Tuesday, October 1, 2002

The future of Outlook


By Diane Poremsky

The next versions of Outlook and Exchange were introduced at the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC), held last week in Anaheim. While these programs won't be available publicly until next spring, beta testers should receive copies of Office 11 by early November. After seeing the demos of Outlook here at MEC, I want the beta now!

I've supported Outlook for years and after seeing the demonstrations last week, I think you'll be excited as I am by the possibilities the new versions of Outlook and Exchange hold. While many things can change between now and the official release of these programs (and probably will), many of the features users asked for will be in Outlook 11.

One of the most requested features involves the preview pane, which will now be called the "reading pane". It was moved from a bottom window position to the right side, giving you the full height of the window to display your messages. The position can be changed back to the bottom position for those who really do like the preview pane on the bottom of the window, but I can't imagine why you would want to, since the reading pane on the right allows you to see much more of both the header list and the message bodies before you need to scroll.

The header list has additional changes you should like, including grouping by date received. Currently, grouping by received date breaks the groups down to a totally useless groups based on the second the message arrived, the new grouping will be by day, with descriptions such as "Today", "Yesterday", and "Last Week".

Outlook includes "search folders", also called Smart Folders, which are virtual folders that display messages based on criteria you choose. Outlook will ship with predefined Smart Folders, including ones for Unread Messages, Large Messages and Follow Up. This means even if you filter messages to other folders, all unread messages will be listed in the virtual Unread Message folder. The virtual Follow up folder is a to-do list of all flagged messages, including those without reminders. Speaking of flags, you'll also have the ability to flag messages with different color flags-using just one simple click of the mouse.

These folders will be displayed in the Navigation bar, which replaces the current Outlook bar and folder list with one bar that displays both folder shortcuts and the folder list. As an added bonus, the special folders (Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Journal, and Notes) aren't displayed in the folder list with the mail folders.

Outlook 11 will be smarter when it comes to working online and offline. Currently, if you are working offline and you read an HTML message containing images stored on a web server, Outlook will try to connect. If your dialer is set on autodial, killing the connection is difficult. The new kinder, gentler Outlook won't attempt to retrieve the web content if you are not connected to the internet.