Monday, October 1, 2007

Working with Outlook forms: customize or use as-is?


By Kathy T. Evans-Davis

Gathering and distributing information in Microsoft Outlook is accomplished by using customizable, built-in forms. More than likely, you use them every day. Using Outlook forms allows you to group and sort, respond to, and view your collected information. Mail messages are a prime example of this "grouping" format. When you send email messages, create appointments, or create contact lists you use customizable, built-in forms.

In this article, we'll talk about the tradeoff between customizing those forms or finding ways to use them as-is. If you're using any recent Outlook version, this article can be of some help. The information in this article applies to Microsoft Office Outlook 2002 Standard Edition, 2003, and 2007.

For example, start with a form based on an email message. You can customize it and add functionality such as automatic name checking. You can further modify the form by adding and removing fields, options, controls, and tabs. A form can be saved as a file to use as a template to make it available for others to use. This is particularly useful to promote consistency in methods of communication in throughout your office.

Through advanced software development, forms can be programmed by using Microsoft Visual Basic Scripting Edition and further extended using Microsoft ActiveX controls and Web browser controls. If you're like me and are not a developer, then you might want to play it safe and stick with the "factory recommended" built-in functionality.

Types of Outlook Forms

You may ask, "How do I create a custom form and what types of forms are available for me to create?" Go ahead. Ask it. I'll wait.

Since you asked, here's what you need to know. There are several Outlook default forms available for use, but you first have to determine what you wish to accomplish with the form. What are you trying to create? The following is a list of the types of Outlook forms and how they are typically used:

  • Appointment: represents a meeting or scheduled event
  • Contact: keeps track of information about a person or organization
  • Distribution: creates and compiles a list of contacts and email addresses to be used as a single email address
  • Journal Entry: logs information about another item or an event
  • Mail Message: sends information to someone in a specific format, or allows them to enter data to send to someone else
  • Post: facilitates threaded conversations in a Microsoft Exchange public folder, or can be used to post file attachments to a folder
  • Task: tracks information about a task that needs to be accomplished.