When you first run Outlook 2007, you’d be forgiven for thinking that not much has changed, but it has in fact had a major overhaul. The main window still shows menus and toolbars, but all the other components have the new Ribbon interface. The various editors are based on Word, so you get most of its features and formatting while composing emails, including proofing tools.
You can now show and hide the different parts of the navigation pane individually, or collapse it to a thin bar to maximise space. On the right of the main window is the new To-Do bar showing a miniature calendar, list of upcoming appointments and a simple to-do list, containing tasks, mail and other items you’ve flagged for follow-up. You can drag them around to reschedule them, assign categories, set a deadline or mark as complete. You can also open an item directly from the To-Do bar by double-clicking on it. If you’re short of screen space, it’s possible to collapse it to virtually nothing or turn it off.
If you’re upgrading from Outlook 2003, you’ll be asked when you start if you want to convert the old coloured flags on items to the new colour categories. This separates the colouring and the reminder flag, and associates category words with the colours so they’re easier to understand and share with other people. It may take you a while to adapt to the new system, but it’s more flexible and makes more sense.
The calendar views are nicer to look at. Appointments are coloured according to their categories and, in day and week views, you can see a list of tasks due that day at the bottom of the window. You can drag the tasks to reschedule them, click their flags to mark them complete or click the category colour patch to change their categories. If you want to set a specific time aside to perform a task, you can drag it up into the calendar area. Finally, Outlook appointments can now have time zones associated to the start and end times, so you can set up a meeting for 11am GMT while you’re in the EST time zone without having to do the maths. Start and end times can have different time zones, so you can easily schedule flights or other long journeys that start in one zone and end in another.
There are many new ways to share your calendar with others. For instance, you can email people a copy of your calendar for a day, week or month. The email will contain a human-readable part and an attached file they can import into their own calendar. You can include just your free/busy information, brief or full details about your appointments. You can publish your calendar to Office Online for other people to subscribe to, or you can subscribe to a public calendar. You can see any calendars to which you have access on their own, side-by-side with others or as overlays; this combines appointments from all selected calendars into one view.
To find information quickly, Outlook uses Windows Desktop Search 3. This is built into Windows Vista, but is a separate download for Windows XP. Every Outlook folder presents a small search dialog. Start typing in the box and Outlook instantly filters items in the folder to those containing the text you’ve typed. It also highlights the matching text. You can expand the search criteria, specifying more complex parameters or expand the scope of the search to all mail items or the whole Outlook store.
New for 2007, Outlook can now subscribe to RSS feeds and share the same feeds with IE7. Outlook will download new items from your chosen feeds every couple of hours, putting them into separate folders for each feed. By default, feeds are arranged in a flat hierarchy under the RSS Feeds folder, and moving or grouping them differently can be problematic. If you have an existing RSS reader, you can import your feeds using an OPML file, but any folder hierarchy you’ve set up will be ignored.
This update to Outlook has so many good features that we’re prepared to forgive its split personality of both menus/toolbars on the main window and the Ribbon UI elsewhere. Users have been asking for calendar overlays, time zones, better search and better email editing for ages — and Microsoft has now delivered big time.
This Review appeared in the March, 2007 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing