Whenever Microsoft releases a new version of Office, you can be sure it includes a batch of new features; Microsoft Office 2007 is no exception, with Outlook receiving the most new features. Although many of the new features found in Outlook 2007 are available to everyone, some of the new features will only work when Outlook 2007 is used in conjunction with Exchange Server 2007. In this article, I will discuss the benefits of using Outlook 2007 in an Exchange 2007 environment.
Note: All of the features in this article (with the exception of automatic configuration) are also available in Outlook Web Access (OWA). In fact, all of the screen shots in this article were taken from OWA. Outlook 2007 implements these features in a nearly identical manner.
Configuring Outlook 2007
One of my biggest pet peeves with Outlook 2003 was the initial deployment process. Actually, installing Office 2003 (of which Outlook 2003 was a part) was no big deal; Microsoft made it easy to deploy the software using SMS Server, group policies, or any number of third party applications. The cumbersome part was configuring Outlook 2003. When used in an Exchange Server 2003 environment, Outlook 2003 required you to enter the name of the user's mailbox and the name of the server the mailbox was stored on.
Entering these two simple pieces of information probably doesn't sound like a big deal at first. There are two reasons why this procedure has always bothered me. First, it only takes a second to enter the configuration information for a user. However, if you are deploying Outlook 2003 to a large number of users, then this simple process can become very time-consuming.
Second, the process seems unnecessary. Exchange 2003 is completely dependent upon Active Directory. If a user is using Outlook 2003 to connect to Exchange 2003, then it's a pretty safe bet that the user has an account in Active Directory. If this is the case, then the user’s Exchange mailbox and the server hosting the mailbox should also be listed within Active Directory.
I am pleased to report that Microsoft has designed Outlook 2007 to support automatic configuration. The first time a user runs Outlook 2007, Outlook performs an Active Directory query to determine whether or not the user who’s currently logged on has an Exchange Server mailbox. Assuming the user does have an Exchange mailbox, Outlook extracts the necessary configuration information from Active Directory, freeing the user (or the administrator) from having to manually configure Outlook.
Another wonderful new feature: Outlook now supports multiple out-of-office messages. I have always found out-of-office messages to be particularly tricky: It is important to provide enough information that your friends, family, and co-workers know where to reach you in the event of an emergency; however, you don’t want that information available to everyone.
A perfect example: I was planning on being out of the country for a few weeks, and wanted my editors and a few friends to know I wouldn't have access to e-mail while I was gone. However, I didn't want to post a message telling the world I was leaving the country; that would basically be an open invitation for someone to break into my house. In the end, I sent out detailed individual e-mail messages to my editors and friends, while my out-of-office message read: "I will not have access to e-mail until December 18."
The solution got the job done, but it was a lot of work to send e-mails to so many different people. Outlook 2007 greatly improves this situation because it allows you to display different out-of-office messages to different people. For example, you can have a detailed out-of-office message that will be seen only by your coworkers, while the rest of the world sees a generic message that does not provide an excessive amount of information.
The new Out of Office Assistant is shown in Figure A. You are given the opportunity to create two different out-of-office messages: one of these messages will be sent to any user within your Exchange Server organization; the other message can be sent to either anyone outside of your organization, or to senders who are on your contact list.
|You can now create two different out-of-office messages to send to people inside and outside of your organization.|
There are also now start and end times associated with out-of-office auto-replies. This is one of Microsoft’s new Set It And Forget It features. Suppose I found out I was going to have to be out of the office next week; I can set up my out-of-office message now, even though I’m not leaving until next week. This would help to prevent me from forgetting to turn on my out-of-office message, or from forgetting to turn it off when I get back into the office.
One of the features in Outlook 2007 that has received the most revision is without a doubt the calendar. Changes to the calendar range from the simple to the elaborate. I want to begin by showing you a relatively simple change to the calendar that could end up making your users' lives easier.
Microsoft has finally designed the calendar to allow you to drag and drop appointments. In Figure B, you will see an appointment on the calendar. The two small squares around the appointments border indicate that the appointment can be resized. By clicking on these squares and dragging them to the desired location, you can change the duration of an appointment. This might not seem like such a big deal, but keep in mind that this feature is also available in OWA. Just as you can adjust the duration of an appointment, you can also change the appointment's date and time by dragging the appointment to the desired location on the calendar.
|Outlook 2007 allows you to drag and drop appointments.|
Another improved area of the Outlook calendar is in the scheduling of appointments. It has long been possible to have Outlook search for the best time for an appointment, but this feature did not always work so well. It was not uncommon for Outlook to think that 3 a.m. on Saturday was a great time for a meeting, because everyone was available.
Before I give you a demonstration of how scheduling has been changed in Outlook 2007, I want to quickly mention that Exchange 2007 now supports multiple types of mailboxes. It is fairly common for companies to create mailboxes that correspond to various resources, such as conference rooms or pieces of equipment. The idea is that these mailboxes can be used in scheduling these resources. In Exchange 2007, Microsoft actually built in the ability to create resource mailboxes.
If you look at Figure C, you will see four different types of mailboxes: user mailboxes, the mailboxes that apply to individual users; legacy mailboxes, user mailboxes that exist on servers running older versions of Exchange; room mailboxes, resource mailboxes designed to correspond to conference rooms; and equipment mailboxes, which correspond to various pieces of equipment that might be used in meetings. When you create room and equipment mailboxes, you have to create a user account for those mailboxes; the user account is automatically disabled.
|Exchange 2007 now supports the creation of resource mailboxes.|
It's beyond the scope of this article, but it is possible to create custom attributes for a resource mailboxes. There is already a Resource Capacity attribute built in. This attribute is especially handy for room mailboxes, since you can specify how many occupants a conference room can accommodate. An example of a custom attribute you might create for a conference room would be network availability. People scheduling meetings will be able to tell whether network access is available in the conference room.
Let's look at how Outlook 2007 makes scheduling meetings easier. Outlook 2007 allows each user to specify their working hours, as shown in Figure D. This information is stored in Active Directory. Then, when a user attempts to schedule a meeting, the meeting will be scheduled within a time that is considered to be working hours for each invitee.
|Outlook 2007 allows each user to specify their working hours.|
To see how Outlook's scheduling capabilities have been improved, select Calendar and then press New to create a new appointment. Enter a name for the appointment, and then select Scheduling Assistant.
The Scheduling Assistant tab allows you to enter the meeting attendees, necessary equipment, and desired conference room. As you can see in Figure E, meeting attendees are color-coded. Required attendees are shown in red, optional attendees are shown in blue, and equipment is shown in green. Although I only have a single conference room defined, you have the option of displaying multiple conference rooms so you can search for availability during the desired meeting time.
|Meeting attendees are color-coded.|
If you look closely at the screen, you’ll notice a Show Only Working Hours checkbox. Selecting this checkbox prevents you from accidentally scheduling a meeting after hours.
You can also select a date and duration for the meeting. After doing so, the date that you have chosen will be displayed on the screen’s largest pane. The vertical green and red lines show the meeting duration. You can drag the proposed meeting line back and forth to select different time slots for the proposed meeting.
In a real-life situation, the various timeslots would be color-coded for each attendee to show whether the attendee was busy, out of the office, as a tentative appointment, etc. Based on this information, Outlook would display a list of suggested meeting times just below the meeting duration drop-down list. These suggested times would be color-coded to reflect whether the time was good, fair, or poor, based on attendee availability.