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
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
I 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.
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
While 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
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.