As you know, the Windows Address Book has come with the Windows operating system since Windows 98. It was both a stand-alone application and the primary e-mail address store for Outlook Express. While Address Book was quite useable, it was never really dramatically updated in all those years and actually was a bit stodgy both in looks and functionality. Fortunately, Windows Vista has a new address book program called Windows Contacts that is snazzier and much more powerful than its predecessor. In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I’ll examine some of the cool features in Windows Contacts.

Use Pictures

In this day and age of the digital camera, just about everyone’s Pictures folder is overflowing. So why not put those pictures to practical use and take advantage of a very cool feature in Windows Contacts — the ability to assign pictures of your friends and family to their contact information. You can then configure the Contacts folder to use the Large Icon view. Now, you will be able to quickly locate contact information by clicking on a familiar face.

To add a picture, just double-click the contact in the Contacts folder. On the Name and E-mail tab, click the dropdown arrow in the picture frame and select the click Change picture command. (Windows adds a default image for each contact you create.) This will open your Pictures folder and you can select any picture you like. You don’t have to resize the picture, but it will be better if you crop the image to just the person whose contact information you’re editing. Fortunately, cropping is quick and easy with Windows Photo Gallery.

Search contacts

Because Windows Contacts are stored in the Contacts folder as individual .contact files, they’re just another data type in the Windows Vista operating system that can be indexed and searched by Windows Search. So you can quickly find an individual contact in your Contacts folder by clicking the Start button and typing the name of contact in the Start Search text box and pressing [Enter]. Once the name appears in the Start Menu-based search results, you can open the contact file or you can right-click on the contact name and select Action | Send E-mail to instantly compose and send a message.

Add Windows Live Contacts

Microsoft designed Windows Contacts from the ground up to be a unified contacts platform across Microsoft applications. To achieve this, they used a new XML based file format that provides a more open integration path with other applications. Furthermore, rather than more traditional database-like program, each contact appears as an individual contact file in the Contacts folder.

In any case, these new design features will allow you to integrate your Windows Live Contacts with Windows Contacts. Of course, what you’ll end up with in Windows Contacts will depend on how well you have your Windows Live Contacts organized.

The first step is to configure Windows Live Messenger to make its contacts accessible. To do so, launch Windows Live Messenger, click Tools | Options, and select Security. Next, locate and clear the Encrypt Contact List Data So That It Is Not Accessible Outside Windows Live Messenger check box. To complete this step, click OK and then sign off and back on to Windows Live Messenger.

Now, launch Windows Contacts. When you do, you’ll see a new folder with the same name as your Windows Live email address. When you open this folder, you’ll see all of your Windows Live and Windows Live Messenger contacts.

Sharing Contacts

Chances are good that someone in your network of family and friends will ask you for contact information on a mutual friend. If you have the contact information in Windows Contact, you can just send them the whole contact — no more copying and pasting.

If the person you want to share the contact with is using Windows Vista, you can just send them the contact by right-clicking on the contact you want to send, clicking the Send To | Mail command. When you do, a new email message will appear with the contact file attached to it.

If the person you want to share the contact with is using a previous version of Windows, you can just send them the contact in vCard format by right-clicking on the contact you want to send, and clicking the Send Contact command. When you do, a new e-mail message will appear with the contact file converted into a vCard and attached to it.

Are you using Windows Contacts?

If you’re using Windows Vista, are you using Windows Contacts? Have you discovered any cool features that save you time? If so, drop by the discussion area and let us hear from you.