A Dozen Things Outlook Doesnt Do—but Should

Opinion: David Coursey shares his wishlist of features he'd like to see in the next release of Microsoft Outlook.

Youd think that by now Microsoft Outlook would be a pretty complete product. And it generally is, except that it doesnt do a number of things that it really ought to. Like these dozen features that are on my list for the next release of Bills Chosen E-Mail Client. I wonder how my list matches up against yours:

1. Address correction and validation:The United States Postal Service likes to see addresses presented in certain ways, with specific abbreviations and nine-digit ZIP codes. Why doesnt Outlook automatically validate the addresses in my contact list, fix nonstandard abbreviations, and add ZIP codes and the extra four digits as needed?

2. Address verification: I am not sure why companies like Plaxo even exist when Outlook ought to be capable of periodically asking people on your contact list to verify their information and processing the responses. Outlook could process these messages automatically, just asking the user whether or not they want to respond to a particular request. Everyone in your contact list could also receive automatic responses handled in the background, if the user desired. Until these features are added Im using the GoodContacts service.

3. Address harvesting: This is a variation on address verification, where the user could instruct Outlook to request contact information from e-mail senders. The responses would automatically create new contact entries, making it easy to create contacts for people who send you mail. Likewise, Outlook might request contact information from people you send mail to, offering your information in exchange.

4. RSS support: Outlook should know how to watch RSS feeds, gather the new items and present them as messages. Just like NewsGator (a $29 Outlook add-on) does.

5. Redirect: The problem with forwarding e-mail is it changes the "From:" address to that of the forwarding sender. Redirect keeps the "From:" address intact, making it easier for the person receiving the forwarded message to respond to the original sender. This would be a real help when you receive a message that should have gone to someone else. A nice touch would be for Outlook to send a message back to the original sender telling him or her of the redirect and a note to the recipients telling them the message had been redirected to them and why. A company called MAPILab has an add-on that does some of this, but wasnt suitable for a project I needed redirect for. They have a number of other Outlook add-ons as well.

6. Bounce: Sure I received the message, but send a bounce response to the sender. Maybe they will remove me from their list. Or maybe Ill just upset someone whose e-mail address was hijacked to send me the spam. OK, maybe this isnt such a good idea. Next …

/zimages/2/28571.gifFor more insights from David Coursey, check out his Weblog.

7. De-duping: Outlook needs to do a better job of merging contacts and deleting duplicate contacts.

8. Categories: Outlook doesnt do a good job of managing user-created categories. It needs to look for them and add them to the category list. (This is required when a user accesses e-mail from more than one machine.)

9. Better archive management: It shouldnt be possible for an Exchange user to have e-mail archives spread across multiple machines, but it happens all the time. Archives should only save on a single machine, probably the server.

10. Templates: Many of us respond to the same sorts of questions over and over. Outlook should allow users to easily store commonly used messages and snippets as templates that could be sent either as a new message or a response with only a keystroke or two whenever needed. There is a commercial product called Email Templates 5.0 that will do this and much more, but the basic functionality should be in Outlook as it ships.

11. Duplicate removal: Earlier I talked about managing duplicate contacts, but what about automatically removing duplicate messages? Not the worst problem I face each day, but it does happen.

12. Mailing list management: Id like the process of creating a rule for incoming newsletters to be streamlined. Select the e-mail, right-click, select "is a newsletter" and have Outlook create a folder as well as a rule for putting the newsletters into it. It would be nice to have it automatically deal with newsletters that sometimes come from different addresses.

No, my goal is not to put Outlook add-on companies out of business. There ought to be plenty of more advanced things for them to offer if Microsoft were to immediately act on my "Most Wanted List." If you have some additional ideas, or refinements to my list, Id love to hear from you. Ill compile the results and see that the people who decide what goes into the next version of Outlook get a copy.

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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