 2008 was rewritten as a Universal Binary, running equally well on Macs based on Intel and PowerPC chips. (For me, the Universal conversion also solved Entourage 2004’s annoying tendency to bog down on Intel Macs.) Part of that transition included a revised user interface, which makes the program easier to use. Gone is the odd, non-standard toolbar; in its place is a familiar-looking Apple-style toolbar, which can be set to show icons, small icons, icons and text, or just text buttons. You can now add and subtract items from the toolbar, at long last bringing toolbar customization to Entourage, a feature the other applications in the Office suite have had for a decade.

Entourage’s new reliance on Spotlight for searching speeds up searches dramatically, but the program still retains its wide array of search criteria. The new mini-month under the Folder List allows you to quickly jump to a date in your calendar.

Right underneath the main toolbar you’ll find the new Favorites Bar, which allows you to add shortcuts to items in the Folder List, so you can get to them with a single click. This makes it a snap to jump to the Inbox, one of your saved mail searches, or the new To Do List.