If you've been delaying your rollout of Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 until the first Office 2003 service pack is available, you can stop procrastinating. Microsoft released Office 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1), along with an update for Outlook 2003's Junk E-mail Filter, on Tuesday.

Both a binary patch and a full-file administrative patch are available for SP1. How you distribute the update in your organization depends on how you deployed Office in the first place (i.e., with a compressed CD image, by caching the installation files on the local machine, or with a traditional administrative installation point). The Office 2003 Editions Resource Kit includes a detailed article explaining which strategy to use according to various scenarios. Individual users who have administrative privileges on their machines and access to the Office source files (preferably through the Local Installation Source cache) can also use the Help, Microsoft Office Online command to browse to the Office Update site and download the appropriate updates. After a successful SP1 installation, the Help, About Microsoft Office Outlook dialog box will report the product version as 11.0.6359.6360.

The service pack includes the many public updates and hotfixes released since Office 2003's debut last fall and adds fixes to several other problems that Microsoft hadn't previously documented. Even though Microsoft generally steers away from adding new functionality in service packs, SP1 adds one refinement to the Junk E-mail Filter--the ability to have Outlook automatically update the Safe Senders List with outgoing messages' recipients. To access this new setting, choose Tools, Options, Junk E-mail. On the Junk E-mail Options dialog box, switch to the Safe Senders tab and select the "Automatically add people I e-mail to the Safe Senders list" check box. Another Junk E-mail Filter update is available separate from the service pack (i.e., you can install the update without installing SP1). This update replaces the outlfltr.dat file that controls the behavior of the Junk E-mail Filter. The new file is 3.45MB and embodies Microsoft's most recent analysis of junk-mail patterns, performed on the huge body of spam that the company's Hotmail servers receive.

Another new feature--an optional Calendar log--can help diagnose Outlook Calendar problems by tracking how Outlook processes meeting requests, updates to existing appointments, free/busy publishing, reminders, and other Calendar events. To turn on Calendar logging (as well as mail logging), choose Tools, Options, Other, Advanced Options, "Enable logging (troubleshooting)," then restart Outlook. You can also enable logging through a system policy. In the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Outlook\Options\Mail registry subkey, set the value for the REG_DWORD EnableLogging entry to 1 to turn logging on or 0 to turn it off. Outlook stores its logs in the \documents and settings\%username%\local settings\temp folder, giving them filenames such as logcalb7. The logs are in binary form to protect the sensitive information they contain, but Microsoft Product Support Services (PSS) can help you convert them to a human-readable format. Microsoft will also make a conversion tool available to anyone who has a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with the company.

The service pack offers some new security functionality, as well. SP1 adds several file types--.asp, .tmp, and the Visio file types .vsmacros, .vss, .vst, .vsw, and .ws--to the list of those that Outlook blocks.

Along with general improvements to performance and stability, the update addresses a number of annoyances that Outlook 2003 users have complained about. HTML messages now print out with a list of attachments included. Links to other mailbox calendars in the Calendar navigation pane should no longer disappear. Tables in HTML messages should print correctly with a rule. A printout of the Calendar folder and TaskPad now omits completed tasks if the TaskPad doesn't show them. Items that users locate by using the Find feature open in the correct custom form, rather than in the default form. Dragging an HTML message to the Notes folder puts the message body (instead of just the recipient, sender, and other header information) into the body of the note. Folder home pages in public folders should work fine, even when you're offline.

Organizations that use custom forms will be glad to know that SP1 includes fixes aimed at Outlook 2003's sometimes severe custom forms cache problems. (However, there are reports of some forms cache corruption still cropping up, so the fixes might not be complete.) The pack also adds support for a new REG_DWORD registry entry--NoAutosigOnCustomForms, in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Outlook\Options registry subkey--that suppresses automatic signatures on custom forms. The new default is for Outlook to include the user's default signature on a message that's generated through a custom form (earlier versions suppressed automatic signatures; displaying signatures in custom forms was a much requested improvement first seen in Office XP SP3), so you'll need to add that entry if your organization doesn't want signatures on custom forms.

Description of Office 2003 Service Pack 1
http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=842532

Description of the Outlook 2003 Junk E-mail Filter Update: July 27, 2004
http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=870765

Distributing Office 2003 Product Updates
http://www.microsoft.com/office/ork/2003/five/ch18/mnta01.htm

Issues that are fixed in Outlook 2003 by Office 2003 Service Pack 1
http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=872839

Things to consider when you use the Calendar logging feature in Outlook 2003
http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=841064