Outlook Wish List: What the Readers Want

By David Coursey  |  Posted 2004-08-13

Outlook Wish List: What the Readers Want

My recent column "A Dozen Things Outlook Doesnt Do—but Should" generated a large and sometimes emotional response from readers. Some agreed with my suggestions, many had ideas of their own, and a few thought I was completely nuts.

One reader mentioned that by focusing on e-mail I was missing many of the problems Outlook users face, including poor printer support and the lack of good note-taking capability.

Guilty as charged. People who also use a paper-based planner or who want to share paper calendars with colleagues will find Outlook lacking. As the reader noted, printing a double-sided calendar is a pain. Likewise some planner-style paper formats, though Outlook offers some support in this area.

As workarounds, I use Broderbunds Calendar Creator when I want to do good-looking display calendars and Franklin Coveys PlanPlus to extend Outlooks functionality more generally, including printing. Microsoft would probably tell you that OneNote is its note-taking solution.

Other interesting suggestions came from a reader who I suspect works in the legal field. As e-mail is increasingly used for documents that might later be considered records, shed like to see the following, perhaps as an option, included on hard copies of messages:

    "1. Header information, such as e-mail server names and routing information, e-mail address of sender, all recipient names and dates. 2. Body content, such as text, graphics, sound, hypertext, links and any other types of codes. 3. Attachments, including any type of digital information, including documents, images, and spreadsheets. 4. Signatures, whether found in the text or embedded in or wrapped around the email message."

The reader would like "e-mail documents of evidential value," which may frighten some but are a fact of the world we live in, including the "permanent" copies of e-mails many businesses are now required to keep.

Another reader needs Outlook to be a better alarm clock:

    "The thing that I find it lacking the most in is that the reminder dialog isnt popped to the very top of the desktop. It may be possible, but I cant find any option to force this. I have missed or been late to more than a few things because I am not sitting at my desk when the little beep goes off."

The reader says he later closes some windows and only to discover hes late or has missed something once again. Ive had this happen myself.

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One reader warns of a potential "gotcha":

    "If a BCC recipient does a Reply All it should only send it to the sender of the original message. As it is right now (at least with Outlook 2000), if you are BCCd and you dont realize it and decide to do a Reply All then all of the people CCd on the original message will find out that you were BCCd when they see your reply. This is potentially very embarrassing to the original sender."

The reader says that as a result he doesnt use BCC, but keeps a copy of the messages, which he then forwards to people whom he would otherwise BCC. "It is an extra step, but definitely a lot safer!" he says.

Next Page: Integrating MSN Messenger into Outlook.

Page 2

Another reader wants MSN Messenger integrated into Outlook, something that has been tried, to a degree in the past, but seemed really clunky. He predicts, "If Outlook doesnt integrate IM, it will soon become obsolete," which I think is a stretch.

Hed also like peer-to-peer file sharing in Outlook, mentioning Groove as a good example of how this might work. He agreed with my request for RSS support and would like to see a better interface for blogging generally, especially blog creation.

Some readers suggested Outlook add-ins, including one from my friend Pito Salas:

    "Anagram—This application works with Outlook and pulls and structures contact information out of emails. Simply, you select the text with the name, phone numbers, address etc. in the email, type control-c twice, and up pops a new Outlook contact record all properly filled out. It does similar things with appointments etc. Super useful and perhaps a more politically correct alternative to applications like Plaxo."

Along these lines my favorite, though not Outlook-related, is ieSpell, which adds spell check capabilities to Internet Explorer. This is valuable when you are writing online, such as in the Web interface for blog entries.

Heres another add-on, this one for Microsoft Word that partially solves one of the suggestions from my column. Its called AddressFixer, and its free from Dymo, the LabelMaker company. This program allows you to highlight an address in Word, which the program then compares to a postal service database and corrects, adding a nine-digit ZIP code, standardizing abbreviations, etc. It also works as a small stand-alone app or from Palm desktop, but, alas, not from within Outlook.

In the original column, I mentioned some issues I have with the categories feature in Outlook. A reader responded that categories really dont do enough:

    "It would be great if the categories, once created, could be used to create distribution lists. I have a few clients using Outlook as contact database and would love to take the work already done with categories and without duplicating the work, use them as distribution lists for bulk emailing."

She then goes on to say something I saw repeatedly in the messages I received: "If this functionality does exist, I havent been able to find any info on it." The issue of feature "discoverability" is a big one for Microsoft, which used Outlook XP as a lab for improving it, only to back away in Outlook 2003.

I didnt get many comments regarding the rules feature in Outlook, but this one is very interesting and something Id use—now that a reader has suggested it to me:

    "The rules wizard should offer an option to create rules that run AFTER I read a message. That way I could let all incoming mail go to the Inbox, read the messages, and never have to move a message manually. Moving the messages upon receipt is the only option currently available. I have so many folders and subfolders for mail that on occasion I fail to see that I received a message from, say, my ex-wife or some inactive client whos checking on my availability."

I received far more responses than I can possibly put into a column, but all were read and appreciated, and some have now been shared. Thanks for writing and feel free to send more Outlook-related ideas.

eWEEK.com Correspondent David Coursey has been writing about Microsoft for nearly two decades and has seen many of his ideas eventually end up in products. Besides his eWEEK.com columns and blog (coursey.eweek.com), David also does consulting for technology companies. Drop him a line at david_coursey@ziffdavis.com.

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