In Office 2007, the Outlook mail client looked a lot like its previous iteration, lacking even a full implementation of the productivity suite's ribbon interface. With Outlook 2010, however, Microsoft has caught the mail client up with the rest of the Office suite. eWEEK Labs' tests of the Outlook 2010 beta show some significant improvements, but also some room for confusion.
With the release of Office 2007 a few years ago, Microsoft showcased a
radically changed version of its core productivity suite, introducing a
completely new interface and lots of new features. However, there was one piece
of the suite didn't see much change: the Outlook client. Sure, there were some
new features, but Outlook 2007 looked a lot like the previous version of the
mail client-it didn't even get a full implementation of the ribbon interface
found in the rest of Office 2007.
Microsoft catches Outlook up with the rest of Office with Version 2010. I
tested the Outlook 2010 beta and found that the client now shares pretty much
the same interface as the rest of Office 2010 and includes some fairly
significant new features-some of which will be welcome to business users and
some of which may cause some early confusion. (See eWEEK Labs' review of the
Office 2010 beta here
images of Outlook 2010 in action, click here.
Upon firing up the new Outlook 2010 beta, users will immediately notice that
the Microsoft mail client no longer has a "ribbon-lite" interface. The Office
ribbon interface is now fully implemented in Outlook 2010. This may lead to
some confusion for users who skipped Office 2007, but I found it helpful as far
as unifying the entire Office interface.
Another interface tweak is in how Outlook 2010 displays messages in the mail
window. While Outlook has had an arrange-by-conversation option for a few
versions now, the conversation view is the default way that messages are
displayed in the Outlook 2010 beta.
The conversation view makes it possible to view the expanded threads of any
running e-mail exchange (or conversation), including sent e-mails.
I like the idea of the conversation view in general, but there are some
aspects of it that I am not too fond of. For example, if you are quickly
scanning through e-mails, it is very easy to delete an entire thread when all
you wanted to do was delete an individual reply. Also, when clicking on a conversation,
the newest message is opened first, even if you hadn't yet read the earlier
messages in the thread. You can
open earlier messages in the thread, but
it requires a couple extra clicks.
With all that said, if the conversation view is not for you, it is simple to
deactivate it and return to the classic message view.
One feature that is fairly basic in this beta implementation but that could
prove to be significant in the release version is the Social Connector. This
feature adds social network-awareness of the people you are connecting with in
Outlook. So, for example, when viewing a message in Outlook, you can see a
person's latest tweets or Facebook status updates, along with other social
information. However, in this beta, the only "social network" that Outlook 2010
can connect with is Microsoft SharePoint.
One of the more immediately useful new features in Outlook 2010 is Quick
Steps. These are essentially simple, one-click automation tasks that speed
common actions within Outlook. Using Quick Steps, I could more quickly file
messages, set up group e-mails and launch a meeting from an e-mail thread. It
was also fairly simple to create my own Quick Steps using a standard
The beta of Outlook 2010 also has some nice features for incorporating
external content within e-mail messages. Outlook now includes basic image
editing capabilities that let me import an image into a message and carry out
simple edits such as cropping. I also liked a new paste preview that let me see
how content would look in a message before I pasted it, and it is now possible
to add a screen shot of an application directly into Outlook without first
saving the screen shot as an image file.
Configuration and account management in Outlook have seen some changes in
Rather than a standard File menu, Outlook 2010 adds a new feature called
Backstage, a kind of configuration landing window that launches when you click
the File tab in the ribbon. I liked how this new capability centralized
standard management features while still retaining most of the individual
settings dialogs that users are accustomed to.
Several other new or boosted features ease management of Outlook 2010. These
include suggested contacts lists pulled from mail recipients, a nice calendar
preview for scheduling meetings, and better support for handling multiple
e-mail accounts, including external SASS mail systems.
For more information on the beta of Outlook 2010, go to www.microsoft.com/office/2010/en/outlook/
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.