Software

A look at what is new and different in Outlook 2007

While Outlook 2007 does not bring the same jaw-dropping interface changes that accompany other modules in the Office 2007 suite, Outlook 2007 does provide a number of new and very useful features. And, the interface does change a bit to accommodate some of these new features. Scott Lowe explains some of the new things you'll find in Outlook 2007.

When Office 2007 arrives in late 2006 or early 2007, it will come complete with a brand new, refined interface and a whole slew of new features designed to make it easier for you and your users to get your jobs done. While Outlook 2007 doesn't bring the same jaw-dropping interface changes that accompany other products in the Office 2007 suite, Outlook 2007 does provide a number of new and very useful features. And, the interface does change a bit to accommodate some of this new stuff. I'll explain in this article some of the new things you'll find in Outlook 2007.

The visible stuff

Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003 do look very similar, but there are a few things that jump out, including the To-Do Bar and the new RSS Feeds feature. Other features, such as integrated search and attachment previewing, are more subtle, but good additions to the product.

The To-Do Bar

When you get your first look at Outlook 2007 (Figure A), one thing jumps out at you right away: The addition of the "To-Do Bar" down the right side of the screen.

Figure A

The To-Do-Bar invades the right side of the screen.

Personally, I love the new To-Do bar. You'll notice that it contains a calendar with bold text for days on which you have scheduled appointments. Further, upcoming appointments are now visible front and center and, since they are appointments in Outlook, are color coded to your preference. Before Outlook 2007, in order to see calendar items like this, you needed to change Outlook views. But, since most people spend a vast majority of their Outlook time in the mail view, the addition of the mini-calendar view comes as a time-saving convenience.

Below the calendar is a look at the current tasks you have on your task list -- again, this addition negates the necessity for you to change views just to look at different information. This task area also doubles as place in which messages you have flagged for follow up appear for easy reference. In Outlook 2003, Microsoft provided you with a search folder that gave you quick access to messages that you had flagged. But, to use this feature, you still needed to change your view. If you don't use some method to track your flagged messages, they eventually scroll off the screen and are more easily overlooked. By keeping them at the forefront, Microsoft has made it less likely that you'll fail to follow up on something you considered important enough to flag in the first place.


Additional coverage of Outlook 2007 on TechRepublic is available here.


RSS Feeds

If you take a look back at Figure A, you'll notice that, in the Mail Folders section of the screen, there is a new option called RSS Feeds. As you would expect, this is Outlook 2007's default storage space for handling news feeds. This is also a most welcome addition to the product!

Upon installation of Internet Explorer 7 and Outlook 2007, once you start one of the applications, it asks you if you would like to synchronize your RSS feeds so that the same feeds are available in both programs. However, be aware that, if you're using an Exchange account, any feeds to which you subscribe will automatically save news headlines into your Exchange mailbox. If your company has low mailbox size limits, this may not be an ideal situation.

Outlook 2007 allows you to add feeds individually or in bulk by importing an Outline Processor Markup Language (OPML) file. Once a feed is added, either through Outlook or through Internet Explorer 7, the feed contents become immediately available in both applications.

Integrated search

With the explosion in the amount of e-mail, number of document, and just about every kind of data, a number of desktop search tools have been created. These tools help users and administrators manage and locate data on very short notice. Microsoft has provided their own desktop search tool -- Windows Desktop Search -- that hooks into Outlook 2007 and indexes your mail and other Outlook items. Personally, I still prefer the third party (and also free) Copernic Desktop Search, but the Microsoft tool isn't bad, either. And, it's also a welcome addition to the suite and to Windows in general.

If you want to add desktop search capabilities to Windows and to Outlook, when you first start Outlook 2007, you are prompted to download the search tool, if you like. If you choose to wait to install Windows desktop search, you can click the "Click here to enable Instant Search" option above the mail list. The option stays visible until you install the tool.

Attachment preview

Outlook 2007 also includes an attachment preview feature that, once you use it, will make you wonder why it took so long to include. Attachment preview supports most common file types and shows you a file's contents from within Outlook without the need to launch a separate program in a separate window. This makes for a much more seamless experience. Figure B gives you a look at this feature. Notice that pertinent document details, including the file name, size, author and last date of modification are included at the top of the window.

Figure B

Attachment preview makes it much easier to view document attachments in Outlook.

For the record, Outlook Express has provided attachment previewing for a long time. It's about time this feature came to Outlook.

