In anticipation of the upcoming release of Microsoft Office 2010, as a Microsoft MVP I recently got the opportunity to take a trial run of the new version of Office. The upgrade went fine on top of Windows 7 Ultimate. But the first stop in the application suite was going to be the place where we all spend a great deal of time: Outlook. Here are my impressions of my first contact with Outlook 2010.

Even though I upgraded from Office 2007 to Office 2010, I still had to re-create my profile. When Outlook first started, I noticed that my profile was below the default profile. ALL calendar views are open at the first launch of the application. Seems like an attempt to get all the tools open for a user so they know their options. But in truth, there are so many options that you will spend some time orienting yourself in the new environment.

The ribbon has large icons, which tells me that Microsoft is thinking of us more-seasoned Office users who started out on 14-inch monitors and whose vision isn't what it used to be. Also I noticed that the terminology is less technical. This seems to an effort to "reach the masses," but for veteran users I think a New Email button is somewhat of a way to remove a mouse click. With so much opening within the app itself, the email-viewing area is narrowed and the column headings are reduced to Arrange by Conversation and Newest on Top. Expanding it gets the fields that you configure.

If you support end users, you may have had times when they called the Exchange administrator and told them the Exchange server was down. But in reality they were offline. You notice VERY LARGE BUTTONS for these users for their connections and Working Offline/Online options. Now that should reduce the phone calls….

Opening an email sent from Windows IT Pro, we see we have lots of "billboard-sized" options for working with it.

 

For security folks, your eyes will be drawn to the option for controlling the rights to this email. Launch this, and you will see a launch to a free Information Rights Management (IRM) server of Microsoft's Rights Management Server.

Once again, we see how our Windows Live ID accounts are important.

The Move Item to a different folder option created the "spirit of exploration" in me, and I was given the option to create a new folder if it wasn't in the browse list. So I created a folder with a URL to a SharePoint document site, and it went right there. Nice feature for SharePoint integration.

There are some more features that will help us manage our packrat email habits. Most of us have large volumes of mail. Yes, I'm guilty. I always have to save that joke of the day from1999 about the Jersey City version of Windows 98. Anyway, the Conversation View in Outlook 2010 improves the tracking and managing of email conversations while saving valuable Inbox space. Compress your long email threads into a few conversations that can be categorized, filed, ignored, or cleaned up with a few clicks.

There are also some new efficiency improvements when you schedule appointments, share your calendar availability, and manage your work schedule. With the email calendar feature, you can send your schedule to others so that they can quickly find time for your next appointment. If you're using Outlook 2010 on Exchange Server, you can use the new Group Scheduling View to see multiple calendars side by side or save frequently used groups of calendars together from one place.

And if you find yourself deleting lots of out-of-office emails, there is now some help for that. For business users, sending unnecessary email messages to OOF contacts, accidentally replying to a large distribution list (DL), and distributing confidential information outside the company are frequent concerns. With the new Mail Tips feature, you're alerted when you're about to send email to a large DL, to someone who is out of the office, or to individuals outside the organization. I know this will help me when working with the Microsoft CRM user group DL.

Well, that's it for my one-hour first contact. There is a lot more to explore, but to sum up, the new interface is much more than eye candy. There is new functionality that seems to be thought out for a new generation of Outlook users. You can configure it the way you like, but I would give the new features a chance and see how it will help the serious users.