In the briefing room: Outlook 2010

As perhaps the most widely-deployed e-mail client in the corporate world, Outlook is where many knowledge workers spend a majority of their time.

A new Outlook

E-mail is so central to knowledge work today that the inbox has evolved into the nexus for not only communication, but daily tasks, scheduling, and document and project management.  As a result, it is of paramount importance for knowledge workers to have an e-mail experience that fully supports their work.

The forthcoming version, Outlook 2010, receives multiple enhancements and features that were first introduced in other Microsoft Office applications.  Perhaps the most significant addition is the Fluent UI and Ribbon.  While the Ribbon has had its critics, notably those stalwarts who prefer the old drop down menu system, the fact remains that it is now the primary user interface for Office and adding it to Outlook was a logical step in order to create a unified user experience across the Office suite.

We found QuickSteps to be one of the most intriguing and promising new features.  Quick Steps provides one-click buttons to automate common and recurring tasks such as filing e-mails, sending e-mail messages to predetermined groups of co-workers, or initiating a meeting with all members of an e-mail chain.  To automate more complex or personalized tasks, Quick Steps also allows the user to create custom buttons that control the desired functionality.  The Quick Steps feature increases individual productivity by saving small amounts of time multiple times each day.

Outlook now also features the new Backstage View, which provides access to settings and account information (for more on Backstage, see our previous analysis).

Another enhancement that has been rolled across all the Office applications is integration with OneNote.  From the Outlook tasks list, the user can access notes in OneNote by selecting the new Task Notes function.  From within OneNote, notes can be turned into tasks that are synched with Outlook task and appear on the Outlook calendar.  The integration allows users to use OneNote to create tasks, but subsequently manage them from within Outlook.

To address the misuse of e-mail, such as all-hands reply to alls and the unintended inappropriate e-mailing of confidential information, Outlook now has MailTips, an alert system that notifies the user when he is about to send a message that violates e-mail usage etiquette or formal rules.  Actions that would prompt an alert include sending potentially confidential information to people outside of a workgroup or the organization, large distribution lists, recipients who are out of the office, restricted addresses, recipients who are using automatic replies, and violations of size limitations for e-mail attachments.  The feature requires Exchange 2010, which works with Outlook to determine if an alert is necessary as recipients are added and the message is being composed.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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