Friday, September 15, 2006

a month with Outlook 2007 (update: B2TR)

A few weeks ago, a few things happened. First, I got annoyed with the lack of integration between OneNote 2007 and Outlook 2003. Second, I became very jealous of my coworkers who'd already gone to Outlook 2007. And, third, I realized I had been blogging until my fingers bled (well, not literally) since I upgraded OneNote, so I figured that because I use Outlook all day, every day, this upgrade would basically make me run out of disk space from all the blog material it would generate. So, uh, anyway, I gave in and upgraded my work laptop to Outlook 2007.

On the advice of my coworkers, I deleted my OST file first (we run in cached mode since we are out of the office a lot), and went ahead. Caching everything again and then converting the various categories to colors took a really long time, but then I was essentially in business.

If anyone has read my blog before, you are already aware that I don't really research other people's blogs except for specific problems, so this review may overlap with that of others. (Though I did just now before posting check the Known Issues list to see if anything was on there. No offense, but the Known Issues list kind of sucks.) I tried to highlight things, gossip-column-style, so people can skim this giant post easily. So let me start with the positive things about Outlook 2007:


  • The calendar looks great now. Like, stunning. I like the "show next appointment" thing, multiple calendar viewing is even better, the view shows more stuff more clearly, the, um, to-do bar has some stuff on it (I'm great at creating tasks but not so good at part where you do them and mark them complete)... just remember to turn off "Download shared non-mail folders" if you regularly go to other peoples' calendars and are in cached mode. If you leave that checked, you will forever synchronize everyone's calendar you've ever looked at.
  • Though the main Outlook window hasn't changed its look much in my opinion (I tucked away a lot of the new UI since I only have 1024x768 resolution on my work Tablet PC), appointments and emails do use the "ribbon" UI and are very different. You can see a screen shot of an appointment here in case you haven't seen it yet. With both appointments and messages, they've basically moved some things into your face that were not that easy to find before. I'm starting to get used to it but still have to search for things periodically (like "delay send").
  • People are really into the Time Zones thing (see above link). I had a moment where it annoyed me (certain appointments seemed to maintain the time that they were received in regardless of the time zone my computer was in) but I really like it now (particularly since I learned that you can just click the Time Zone button for these appointments and the appointment will always show in the time zone you're in). For example, I like to have an appointment on my calendar for all my flights. The agency that my client uses has this Infotriever thing which will create the appointment in the calendar, but it is not time zone aware, so a flight taking off from Newark at 6:40AM that lands in St. Louis at 8:18AM will appear as an 98-minute appointment, when really 8:18AM Central should be 9:18AM Eastern. Likewise, the return flight takes off at 5:59PM and lands at 9:30PM or something, but you have to make sure the 5:59 is Central and the 9:30 is Eastern. You can easily fix this now by clicking Time Zone, and then adjusting the time zone entries as needed.
  • I've started flagging things for follow-up now that they've added the ability to display reminders even for flagged items outside the Inbox. This is kind of revolutionary because I used to make appointments or tasks like "fill out this peer review" or "reply to this with your notes from some webinar" and drag the e-mail in there just so I could set reminders. I suppose I could have left the message in the inbox and just set a flag & reminder, but then I have to stare at the thing every time I look at my inbox, and I want to use my inbox as a small list of things that I have to do or reply to, and the more things in it, the more stressed out I get. Basically, if I have to scroll my inbox (e.g. more than ~15 items) then there's too much in there. Now I can drag them into @Delegated or @Deferred and they'll fire a reminder when I need them.
  • Filing things in folders is easier because the whole "line" that the folder is in becomes active rather than just the name of the folder.
  • I like the preview of font & color changes in-line. Just a stupid thing that is thoughtful of them to put in there.
  • It's clever that Outlook recognizes that it's easy for people to accidentally press Ctrl-Enter and send a message they hadn't finished. So now Outlook 2007 asks you. But you can make it stop doing that. I left it on for awhile but I just got used to it.
  • Just for purposes of this blog entry, I subscribed to an RSS feed and I kind of liked Microsoft's interface. I had not thought to store RSS feeds in my work Exchange system because I subscribe to a lot of feeds and am way behind on reading them (7335 unread according to my RSSBandit) but I am not super satisfied with the 'bandit these days so I added a feed to my home Outlook and a few to my work Outlook and we'll see how it goes. So far I think that reading feeds in Outlook format is kind of a good thing, and the "download the full article as an .html attachment to each item" setting could be awesome for reading feeds offline. I am sure that Exchange administrators are whipping out their light-sabers in anger right now thanks to that option (that's an obscure shout-out to my STL homeboy), if they are not already angry about the idea of storing RSS entries in Exchange in general.

