Microsoft Tackles Email Clutter With Mobile-Inspired Focused Inbox

The desktop and web-based versions of Outlook will soon get a "mobile-first" feature that helps users combat chaotic email inboxes.

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The Outlook apps for iOS and Android, which are based on Microsoft's acquisition of Acompli in late 2014, have one feature that its desktop and web-based counterparts don't: Focused Inbox.

The feature intelligently surfaces emails from customers, colleagues and other important contacts by displaying them in the default Focused tab. Newsletters, personal emails and other non-work communications are often relegated to the Other tab, enabling users to eventually come back to them later.

Focused Inbox bears some similarities to Clutter, an existing Outlook feature that also prioritizes important emails. However, Focused Inbox doesn't require the creation of a separate folder to weed out time-wasting email content.

Now, Focused Inbox is finally making its way to the desktop and browser-based versions of Outlook.

"It begins rolling out this week for users of the new and will soon start rolling out for Office 365 customers in our First Release program in early September," blogged Microsoft's Outlook team on July 27. "Office 365 admins will have mailbox and tenant level control of the feature to stage the rollout in a manner that works best for their organization."

Functionally, Focused Inbox works very similarly to its mobile equivalent. During a recent in-person demonstration of Office 365's latest batch of productivity-enhancing, cloud-enabled intelligent services, Carol Grant, senior product marketing manager for Microsoft Office, showed how on the PC, the feature organizes inboxes into must-read emails and emails that can wait. Apart from the obvious differences between the desktop and mobile user interfaces, Grant used a mouse cursor to switch from the Focused to Other view, and vice versa.

As for Clutter, Microsoft plans to replace it with Focused Inbox. However, it's essence will live on.

"Active Clutter users will have to opt-in to Focused Inbox and will be able to do so from an in-app prompt in Outlook. After they opt-in, they will no longer receive less important email in the 'Clutter' folder," explained Microsoft in an online FAQ.

"The same machine learned algorithm that moved items to the Clutter folder now powers Focused Inbox, meaning that any emails that were set to move to Clutter will now be moved to Other," they continued. Naturally, users and administrators can turn off Focused Inbox if they prefer.

Bringing Focused Inbox to the desktop and web Outlook applications is part of Microsoft's goal to help its "users get the most out of the [Office] apps" by rolling out features that adapt to their needs and workstyles, Grant recently told eWEEK.

Yesterday, the company announced Researcher and Editor for Word, two new capabilities aimed at helping users create polished reports, articles and other written content. The latter adds a new, gold dotted line to Word's existing red and blue "squiggles," which denote spelling and grammar errors, respectively. Also new is Zoom for PowerPoint, which automatically creates a summary slide, enabling users to conduct more conversational, non-linear presentations by "zooming" in and out of slides at will.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...