Microsoft Office 2007: Outlook

There’s no disguising the fact that Outlook 2007 has a split personality. At first glance, it looks much like the 2003 version, but some major work has gone on behind the scenes. The main interface still has menus and toolbars, but when you open an individual item you’ll see the new Ribbon interface.

Microsoft Office 2007: Outlook

When creating a new email message, you have access to just about all the features available in Word. That’s because the email editor is Word – all the sensible features that make sense in this environment are available. You can insert tables, charts and SmartArt. Spelling and grammar errors are shown with red and green squiggles. You can use styles, fonts and colour. Of course, you can still choose to send email in plain text if you wish to.

Categories

In Outlook 2003 you were able to mark mail with coloured flags to remind you to do something with them. For 2007, the colour has been moved from the reminder flag to the categories. The colours show up as little blocks or bars on the items that have one or more categories assigned. Separately, you can flag an item to be dealt with today, tomorrow, this week, next week, and so on. Converting existing coloured flags to the new system is a pain, but the new system makes more sense in the long term. Marking items with categories also means that colleagues no longer have to guess what you meant by “the blue flag” on items in public folders.

The navigation pane on the left of the main Outlook window has also evolved and now lets you hide or show its parts individually or, indeed, collapse it so it takes up minimal space.

On the right-hand side of the main window is a new To-Do Bar. This shows a miniature date navigator and the next few appointments from your calendar. You can customise how many months and how many appointments to show and the rest of the space is taken up with a Task List. This lists not only the tasks from your tasks folder but also the emails and other items you’ve flagged for follow-up today, next week, and so on. You can open the items, change their categories, mark them as complete or reschedule them by right-clicking them or dragging them around.

Calendar and Contacts

The Calendar view has changed quite substantially. Appointments and events are shown more subtly and coloured according to their categories. In Day or Week view, you can also see the list of tasks to be done each day, below the appointments. You can drag the tasks from day to day to reschedule them, or drag them up into the calendar area if you want to block out some time to deal with an item. At last, you can set up appointments in foreign timezones. Click the Time Zones button on the Ribbon of an appointment and timezone pickers appear next to the start and end times. These are great for trips abroad when you often need to set up appointments at your destination before you’ve left. There are also some great new tools for sharing and publishing calendars: you can email people a copy of your calendar for a day, a week or a month, or you can invite someone to share your calendar or publish it to Microsoft’s Office Online website for other people to subscribe to.

For Contacts, the only real addition is a new view called Business Cards. By default, this lays out brief details of all your contacts as though they were regular-sized business cards. You also get the opportunity to design business cards for people, specifically yourself, deciding what information is shown and adding colour and/or a picture. If you attach your vCard to outgoing email, this business card shows up at the bottom of your mail and the recipient can add all your details, including the card layout, to their Outlook Contacts folder. The theory is that people often look for contacts based on what their card looks like, rather than what their name is.

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