Ten tips for getting the most out of Outlook 2003

Microsoft Outlook 2003 offers a number of compelling new features that can improve productivity and streamline various tasks. Here are 10 individual tips that can help you take advantage of many of Outlook 2003's new features.

1. Simplify remote access with RPC over HTTP
Prior to Exchange Server 2003 and Outlook 2003, providing remote access for users to their Exchange mailboxes meant either deploying Outlook Web Access or deploying and supporting VPN access to the server's network. With Exchange Server 2003 and Outlook 2003, Exchange Server administrators can deploy RPC over HTTP to enable remote access to the mail server through ports 80 and 443, common ports that already open in most perimeter network firewalls.

There are a handful of steps on the Exchange Server side to enable RPC over HTTP. Rather than dwell on them here, I'll point you to "Step-by-Step: Proper setup of the Exchange RPC Server," which provides step-by-step instructions on setting up RPC over HTTP. Also check out Microsoft's information on this topic for more help in setting up and configuring RPC over HTTP.

On the client side, you must use Outlook 2003 to connect to Exchange Server with RPC over HTTP. The client must also be running Windows XP with Service Pack 1 or later with the Q331320 patch installed.

You'll find the settings to enable RPC over HTTP access for Outlook in the properties for the Exchange Server account. Choose Tools | E-Mail Accounts and then click Next, choose the Exchange Server account, and click Change. Click More Settings and then click the Connection tab. Near the bottom you'll find the option Connect To My Exchange Mailbox Using HTTP. If the option is not shown, the computer doesn't have the Q331320 update installed.

Enabling access through HTTP is fairly simple. Enable the option and click Exchange Proxy Settings to specify the server's URL, connection options, and authentication options. For step-by-step instructions, see "Step-by-Step: Set up the Outlook 2003 Client for Exchange RPC Server."

2. Organize Messages with custom Search Folders
One of the new features in Outlook 2003 that I've come to appreciate the most for helping me locate and organize messages is the new Search Folders feature. Search folders look and function like other Outlook folders, but unlike the Inbox or Sent Items folders, for example, search folders don't really exist as folders. Instead, search folders are a special type of view that displays the results of a search as the contents of a folder.

Outlook 2003 includes three search folders by default: Unread Mail, Large Mail, and For Follow Up. You can use each of these as-is or modify them to suit the way you use Outlook. For example, I've customized the Unread Mail search folder to exclude certain folders I seldom use and to include others that I've created to help organize my mail.

To customize a search folder, right-click the search folder in the Navigation pane and choose Customize This Search Folder. Outlook displays a dialog box that shows the name of the search folder (which you can change), along with two other controls that enable you to customize the folder. The Criteria button opens a criteria-specific dialog box. In the Large Mail folder, for example, clicking Criteria lets you change the minimum size for a message to be considered large. If the search folder displays messages from specific senders, clicking Criteria enables you to choose those senders. With search folders that operate on specific folders—such as the Unread Mail folder—you can click Browse to choose the folders to be included in the search.

To create a new search folder, right-click the Search Folders branch in the Navigation pane and choose New Search Folder. The New Search Folder dialog box offers several predefined search folders, or you can scroll down to the bottom of the list and choose Create a Custom Search Folder to suit whatever it is you are trying to find or organize. The choices you have for criteria are the same as those offered by Outlook's Advanced Find dialog box (sender, size, recipient, date, and so on).

3. Block Spam and Web Beacons in Outlook 2003
Spam has become a major productivity killer. Microsoft recognized that fact and built improved spam blocking into Outlook 2003. Where previous versions used a rather limited keyword checking method to block messages, Outlook 2003 is much more aggressive about detecting and blocking spam. You can also create a whitelist and blacklist to explicitly allow or block messages regardless of their content. For example, you probably receive at least some list-based messages and want them to come through, even though they might otherwise be recognized as spam.

To configure Outlook 2003's spam filters, choose Tools, Options, and click Junk E-Mail on the Preferences tab. The resulting Junk E-Mail Options dialog box offers four tabs:
  • Options. Use the options on this tab to specify how aggressive Outlook should be in blocking spam. You can turn off filtering altogether, set it to one of two intermediate levels, or set it to block all messages from sender and recipient addresses that are not on your Safe Senders and Safe Recipients lists. The last option on this tab, if enabled, causes Outlook to delete the spam rather than place it in your Junk E-mail folder.
  • Safe Senders. Use this tab to add individual addresses or entire domains from which you want to receive messages, regardless of content. If you want to block a subdomain, you must include the subdomain in the list. For example, adding would allow messages from, but would not explicitly allow messages from You would have to add to the list to ensure messages from that subdomain would not be treated as spam.
  • Safe Recipients. Use this tab to specify recipient addresses to which mail will be delivered regardless of content. For example, if you belong to one or more mailing lists, you should add the list address to the Safe Recipients list to ensure that those messages are not treated as spam.
  • Blocked Senders. This is your blacklist. Add to it the addresses, domains, and subdomains from which you don't want to receive mail. Any message from an address or domain on this list will be treated as spam.

