Software

Outlook 2010 includes some notable refinements

The upcoming version of Outlook offers some useful capabilities, including conversation threading, Quick Steps, and enhanced contact and calendaring features.

Outlook has been a fairly stable mail client since 2000 -- and it's only getting better. The upcoming new release, Outlook 2010, includes a few significant differences from previous versions. In this article, I will touch on some of these new features.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

Inbox Ribbon

One feature that stands out right away is the expanded use of the Ribbon. No longer confined to just the message windows, it now appears across the top of the Inbox as well (Figure A).

Figure A

Microsoft Office Outlook 2010 Inbox
Outlook 2010 also handles conversations in a new way. The original ways we are all used to are still there, but conversation threading has been added. The implementation isn't quite as perfect as I would like, as in it is currently done using Subject lines, but it is a decent feature nonetheless, and it makes email somewhat easier to manage. I'd like to see the feature use subject and sender or message ID for grouping conversations, but that is something for another discussion. Figure B shows the threading (or conversation) with messages expanded (email addresses have been removed). Figure B

Threading of messages in Outlook 2010

If a thread contains unread mail, it will appear in the folder as unread with the new message displayed. Following the subject of the message, the number of unread messages in the thread will be displayed . Notice that some messages within the thread are in my Inbox and others are in sent items. This grouping helps keep track of all messages in a thread regardless of where they live within your mailbox.

I was sure this feature was the next big thing until the particular thread shown in Figure C arrived. Yes, it was intended as a test message. But when I expanded the thread to see what it might look like, I saw the reason behind the need for a different implementation of threading (Figure D).

Figure C

Collapsed thread with new messages
Figure D

All messages matching the subject appear in the thread.

Quick Steps

Outlook 2010 introduces Quick Steps, an expedited way to complete an action using predefined or custom rules. Several are included by default, such as To Manager. When configured with your manager's info, it will create a copy of the selected message to send to your manager. Another default Quick Step is FYI, which inserts FYI into the subject of the forward rather than the ever-present FW.

The Ribbon in the Inbox is the first place you will see Quick Steps items. Figure E shows this view (expanded for better visibility). Figure E

Outlook 2010's Quick Steps

As you can see, quite a few options are already available. But if you need to use a repetitive action that isn't listed as a Quick Step, you can create your own by clicking Create New or New Quick Step.

When creating a new Quick Step, you can select from a subset of actions:

  • Move To Folder moves the selected message(s) to a specified folder.
  • Categorize And Move sets a message category and moves to a specified folder.
  • Flag And Move sets a message flag and move to a specified folder.
  • New Email To sends a new message to the specified recipient.
  • Forward To forwards the selected message(s) to a specified recipient.
  • New Meeting creates a new meeting request.
  • Custom Action allows custom items to be chosen for use as a quick step.
Note: Choosing Custom Action from the list will display a large number of Quick Step actions.

Quick Steps are much like rules in Outlook (which still exist), but they get toolbar buttons and shortcut keys assigned to them for easier on-the-fly use.

Outlook 2010 has also revamped the contacts feature. The Contacts folder looks much the same as before, but contact details within a message have changed. The summary popup you see when you click on the name of the sender in an email message is much improved, and the Details dialog, which appears when you double-click on a contact, is much easier to read and manage.

Figure F shows my contact card. Here, I can schedule a meeting, IM, or call the user if I am signed into an instant messaging application and see their presence and if my environment supports these features. A tab at the bottom of the dialog displays information about the contact's organization. Figure F

Contact card
Note: The contact information displayed in the contact card is pulled from the Global Catalog Entry for your Exchange environment, not from your personal contacts list.

Calendaring in Outlook 2010

The calendar remains largely unchanged in functionality in the upcoming release. It does appear more streamlined and in my opinion looks better than previous calendars. The Ribbon is heavily incorporated for common tasks, such as changing the view from Month to Week.

Calendar sharing, possible in previous releases, is more prominent as in Outlook 2010. And schedules have changed a bit. In previous releases, looking at a group schedule opened a dialog box displaying the show time as a portion of the selected user's calendar. Outlook 2010 takes this a step further by showing your groups from the scheduler in the left calendar pane and adding the calendars of those on the list below each group.

Selecting a group displays a grid-like view of free/busy data in the main Calendar window, similar to group scheduling in previous versions. This occurs if the group is too large for the side-by-side calendar display to fit on the screen.

Selecting a single user from the list displays their free/busy information as a calendar view next to your (or any other) open calendars. If you have permissions to view their calendar, the information is populated to replace the free/busy info.

Figure G shows a standard Calendar view in Outlook 2010 and a Group Schedule view. Figure G

My calendar (left) and Group Schedule (right)

About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

15 comments
Taddd
Taddd

Microsoft seems to focuse more on companys with the new version of Outlook, the calender and the quickstep-ribbon are very useful. But it is important to remember that especially companys need a reliable search, something Outlook 2010 can barely offer to its users. Outlook 2010 and lookeen is a combination that works very well for me, for those of you who want to know more about lookeen (there is enough information about Outlook ;), go to www.lookeen.net)

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

I'm probably the only one who will get excited about that. Once upon a time, I thought conversation threading was utterly useless. Having grown accustomed to it in less than a day's time, I can honestly say it works great for me. It greatly uncluttered my inbox.

