With the release of Office 2007 with Outlook 2007 just a few months away, now is the time for Exchange administrators to start tinkering with the Outlook 2007 client. Recently released as a part of "Office 2007 beta 2," Outlook 2007 appears, in some ways, to be a massive leap forward, while evolutionary in other ways. For those of you who are brave souls (or, if you're using virtual machine software to give yourself a "playground"), you can now test the new Outlook 2007 by downloading the Office 2007 beta 2 from Microsoft's web site.
First of all, one of the first things you will notice about Outlook 2007 is that it hasn't undergone the huge facelift that was provided to the rest of the products in the Office suite. Outlook received its revamped interface with the release of Outlook 2003. That's not to say that there are no interface enhancements. On the contrary, Outlook gains what I consider to be a softer color scheme that actually makes things easier to read, at least in my opinion. Most noticeably, however, is the addition of the "To-Do Bar" at the right-hand side of the window, which helps you make the best use of the real estate on a wide screen monitor. The To-Do Bar, which supplements the Outlook Today page and appears everywhere, includes a monthly calendar view along with a list of upcoming calendar events and task items sorted by due date. But, the feature I like best about the To-Do Bar is its inclusion of flagged messages in a place that's front and center. I like Outlook 2003's message flagging feature, but it's still too easy to forget that you've flagged something when you receive hundreds of messages per day.
Outlook 2007 also includes the ability to view most attachments from within the reading pane. If you recall older versions of Outlook, you had to open attachments in their own window with the native program.
One of Outlook's most significant new features is the inclusion of RSS feeds as a part of the product. For years, third-party products have attempted to fill this niche; some with success. Adding RSS news feeds to Outlook 2007 is simple and RSS feeds can be synchronized between Outlook 2007 and IE 7, which also sports RSS news capability.
Should you roll Outlook 2007 beta 2 out to your whole office? Definitely not. However, if you have a spare computer sitting around, or you have a virtual machine just dying to get a workout, give Outlook 2007 a go before it rolls to the masses and you have to play catch up.