One other way to help control and reduce spam is to let Outlook block automatic download of remote images. To configure this option, click the Security tab of the Options dialog box and click Change Automatic Download Settings. You'll find four options that let you control how Outlook handles images in your messages.

4. Customize the Blocked Attachments lists
Many viruses and worms propagate through e-mail attachments, making attachments a very real security risk for all Outlook users, and ultimately to the networks on which those users' computers reside. Microsoft introduced the capability to block attachments with a security update for Outlook 2000. Outlook 2002 and Outlook 2003 incorporate these same features.

Outlook recognizes two levels of attachments. Level 1 attachments cannot be opened by the user. You can view the message itself but Outlook disables the GUI elements that would otherwise make it possible to open or save the attachment to disk. You can't open Level 2 attachments in Outlook either, but you can save them to disk. This capability still poses some risk if a background virus scanner is not running on the client computer to scan the file automatically as soon as it is saved. But, Level 2 is still better than no protection.

You can configure attachment blocking in Outlook 2002 and 2003 in two ways, the first of which is to modify the registry at the client:
  • Open the Registry Editor and open the key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Outlook\Security.
  • If the string value Level1Remove doesn't exist, create it. In that value, add the file extensions, separated by semicolons, of any Level 1 attachments that you want Outlook to treat as Level 2 attachments.
  • To add file types to the Level 1 attachment list, add the value Level1Add to the same key and enter the file extensions separated by semicolons.

The second method to configure attachment blocking is to do it at the Exchange Server. The Outlook 2003 Resource Kit includes the Outlook Security Features Administrative Package (AdminPak), which you can use to control a wide range of security settings on the Exchange Server, including attachment blocking. See the documentation that comes with the AdminPak to configure attachment blocking at the server.

5. Assign a task to multiple team members
Exchange Server gives you the capability to easily assign tasks to others with Outlook. For example, you might need to assign tasks for the people who work for you. When you assign a task and the person accepts it, that person becomes the owner of the task. Outlook sends you task updates when the task owner makes changes to the task so you can track progress.

Sometimes you might want to assign a task to more than one person. For example, maybe you're working on a team project and need to delegate certain tasks to people in your group. Outlook doesn't give a way to assign a single task to multiple individuals while still maintaining the capability to view the task's status. You can get around this limitation by changing the way you assign tasks.

Instead of assigning a task as a single object, break up the task into individual tasks and assign those individual tasks to specific team members. If you need to divide a task among multiple teams, divide the overall tasks into individual team tasks, and then send these task assignments to each team leader. The team leaders can then allocate these tasks to team members, and you and the team leader can then receive task status updates as the team members work on their assigned tasks.

6. Open multiple Exchange Server mailboxes
Most Outlook users who work with Exchange Server have only one mailbox. Often, it isn't necessary to open more than one mailbox because Exchange Server and Outlook provide for group scheduling without direct access to others' calendars or inboxes. However, there are several situations where access to a secondary mailbox is useful. For example, an assistant might need to check a boss' calendar, a team might need access to a group calendar, or a support staffer might need to access a shared mailbox for incoming support requests.

You can only add one Exchange Server account in an Outlook profile, which means you can't simply add a second mailbox to your profile. You can, however, open the other mailbox along with your own as long as you have the necessary permissions for the mailbox.

First, set the permissions on the folder(s) in the mailbox:
  1. Open Outlook with a profile that includes the Exchange Server mailbox on which you need to configure permissions.
  2. Open the folder list.
  3. Right-click the root folder of the mailbox (Outlook Today) and choose Properties.
  4. Click the Permissions tab and click Add, add the user(s), and click OK.
  5. In the Permissions tab, set the permission level to Reviewer (Read Items and Folder Visible) and click OK.
  6. Right-click a folder in which you want to grant permissions and click Properties | Permissions.
  7. Add the user and set permissions as needed according to what he needs to be able to do in that folder.
  8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 for any other folders you want the user to be able to view and work in.

After setting permissions, add the mailbox to the Outlook profile:
  1. Open the profile and open the properties for the Exchange Server account.
  2. Click More Settings, click the Advanced tab, and click Add in the Mailboxes group.
  3. Enter the user's mailbox alias and click OK.
  4. Click OK to close the property sheet, then close the remaining dialog boxes and start Outlook.

The additional mailboxes appear in your list, but only folders in which you have at least Reviewer-level permission appear in the mailbox.

7. Publish users' free/busy status for users without Exchange Server
Exchange Server automatically makes users' free/busy information available for all other users on that server for group scheduling. If you don't use Exchange Server or you need to make free/busy information available to users outside of your Exchange Server organization, you can use Microsoft's Office Internet Free/Busy Service, a free service managed by Microsoft. You must have Microsoft Passport in order to use this service.

