Thursday, March 1, 2007

Why I like Outlook 2007 and you will too


By Bill Mann

There's been a lot of negative talk about Outlook 2007 recently, with potential upgrade problems and the apparent step backwards in the way it renders HTML among them. I know I've had some critical things to say myself. But when all is said and done, Outlook 2007 has a lot going for it. I like it and you will too. Here are some of the reasons why.

The Ribbon

The Ribbon is the big user interface change for Outlook 2007 and the rest of its Microsoft Office 2007 siblings. The Ribbon appears when you're in places where you might do a lot of typing or editing, such as when you are working with an email message or a calendar appointment. Whatever you're doing when it is visible, the Ribbon displays the most commonly-used commands for the task you are working on.

Figure A shows the Ribbon as it appears when I'm about to start typing a message.


The Ribbon makes it easier to find commands when you don't have keyboard shortcuts memorized. (click for larger image)

If you're a casual user of Outlook, you'll soon find the Ribbon an easier and faster way to find the commands you need to get your work done. In a boost to efficiency, you can select any command in the Ribbon using keyboard shortcuts (with hints appearing on the screen as you go) so you can do most of your work without even touching the mouse.

Just as important, Microsoft listened to the needs of Outlook power users and kept the old keyboard shortcuts that power users love. If you're one of those power users, you won't have to relearn a whole new set of shortcuts to get back to full productivity with Outlook 2007.

I like the fact that I can mix and match. I've never made it to the "do everything without touching the mouse" stage of user-hood. I have my favorite keyboard shortcuts that I use automatically, and these still work.

And when I need to use one of those commands and options I don't have memorized, they're usually right in front of my face on the Ribbon. I get to work the way that works best for me.

The To-Do Bar

This seemed like a good idea when I first heard about it. In fact, the To-Do Bar is a major improvement in Outlook 2007. The Ribbon and the new look are the most obvious changes to Outlook 2007, but the most important change is the To-Do Bar. At least, it is for someone like me, who lives in Outlook all day.

The To-Do Bar is visible in every Outlook 2007 view (You can hide it to give yourself more screen space for other parts of Outlook, but you won't want to!), running down the right side of the Outlook window.