A: Quick Response (QR) codes are a mechanism for encoding information into a two-dimensional space, like a barcode interpreted on two axes. A wide range of information can be stored in a QR code, including names, addresses, text content, dates, and phone numbers. This coding form was originally developed for the auto industry in the 1990s; however, its application is universal, especially now that smartphones can easily be used to interpret these codes. Smartphones and tablets are all equipped with cameras, which can photograph or "scan" QR Codes. But what if you want to combine this technology with Microsoft Outlook?

To use QR codes, you need something to encode the data into the square matrix QR code and something to interpret the graphic code on another device. A company called HyBing has developed a QR coder that generates QR codes of Outlook items right from Outlook 2010. HyBing's application, called QR Coder 2010, is free software for personal use, with a nominal $2.00 fee for business use. You can download the Outlook 2010 add-in from HyBing's website.

QR Coder 2010 requires the .Net Framework 4.0 or later and Microsoft Outlook 2010. The installation is as simple as installations can be, as long as you ensure Outlook isn't running at the time. When you open Outlook after installation, you might have to "Install" the add-in as an unknown publisher, as Figure 1 shows.

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Figure 1: Warning dialog box to install an Outlook add-in from an unknown publisher (click image for larger view)

When the add-in is loaded, you access QR Coder through the Add-Ins tab of the Ribbon. With an Outlook item selected, such as a contact, calendar item, or task, the QR Coder Generate button is available in the Add-Ins menu. Figure 2 shows the QR code created when I clicked Generate for a basic contact. This code can then be copied or saved as an image file. The image file can be printed or included in marketing material or perhaps on a business card.

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Figure 2: A QR code generated from Outlook by QR Coder 2010  (click image for larger view)

Smartphones with suitable QR readers can then consume the image, interpret the content, and read or save it to their resources. This process eliminates middleware such as email servers for transferring information. In person, information can be transferred directly to the consuming device.

Many QR readers are available for all flavors of smartphone. I use NeoReader for Windows Phone 7 currently. To see what's available for different smartphone platforms, 708 Media maintains a reasonable list of QR readers on its website.