Q: How does Microsoft Office Outlook 2007’s business card Contacts feature work?

A: Starting with Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, users can upload digital images and include them as part of individual contacts. You’d typically use a picture of the person represented by the contact information, although you can also use company logos, caricatures, or other graphics. Outlook allows files with the extensions .bmp, .emf, .ico, .icon, .jpg, .jpeg, .gif, .tif, .tiff, .wmf, and .png. If you try to upload files with another extension, including files whose original extension you’ve renamed to be one of these extensions, you’ll receive an error message. Outlook 2007 on Windows Vista returns the error message “Out of memory or system resources. Close some windows or programs and try again.” Outlook 2003 on Windows XP SP2 returns the error message “Could not complete the operation. One or more parameter values is invalid.” Active Directory (AD) on Windows Server 2003 and Windows 2000 Server doesn’t natively allow for an image as a user attribute. However, administrators can use a custom attribute to hold a URL pointing to an intranet or network share with image files.

Outlook 2007’s Contacts view includes a business card feature that displays contact information analogous to actual business cards. In this view, the user can customize individual contacts to be rendered in a specific and unique business card design. Figure 1 shows Outlook 2007’s business card view with some customized contacts. If you add a photo to a contact, Outlook displays the photo in the top right corner of the window when you read a message from that contact. Outlook also synchronizes photos to Windows Mobile devices so that they display when you use Pocket Outlook to read messages.

The business card view customizations that a user makes to a contact in Outlook 2007 are specific to that contact in the user’s data storage (either their mailbox or .pst file). To share contacts as you’ve customized them, you can send them as vCards (i.e., .vcf files). Other Outlook 2007 clients will render a business card view of a contact sent as a vCard as it appears in the sender’s Contacts folder. Outlook 2003 will show the image if one was uploaded and ignore the business card customization settings. Earlier versions of Outlook will ignore the custom information in the .vcf file and render the standard contact information.

To send a contact as a vCard, right-click the contact and select either Send as Business Card or Send Full Contact, In Internet Format (vCard). A new email message will open, with a .vcf file attached. Using the Send as Business Card option copies the virtual business card to the body of the new email message, as well as attaching the related .vcf file. The Send Full Contact, In Internet Format (vCard) option simply attaches the .vcf file to the email message.

You can also use the Send Full Contact, In Outlook Format option to share contacts. This option uses a .msg extension. Additional methods of sharing contacts while retaining business card view customizations include exporting contacts to a .pst file, and dragging and dropping contacts to share to another Contacts folder as a delegate with write permissions to that folder. For example, a secretary might copy contacts to a supervisor’s Contacts folder.

An enterprise that uses IMAP or POP3 with Outlook can have all employees create vCards and upload them to a network share. These vCards can then be imported into users’ contacts so everyone maintains the same set of business cards. Well-formatted virtual business cards are worth sharing.