Six Awesome Outlook 2010 Enhancements!
While Microsoft Outlook has not changed much over the years, it has made significant strides with Outlook 2010 by introducing a number of new features that won't go unnoticed.
May 11, 2011
Microsoft Outlook is the most widely used e-mail client in the world. Yet, Microsoft made virtually no changes to it with MS Office 2007. They were saving the fireworks for Office 2010 ... and it was well worth the wait.
Obviously the most notable change is the introduction of the Ribbon. Yes, for some, this is not necessarily a welcome change, even though Outlook's Ribbon is probably the best Ribbon yet. Microsoft introduced the Ribbon with MS Office 2007. The core purpose of the ribbon was to help the non-savvy users become savvy users by moving all the hidden gems out into the open. As a power user, this created some significant frustration for me in the transitioning away from the menu's and toolbars. However, now three years later, I have come to love the Ribbon and very much embraced the introduction of the Ribbon to Outlook 2010.
The Ribbon for Outlook includes some new features that truly help save time. Quick Steps allow for custom actions to be created that you perform often enough to warrant a single click, almost like a Macro.
For example, I regularly need to forward e-mails to my business partner so I decided to create a Quick Step. In the Quick Step ribbon I clicked "Create New" and had a number of options to choose from (see image.) I then created a Quick Step that not only forwards the e-mail to him, but it also sends automatically within one minute so I don't have to do anything, but click the button!
The Ribbon is a living creature, in that the Ribbon's settings change, as you are working. By simply moving my cursor to the Search field at the top of my mailbox, the Ribbon changes to the Search Ribbon:
As you can see, the Search Ribbon brings forward many advanced search features that were oftentimes under-utilized in prior versions of Outlook.
In addition to the Ribbon, Microsoft has added a number of enhancements to Outlook 2010 that are some truly killer features. First and foremost is the Outlook Social Connector. Previously I had used an Outlook add-in called Xobni to provide a link between my Outlook contacts and the variety of social networks I use. However, I have found the Outlook Social Connector provides for a far superior interface and merges these separate worlds seamlessly.
Through the benefit of the Social Connector Add-ins, when I read an e-mail from anyone, I see their Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter updates all within the Outlook interface. In addition, if I am not already connected with them in one of these social networks, I can easily click and make the connection. A bit scarier, but kind of cool at the same time, is the way in which social connectors communicate clearly with various social networks. For example, when I next login to LinkedIn or Facebook after receiving an e-mail from a previously unknown person, guess who is being recommended as a connection? Yes, clearly there is some level of privacy that is being lost, but for me, I find the convenience to be very valuable.
Microsoft Outlook has for years provided a threaded conversation view for your e-mail. However, it never made much sense in the way it sorted things and has not been widely used. Outlook 2010 introduces a re-engineered Conversation View that is superior to its predecessors. The new Conversation View groups e-mails with the same Subject in a logical manner that is extremely useful when attempting to follow a threaded conversation. I will admit however, it isn't perfect. Because the message Subject is used to group the e-mails you will find that completely unassociated messages will get grouped together from time to time, particularly when someone sends you the dreaded no Subject e-mails. Overall, the threading and grouping is very useful and helps to keep your inbox manageable and conversations organized.
Inbox Clean Up
A new feature of Outlook 2010 is the Inbox Clean Up tool. For those of you who depend more on Search than on organized folders, this is a great tool. This Clean up agent scans all your e-mails and purges redundant messages. There are a handful of settings from which you can choose how to perform this "Clean Up."
For example, you can have a thread of e-mails from the same person that includes all replies back and forth on all messages. The reality is that you need to keep the last message only because it includes the full history of the conversation. This tool deletes the redundant messages and only keeps the most recent copy of the thread. This tool helped reduce the size of my mailbox by 10 percent the first time I ran it. And it has probably saved me a significant amount of time over the last 18 months of searching threads of e-mails for the correct dialog.
A neat trick for Outlook 2010 is the "Insert Screenshot" button when creating a new message. In fact, this new tool is available throughout Office 2010. By clicking the button you will find multiple options, it provides a single click to choose all of the active windows on your PC or you can select the "Screen Clipping" tool. This is a huge advantage for the non-savvy user who typically sends the full dual-monitor screenshot when they only want to send the little error message from one monitor.
The improvements made to Outlook 2010 will ensure that Outlook continues to be the number one e-mail client used today and in the future. Some of the enhancements are subtle, while others, like the Ribbon, are very much in-your-face improvements. In addition to the functionality improvements the user interface has been significantly improved beyond just the Ribbon. The layout on the main Messages screen of Outlook has been designed to be more flexible to allow for customization of the Navigation Pane, Reading Pane and To-do Pane that will meet every user's preference. Another user interface improvement is within the Calendars view. Quite a bit of work has been done to unclutter the calendar view and make it easier to see what is going on in your world.
I strongly encourage anyone considering the Office 2010 upgrade to jump in, if for no other reason but for the new Outlook 2010.
Reader Note: Don't miss Byron Patrick's session, Deep Dive Into Outlook, at the AICPA Tech+ Conference, June 13 – 15, in Las Vegas, NV.
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