And, of course, this wouldn't be a "give our abilities time" post if I didn't complain, but before I do, I should note that I wrote all this over the past few weeks in bits and pieces, and just today I installed the Beta 2 Technical Refresh, so I am not sure which have been fixed and which haven't. I will update these as needed if I find that they have been fixed by "B2TR" (as they call it). And now, without further ado, let the complaining begin...


  • It has sped up some since I first converted and it created my OST, but Outlook 2007 can be very slow. Synchronizing really slows it down; and not just on my slow laptop hard drive (and large PST file), but also at home, where my PST file is under 350MB. Like, sometimes to the point where Outlook goes "white" until it decides to finish synchronizing. It got so bad at one point that when I had a lot of stuff to file out of my inbox I had to go offline because it took like 30 seconds to move a single message.
    • B2TR maybe launches 30 seconds faster, but that's still like a 2-minute launch time. I admit I have a big OST file (1.2GB) but so does every attorney at my clients.
  • The "spell check before sending" setting seems messed up. Often I am asked "The spell check was interrupted before the message could be sent. Do you want to continue?" even though I have simply clicked Send. In some cases, it actually does a full spell check but still asks the question. I turned it off because it got so annoying.
    • They fixed this in B2TR but I noticed that the spell check is not respecting the "Ignore original message text in reply or forward" setting. Which is to say, I have it set, and it is still checking. I definitely don't want that because you come off as a totally pedantic asshole if you check other people's spelling in anything but a document they asked you to review.
  • I think having Outlook handle URLs is a bad idea. I used to process e-mail on the plane by clicking URLs from e-mails so I could then delete the e-mail even though I knew it wouldn't launch. Firefox would attempt to launch, fail, then when I got somewhere with internet access, I pushed the Try Again button, and got right into the site. Even if I had to close Firefox or reboot, SessionSaver would keep the tab open until I closed it. Now, Outlook 2007 is trying to be too smart for its own good, and tell me that it "cannot locate the Internet server or proxy server". Yeah, I know that, because I'M ON A PLANE. Let my browser deal with it. Also, it processes your credentials like for internal secured sites or the CCO areas of Cisco's site in IE even if your default browser is Firefox, so if you don't already have that site open in your Firefox tabs, you end up entering your credentials twice. Outlook needs to get out of the way of checking that a URL is valid and just pass it along to the default browser.
  • In Public Folders, there's no Reply to All button available, and Alt-L doesn't work as a Reply to All shortcut. I have to right-click and choose Reply to All from the context menu. Is this to annoy me so I am happy to see public folders disappear when Microsoft finally kills them? No, because it's true in every other mail folder besides Inbox. I can't even understand what might have made them decide to do this.
  • In a new appointment, Alt-L has changed from "move cursor to Location field for appointment" and is now "save and close the appointment". This will take some getting used to. Also, Alt-S doesn't work any more. I guess a lot of keyboard shortcuts that I have mastered in my years of having only a laptop keyboard and no mouse may change. God damn, am I ever a nerd to complain about that. Seriously, every blog entry I ever write is like peppered with keyboard shortcuts. I am like totally OCD for keyboard shortcuts. Is that wrong? Is that weird? I seriously thing keyboard shortcuts save you time and wrist strain and the more you learn the happier your computing experience can be. Yeah, that I just typed that last sentence is really evidence of a warped mind.
  • I am seeing that the selection or focus will jump off the active e-mail (and moves to the preview pane) until you restart Outlook. It's like the Reading Pane is activating itself and stealing focus from your message, and doesn't happen when the Reading Pane is turned off. This will sometimes get so bad that even if you have a message open maximized, and use Ctrl-[ (I mean "less than" but HTML won't like that) to go to a previous message, it will boot you back to the main Inbox screen, and then you will see it switch focus to the preview pane.