Orphyx
Orphyx

I often want to see contacts grouped by category which I used to do by clicking on "Categories" in the left-hand navigator pane. I can't see how to get Outlook 2010's contacts to show that information. (My reason for listing by categories is because that's the only way I know (knew) how to send an email to everyone in a given category). Any ideas anyone?

Kate_OfficeLiveCares
Kate_OfficeLiveCares

This is a fantastic article, Derek! I'm sure the folks over on the Office and Outlook Pages on Facebook would really appreciate you sharing your thoughts, tips, and tricks on the Walls! There are some cool videos about Office 2010 here: http://www.facebook.com/Office?v=app_17037175766&viewas=7300773#/Office?v=app_17037175766&viewas=7300773 Join in the community conversation! Office: http://www.facebook.com/office PowerPoint: http://www.facebook.com/pages/manage/?s=10&hash=5f0d924534a6ad587e7cfcf422132427#/pages/Microsoft-PowerPoint/80007646730 Cheers, Kate MSFT Office Outreach Team

jarsafe-register
jarsafe-register

If these "improvements" get you excited, you may want to stay away from strenuous activity....

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

And never mind the looks, have they fixed ANYTHING? Give it away for free; people are tired of paying big money for beta quality software. If not alpha quality being the taught norm these days...

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

http://fixoutlook.org I don't have a twitter account, but might as well help spread the word. For all that outlook 10 may, or may not, have going for it, this complete disregard for web standards is bad. Help fix outlook. (warning, there is an explosion of images, may slow down your computer)

Orphyx
Orphyx

I've found the solution myself. In the View tab there's an Arrangement group on the ribbon showing a Categories option, but it's greyed out. To get it to show you have to go to the Home tab and click (in the Current View group) on Phone, which displays contacts one per line. Then go to the View tab and now you can click on Categories. Voila!

marasamethod
marasamethod

I agree-it's possible that some of those who are excited about things like this don't get out much. However my next question is my state of ignorace. If I am terminating a recurring appointment in Outlook and there have been some time or day changes in some of those previous recurring appointments, why does Outlook delete those "Exceptions"? And is there a way to stop that and have the exceptions remain?

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

Using that Logic, Windows should never have been release. :) but, yea. 2007 blows, assuming 2010 to be the same.

jsnapp556
jsnapp556

Hello - I'm posting via several mediums as there are just too many people having the same issue - Everyone with this problem should ask for a refund - maybe they'll correct the problems.... MS Outlook, in any iteration, does not function correctly with Win7 64-bit and WMDC - Yes, you can sync some files, but not contacts, notes, mail, or correctly operate third-party applications that share/sync data with MS Outlook - Here's some history: I began with installing MS Office 2010 64-bit to match my Win7 environment. As I am running Win7 64-bit, I downloaded and ran the latest Mobile Device Center 64-bit. Nothing functioned with MS Outlook 2010. I followed the errors through Google and found that MS Office 2010 (specifically MS Outlook 2010) 64-bit will not function with ActiveSync, Mobile Device Center, nor any programs sharing data with Outlook. Uninstalled MS Office 2010 64-bit and the installed MS Office 2010 32-bit. Again, as I am running Win7 64-bit, still required the latest Mobile Device Center 64-bit (Windows will not allow loading of the 32-bit version). This did not work - Same errors; I could sync files, but not contacts, notes, media, etc. Also, as I utilize Cardscan Executive to capture business cards and had automatically sync'd data between Cardscan and Outlook, I noted that this feature would not function either. Uninstalled MS Office 2010 32-bit and installed MS Office 2007. Everything worked out of the gate - nothing to configure on this end. Outlook 2010, in any form, will not function with the Mobile Device Center or any application that shares data with it. For me, Outlook 2010 rendered my business contact management schema useless. I am requesting a refund from Microsoft - More to follow on their response and action... Here is HTC's response this a.m. on the subject: Thank you for your reply. I actually was preparing to let you know that the problem was Office/Outlook 2010. For whatever reason, Microsoft has not updated the synchronization software to work with the new format used in Outlook 2010. We experience the same problem with our Android phones as well utilizing HTC Sync; no compatibility with Outlook 2010. I know that our engineers are doing everything they can on that front to provide compatibility with Outlook 2010, but I can't speak for Microsoft's side. I will certainly send this information up as a suggestion to the proper department, and I do apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced. Sincerely, HTC

admin
admin

Word being Outlook's html renderer is no new news. Outlook 2007 also used it and Microsoft will most likely continue to use word especially since the latest IE fiasco, and now that Outlook has been announced for Mac, Outlook for Mac will need to use word as there is no more IE for Mac.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

'I am requesting a refund from Microsoft - More to follow on their response and action...' Read the license agreement. Outlook (and almost all other software products for most vendors) is expressly not warranted to do anything except spin your electric meter. Once you agree to the EULA (usually by opening the package), you're out of luck.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

but that doesn't men it shouldn't be changed. and outlook shouldn't be reliant on word or IE. what about people who don't use IE at all? Why should they be forced to use it in their email client?

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