Maybe I see things differently than the people in Microsoft's marketing department. We probably both agree that Outlook 2010 is improved over Outlook 2007. But the items that they list on their literature are different from what I would highlight. I see a bunch of incremental improvements that they never mention in their list of 21 new or improved features.
Microsoft doesn't even hint at the one that I think is most important -- perhaps because it shows off a flaw in previous versions of Outlook. In Outlook 2007 and 2003, every time I would log into my corporate mail server -- no matter where it was -- I would get a chance to see my inbox messages before the login screen appears. I couldn't do anything with them; but I could see the subjects and senders, as well as the preview of the last one to arrive.
I always considered this a stupid way to start up Outlook, particularly because my mail server has typically been a Microsoft Exchange server -- so it should have been flawless. With Outlook 2010, I get the login screen immediately, before seeing the messages, making it much more secure. Why didn't they do this earlier?
Another very slick touch that started appearing after I loaded Outlook 2010 is the ability to send a message, create a new appointment or task or add a contact to your address book before opening Outlook. Simply right click on the Outlook icon in your task bar; then select the action you want. (This works with MS-Windows 7; I don't know if it will work with earlier versions.)
There are also a number of improvements about which I agree with Microsoft. The new Conversation View is a very appealing feature. This is where you get to see all the previous messages in a single conversation from your inbox, even if the previous messages are in other folders. So if Lisa, Anne, Matthew and I are exchanging e-mails over time, I see an icon with multiple envelopes in the far left column of my inbox, which represents that this is not the first message in the series. Click the right-pointing arrow next to the icon, and it opens the list to show each previous message and the folder in which it currently resides. Click on the subject next to each to see that message. It means no more searching for those earlier messages.
Microsoft takes Conversation View a few steps farther, by allowing you to reply (or even reply-to-all) to any one of the messages in the thread. You can also clean up the conversation, which removes the redundant older messages; or you can ignore anything else that arrives as part of the conversation, which automatically deletes new mail you don't need to read.
Outlook 2010, which lagged behind the other MS-Office applications when it came to Microsoft's ribbon shortcut bar, has caught up. The ribbon is now part of the main interface and has added some useful tools. I like the Reply-as-meeting button, which makes it easier to schedule a meeting based on a received message. When your calendar is active, it also allows you to see the next seven days; and has some new functionality. In all the MS-Office 2010 applications, the ribbon now allows customization and accommodates buttons from add-in applications.
There are a handful of other nice touches in Outlook 2010, including a way to see your notes from only the past week, and a way to set up groups of calendars to manage together. For most users, Outlook 2010 will be a sturdy, although not earthshattering, upgrade.
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