    • Haven't used this with B2TR long enough to see if it's been fixed; I will update or remove this if a couple of days go by without this happening
  • In the inbox, using Tab to move between selecting a folder, the message list, and the reading pane either doesn't work anymore or visits many more fields than it used to. This exacerbates the above problem because you keep getting thrown into the reading pane, and you used to be able to Tab or Shift-Tab out of it. Now Shift-Tab seems unable to leave the reading pane.
    • FYI, this seems to be fixed or alleviated in B2TR. There are more tab stops than there used to be, but it does work now.
  • Moving an open item into a calendar folder now leaves the original message at the end rather than the beginning of the appointment. Half the time the body text is unreadable due to conversion from HTML to Rich Text (the calendar appointment format) so you want the message right at the top like it used to be. (I didn't bold anything in here because it was such a lame complaint.)
  • The Word instance being used as the e-mail editor sometimes dies. You will see that clicking in the body of the message does nothing (I've seen this happen in a calendar appointment as well) so you think Outlook has frozen, but if you click another field like To: or Subject: and click back into the body, the cursor returns and you can type again. I have Word 2003 on my work laptop, and I believe Outlook 2007 uses a minimal version of Word 2007 as the editor so that it can coexist with older versions of Word. So this may be a problem with "minimal Word 2007" that is addressed with full Office 2007. I haven't had the problem at home, for example, but then again, I don't write nearly as many emails at home as I do at work.
    • I've only written about 10 emails in B2TR so that's probably not a big enough sample to see if this is still occurring or not.
  • It's also a little flaky sometimes as to whether it lets you click a URL link or not. I see this more in RSS feeds than in e-mails; you'll know it's happening because you have to move the mouse to keep the cursor as the "finger" and see the URL for more than a half a second. This I believe is part of the same rendering problem as above because it is fixed by clicking outside of the body of the message and then back in the message.
    • I just saw this within a few hours after my upgrade to B2TR, so I can attest that this hasn't been fixed.
  • You used to be able to associate a contact with an appointment via the "Contact" field in the bottom right, but the only way I could figure out to do that was to insert a shortcut to the contact in the body of the appointment. That made me go and take a look at contacts that I knew I'd associated together (like two individuals who were married, or a person and their assistant) and it seemed that the associations were no longer there.
    • In B2TR, it looks like there is a new "Business Card" button under Insert in the Include group for both Calendar and Contact forms. This sticks a VCF file into your appointment as an attachment. I'm not sure if this would update if you updated your contact but I kinda doubt it. In an appointment, that's not such a big deal, but in a contact you'd probably want a live link rather than a static copy of the contact so you could update both peoples' addresses at once or something. It is not as nice as the old Outlook 2003 feature.
  • I experienced some sort of calendar / public folder bug. We have a lot of distribution lists that have public folders associated with them which stores all mail sent to the folder. For some reason, I found that I was missing an appointment sent to the group. In the Outlook 2003 days, I would just re-open the meeting invite and accept it again. However, in Outlook 2007, the appointment appeared to be an exact copy of the one as sent by the meeting organizer. For that reason, it wouldn't let me accept it, file it, drag it, or copy and paste it into my calendar; each time I tried it told me I was the meeting organizer so I didn't have to do this. Finally I had to open up someone else's calendar and copy it into my own. I could understand Microsoft trying to idiot-proof this (for example, if you send a meeting to a distribution list you're on, you shouldn't have to accept or even see the appointment, but in Outlook 2003 you did see it), but it was wrong and didn't realize that I wasn't the meeting organizer. Very annoying.
    • Still saw it in B2TR

Alright, that's enough out of me on this subject. If anyone knows how to fix any of these or just wants to commiserate, the comments button is very nearby...


technorati: Outlook 2007

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