With Office Internet Free/Busy Service, each Outlook user controls who sees his free/busy data. Here's how to configure Outlook to use the service:
  1. Choose Tools | Options, click Calendar Options, and click Free/Busy Options.
  2. In the Free/Busy Options dialog box, select Publish And Search Using Microsoft Office Internet Free/Busy Service.
  3. Specify the frequency at which you want your free/busy information sent to the server and the number of months of information to publish.
  4. Click Manage to open a Web browser on the Microsoft site and specify (by e-mail address) the people you want to be able to see your free/busy information.
  5. Back in Outlook, close all open dialog boxes, then choose Tools | Send/Receive | Free/Busy Information to update the information on the server.

Outlook can also publish to your own free/busy server using HTTP, FTP, or file URLs. Configure the Web or FTP site and the underlying folder permissions to allow users to write to the folder that will contain the free/busy information. Then in Outlook, choose Tools | Options, click Calendar Options, and click Free/Busy Options. Select the option Publish At My Location, then enter the URL to the server, including the file name as in the following example:

The file name should correspond to the user's e-mail address. You can replace the name with %name% and the server portion of the URL with %server% to have Outlook automatically replace the user's name in the path and use the server portion of the user's e-mail address as the search server.

Finally, enter the same URL in the Search Location field to specify the location for Outlook to search for other users' free/busy information. Make sure to use %name%.vfb for the file name, which will cause Outlook to look for the user's free/busy information based on e-mail address.

8. Easily change multiple contacts at once
Making the same change to several contacts can really be an unproductive use of your time. Fortunately, you can often simplify the process and make the same change to multiple contacts as one task.

For example, let's say you need to change the fax number for several contacts at the same company. You can make that change with a simple drag-and-drop action with Outlook's ability to group items in the Contacts folder view. Here's how:
  1. Open the folder containing the contacts to be changed.
  2. Click View Arrange By | Current View and choose a table view that best displays the information you need to change. For example, choose Group By Company because its table view includes the fax number. Then, choose View | Arrange By | Current View | Customize Current View.
  3. Click Group By and then click Clear All. From the Group Items By list, choose the item you want to change (in this example, Business Fax).
  4. From the Expand/Collapse Defaults drop-down list, choose All Collapsed. Click OK twice to return to the view you just created.
  5. Expand the group whose item you want to change.
  6. Open one of the contacts and make the needed change, then save and close the contact. This contact now appears by itself under a different group.
  7. To propagate the change, drag the gray grouping bar for the unchanged contacts and drop it on the grouping bar for the modified contact. Outlook makes the change to the other contacts automatically.

Whatever field you need to change, just remember that you need to first display a table view and then group it by the item you want to change. If you customize an existing standard view rather than create a custom one, you can restore the view to its default condition by clicking View | Arrange By | Current View | Define Views, selecting the view, and clicking Reset.

9. Use Word for custom message printing
Outlook doesn't offer much for printing messages. For example, you have no control over the layout of the message on the printed page. Although there isn't a means in the Outlook GUI to customize printing, you can create a script that copies the message to Word, where you exercise all of the control you want over how the message prints.

Start by creating a Word document that defines the structure for the printed message. Enter labels, separator lines, and other items in the Word document. Then, place the cursor where you want a message item such as subject or body inserted, and click Text Form Field on the Form toolbar. Select a field and choose Insert, Bookmark. Name the bookmark according to the Outlook item it will contain, such as Subject, Body, SenderName, and so on. Save the document as a Word template.

Next, you need a script that copies the content to Word. Here is a sample from my book, Microsoft Outlook 2003 Inside Out (Microsoft Press, 2003), that you can use to print messages with Word.

Scan through this script and make sure you note the bookmark names, then name the bookmarks in your own Word template accordingly. Choose Tools | Macro | Macros, enter the name CustomMessagePrint, and click Create. Copy and paste the macro into the Visual Basic editor and then close it. Assign the macro to a toolbar button in Outlook, then open a message and click the button. Your message should then print from Word using the layout you've specified in the template.

10. Using group schedules in Outlook 2003
Outlook lets you view the free/busy status of other users, either through Exchange Server or through a free/busy server such as the one offered by Microsoft or your own internal free/busy server. You're probably aware that you can view someone else's schedule when you create a meeting request, but you might not know that you can create and work with group schedules without creating meeting requests. This is handy when you need to monitor other people's schedules but not schedule meetings with them.

Here's how to create a group schedule in Outlook 2003:
  1. Open the Calendar folder and click the View Group Schedules button on the toolbar.
  2. Click New, enter a name for the new group, and click OK.
  3. In the resulting group schedule dialog box, click Add Others and choose Add from Address Book.
  4. Select the people (or resources) whose schedules you want to include and click OK.
  5. Click Add Others and choose Add Public Folder if you want to add a calendar stored in a public folder.

The dialog box should now show the free/busy times for the selected people and resources. If you do want to schedule a meeting, just click Make Meeting and choose an option to create either a new meeting request or a new message with a selected individual or all individuals in the schedule. Use the Zoom drop-down list to choose the amount of scheduling information to view.

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