Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 ships with an optional account type that can employ a web service to send SMS messages from Outlook to an SMS text-enabled cell phone account. Outlook can’t perform this task itself, but the web service provides the conduit between Outlook and the SMS receiver for a small fee.

The Microsoft Outlook Mobile Service (OMS) is implemented as a separate account type within Outlook 2007. It’s not available for earlier versions of Outlook. You can add it through the Add Account interface by selecting Tools, Account Settings and, in the E-mail tab clicking New. Figure 1 shows the Outlook Mobile Service (Text Messaging) account selected. When you click Next, the configuration screen opens as shown in Figure 2. The web service is a third party provider that accepts the message from Outlook and converts it to an SMS message to pass on to the wireless carrier. My carrier is Verizon which requires SMS Officer as the web service. The cellular number is also required. Other SMS Web Service providers include Microsoft’s SMS Link for Outlook 2007 and Red Coal. These providers are specific to the different carriers. There is a link from the configuration screen in Figure 2 to a Microsoft site reconciling the different carriers to available web service providers, as shown in Figure 3. The link is under the text reading “Fill in this information using Microsoft Office Online configuration.” After you identify your country and carrier, at least one mobile service provider is recommended. For my installation, the information in the configuration screen (Figure 2, again) was auto-completed after I signed up with SMS Officer.

Once the OMS account is configured in Outlook and a suitable mobile service provider is enlisted, Outlook is now empowered to send SMS messages to your mobile phone. Outlook uses a separate form for messages destined for the OMS account. You select File, New, Text Message in Outlook 2007 to open the window shown in Figure 4. The New Text Message form is simple and functional. The To: button will list contacts or address list members who have a value entered in the Mobile Phone field. Recipients can be selected from this list or the mobile phone number can be entered directly. As you complete the text in the message body, it is presented in the small phone preview window as well. SMS messages have a limit of 160 characters (or as my Chinese relatives like to point out, the limit is 70 when using Chinese characters), so message text that exceeds this limit is separated into multiple messages at a semi-logical point in the message (more about this in a moment). The phone preview area will add an additional phone-screen view carrying any incomplete word as the SMS message limit is reached to the new message. Figure 4 also shows that you can schedule the SMS message for delivery at a future point in time using this form.

As I have shown, the Outlook Mobile Service account allows users to send SMS messages to mobile phones, but those messages are not limited to original SMS text. You can forward email, tasks, calendar items, and contact information, too. OMS messages can be scheduled as well. A good use of the scheduling feature might be a recurring early morning message with the current day’s calendar.

SMS messages are not necessarily free. The mobile service provider may charge a small fee, plus the recipient may be charged an incremental fee for receiving SMS messages. SMS Officer charges about 5 cents US for each message processed. SMS Link from Microsoft does not charge anything but is only available for a few carriers. A forwarded email could potentially span a large number of SMS messages. To protect both the sender and recipient from potential excess fees, Outlook provides a mechanism for limiting the number of SMS messages used for a single form submitted. This is found in the Mobile section, which was added to the Tools, Options window under the Preferences tab. Click the Mobile Options button to open the window shown in Figure 5. Here you can assign the maximum number of SMS messages that can be used to deliver a message from Outlook using the OMS. The SMS message content will be truncated at the number of SMS messages chosen here.

Within Outlook 2007, messages sent through the OMS account are stored in Outlook like any other message. They will reside in Sent Items. They can be moved to a separate folder, indexed for searchability, and archived, if needed. They have a different icon, a small cell phone and a yellow note, that identifies them as SMS bound messages.

In an upcoming Tips and Techniques I’ll show you how to configure your daily calendar to be sent to your cell phone.