Improved collaboration and security

Besides deeper integration with SharePoint, Outlook 2007 gives you some other collaboration improvements, including the ability to create and subscribe to calendars stored on Internet sites, including on Office Online. Second, if you need to share calendar information with other people, you can send them a "calendar snapshot", an HTML version of your calendar.

When used in conjunction with Exchange 2007, Outlook 2007 provides a lot of security improvements, such as managed e-mail folders, which are normal mail folders, but that have retention and expiration policies defined by the administrator. You can also restrict what users can do with received e-mail messages through the use of information rights management (IRM) and Windows Rights Management Services (RMS). When implemented, IRM and RMS allow you to set policies that can prevent messages from being printed, forwarded, etc.

Mileage may vary

So far, I haven't found anything to dislike about Outlook 2007, except general minor grumbling about things like a Rules Wizard that needs to be more intuitive, but that's been true for a long time. Further, I wish Microsoft had taken the time to provide a right-click context menu for the main items (Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, etc.) in the navigation pane.

I've been using Outlook 2007 in beta for a few months now and have found that I really like the new features, particularly the To-Do Bar and the RSS feeds. You mileage may vary, but these are good additions to a good product.

11 comments
scds
scds

iCal is a hudge advancement for Outlook

Riverwind
Riverwind

I used the Office 2007 beta since it released. For outlook 2007, I loved the new designed on the To Do list with categorised by coloured. It simplied the time for reviewing the nature of them. As I need to send out web contents and documents in .pdf formats. The new feature in Word 2007 and Excel 2007, "pulishing for pdf" save me for both the time and budgets for my work. And the size of output file is less than either using the acrobat 7.0 or ghost script with Office 2003.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you planning to upgrade to Office 2007? Do some of the new Outlook 2007 features interest you?

HumZ
HumZ

I believe OL2003 offers a forward as iCal.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

For those of us who haven't seen the beta, what's iCal? I hate this trend of starting product names with a lowercase 'i' and a capitalized second letter.

cedric.tanga
cedric.tanga

Having used MSO2007 Beta since it's release and only those apps that are day to day for me Outlook, Word, & Powerpoint .... I found to be a leap for the better and I'm still finding cool stuff and like change 2003 gave an insight to where 2007 is now. Some credit to MS for producing what seems to be a more intuitive product. I hope they don't stuff it up with the production version.

gsquared
gsquared

I've been using the Office 2007 beta for a few months now. I intend to upgrade (from 2003) as soon as I can afford it, for my home computer. I seriously doubt we'll upgrade any time soon at work, since there's no money available to budget for it. As far as features for Office 2007, I find the Outlook features significantly less compelling than the Excel and Word interface changes. The new ribbons (as opposed to the prior menus) are a big improvement. Much faster to get to the controls and features I need, compared to prior versions. A lot of that could be built using custom menu bars and some VBA, but to me it's worth the cash for an upgrade as compared to the time to build such an interface for myself. The behind-the-scenes stuff (XML file format, etc.) doesn't currently matter much to me, so I don't really have an opinion on it. I have to say though that I prefer Access 2003 over Access 2007 so far. I use Access as a front-end for SQL databases at work, and it gets a LOT of work. I don't find the new Access interface useful to me. For someone writing an actual Access database, without any major VBA, it might be nice, but for me, it's less useful than the prior version.

smallbiz-techwiz
smallbiz-techwiz

I'm just looking at the history of major Microsoft product releases... There are always bugs, flaws, and compatibility issues at first. If you don't really need these new features, what's the hurry to upgrade? I would rather wait until after the first service pack is released, then try it.

dmarston
dmarston

Sonds like heaven for virus writers, Outlook will open them for you now.

smallbiz-techwiz
smallbiz-techwiz

I got a free copy of Office 2007 Pro at the Microsoft Launch Event in Atlanta so I decided to check it out. Outlook 2007 has some nice features, but it also broke some things I had working fine in Outlook 2003. I wrote an article about the experience for anyone interested - www.rhodenizer.com/consulting/cliffs/cliffs6.html

gsquared
gsquared

By default, Outlook 2007 won't run code in attachments. (Neither will 2003. I'm not sure about 2000.) The preview won't run executables, and asks you if you want to display pictures that aren't embedded in the e-mail. (A common tactic of spammers is to include an image in the e-mail that pulls from their server. Once you pull the image, they know your e-mail address is live and they send more junk to you. That's why Outlook has an option in it [set by default] that makes you click a link to display such pictures.) So, no, this doesn't give virus writers, spammers, etc., any advantage.

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