What Microsoft Needs To Fix In Outlook

00OutlookFront.jpg Development of Windows and Office - Microsoft's twin cash cows - often runs roughly in parallel, so if the Redmond crowd makes good on its plans to get Windows 7 out the door in 2009, we may well also see a parallel refresh of the Office line. We know Microsoft has a complex product planning process, so now seems a good time to get a wish list for product improvements out there. Read on for some of my thoughts on where Outlook needs fixing, and then offer up your own additional suggestions. I use Outlook every day and it's on my list of essential applications, so I don't want to see it killed off, or ruined. Most of what it does it does pretty well; some of what it does in 2007 is much better than earlier releases (search being the most prominent example); its ability to sync with portable devices remains miles ahead of any comparable app. So I'm not here to diss for the sake of Microsoft-bashing - I'm here to ask for improvements.

Learn to recognise a successful shutdown

01OutlookError.jpg I like the concept of Outlook checking the contents of your mail file to ensure there's no errors if the program has crashed. Unfortunately, the implementation is hopeless. Indeed, in my experience it works in reverse: if you crash Outlook and restart, there's no hint of checking, but if you do an orderly shutdown and reboot, an entirely unnecessary data check begins. Admittedly, this is likely as much a Vista issue as it is an Outlook problem, but someone needs to fix it pronto.

Make the calendar less enterprise-focused

02OutlookCalendarFront.jpgI use Outlook's calendar to run my life, and I've only got one complaint: the way it handles appointments in multiple time zones. If I'm travelling overseas and make an appointment before leaving, I'll enter it my calendar at the relevant local time (say 10am in London). Once I hit the UK, though, I can't adjust my PC's system clock to the local time, because all the appointments also get adjusted. I appreciate that this can be useful when scheduling multi-national conference calls, but for the average single user it's a pain in the neck - and you should be able to switch it off.

Improve stability

03OutlookStability.jpg A perennial problem with Outlook: it crashes often, and when it does, it crashes hard. Surely it's not too much to ask for a little stability on a supposedly mature product? And as a side note: whenever Outlook crashes, it turns off message previews just in case the last email opened caused the crash. In my experience, this is never the case, and I end up wasting time reinstating my preferred layout.

Don't waste time on the Ribbon

04MoreRibbon.jpgWhile other Office 2007 applications ditched conventional menus in favour of the controversial Ribbon interface, Outlook is a hybrid: mail editing uses the Ribbon (partly because it draws heavily on Word), but the rest of the interface is menu-based. Microsoft's reason for this is that the Ribbon approach doesn't make sense in all contexts, and that usefulness is more important than consistency. Fair enough, but I can't see any need to change the current balance in the next release. (Indeed, the presence of a 'More options' button at one end of the Outlook Ribbon suggests an element of 'stuff it, that'll do' during the design process.)

Get everything into the PST file

If you're running Outlook in a non-Exchange environment, then backing up the outlook.pst file will capture nearly everything. However, there's some key elements (signatures, filtering rules, autocomplete data) which are stored in entirely separate files, and it's all too easy to forget them when migrating from one machine to another. The main file already contains diverse data types, so why not add a few more and simplify backup?

Get Outlook Web Access to work properly with Firefox

05OWA.jpg I rarely use Outlook Web Access (OWA), and there's a reason: Microsoft only offers a light (read: hopelessly non-Web 2.0) version if you want to run Firefox. If Microsoft is serious about pushing for Web standards in IE 8, it should stop that nonsense and build a proper OWA that works in more than one browser.


    TOTALLY agree on the OWA limitation with Firefox. Drives me nuts.

    On another note, as much as I love Outlook, for whatever reason my calendar takes f.o.r.e.v.e.r to load up whenever I navigate to it from, say, my inbox or contacts.

    I find that when using Outlook Web Access, firefox extension IE Tab comes in real handy.

    I just added https://my.outlook.web.server/exchange/ to the automatic IE rendering list and away we go - full rendering in Firefox!

    Of course, you do need to be using a platform that supports IE...

    Microsoft Outlook is becoming increasingly irrelevant as organizations move to reduce their Total Cost of Ownership. NSW DET has saved around $20M by dumping MS Outlook + Exchange and moving to Google Apps.

    This momentum away from Outlook is growing rapidly. Will anyone still be using Outlook by the time the next version comes out?

    I tried Outlook 2007 but it's slow and bloated and unstable. I use Outlook 2002 which does everything quickly and reliably.

    Outlook was the foremost reason for ditching Windows and transferring to Apple Macintosh. And a year and a half later, I am never going back to Windows, and the only regret is that I didn't do it earlier.

    My business resides in email, and if my email records die, so does my business. It is so terrifying to have your business relying on Outlook, which grinds and grinds away. Slow. Buggy. Errors when synching with ActiveSync. I just couldn't take it anymore.

    Sure you can back up the .pst but what if important information is lost since your last backup. Also, if there are problems in the .pst, how do you know you're backing up a faulty .pst record?

    It is far more reassuring to use an email client, like Apple Mail, which keeps each email as a separate file. No one massive file, like .pst, which is liable to corruption. Think people. If your pst dies, everything, yes, everything goes down with the Titanic.

    Oh goodness, I could go on and on how delicious it is to use the Mac, with a few crashes -- I think they come once every few months, compared to Windows.

    People, see the light.

    Most people are scared of the unknown, and most of my Windows friends who are not excited about Mac have never tried or used a Mac for any length of time.

    My biggest gripe about Outlook is the Today button in the 31 day/Month view. Why, when you clock "today" do you end up with today on the lowest most week shown? Who cares about your calendars history? I know what I did the last month; I want to see what is coming up! Put "Today" on the top line and let’s stop with all the manual scrolling to get it back where it belongs.

    If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.

    Well put. I'm so sick of Outlook just crashing or even worse, looping the CPU to 100% so that I've gotta kill it or even hard-kill the machine!! Heavy and bloated and unstable (greedy in resources)... enough is enough.

    I do believe however that for many of us smaller businesses, Gmail and Gcal are quickly taking over and providing a more stable, albeit only online, experience. With offline web apps looming, I can see the day I drop Outlook completely... in the near future. Offline web apps on the mobile phone, that's the bomb!

    Bring it on!

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