A: Microsoft Outlook is a Personal Information Manager (PIM) with an email component. Users spend a great deal of time within Outlook during their day. The Bing Travel Planner has been around since June 2009 as a feature of Bing. The Bing Travel Planner plug-in integrates travel bookings with Outlook, or more specifically, the Outlook calendar. It’s also still in beta as of this writing.

The installation needs to be performed with Internet access and with Outlook closed. The setup application is less than 1MB and is available in the Microsoft Download Center: Bing Travel Planner Beta for Outlook. The installation may download an additional component if it’s not installed, namely the Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System (Version 3.0 Runtime). The Bing Travel Planner is preconfigured to automatically update. Microsoft discloses in the EULA that if you do not want this option, you can uninstall the Bing Travel Planner application (See Figure 1). Setup downloads a .vsto file as shown in Figure 2. This includes a complete list of airports, a 4MB xml file, saved as \Users\\Roaming\BingTravelPlanner\Airports\airports.xml.

After the installation is complete, you can launch Outlook. The Bing Travel Planner is installed as a COM add-in. You can verify the installation by checking the Add-in list. First, go to the Outlook 2010 back panel by clicking the File tab at the top left of the main Outlook interface. Then select Options in the left menu to open the Options window. Now select Add-ins from the menu on the left of the window to reveal the list of Add-ins installed for Outlook as shown in Figure 3. The Bing Travel Planner Add-in is highlighted in Figure 3.

Within Outlook, there are two ways to launch the Bing Travel Planner application—from the Add-Ins tab (as shown in Figure 4) or by the context menu revealed when you right-click an open area of the calendar (see Figure 5). This appears like a custom browser running within Outlook. This window, shown in Figure 6, looks very familiar to the travel booking feature of the Bing.com website, http://bing.com/travel. The application offers 4 steps: Book Trip, Trip Summary, Reminders, and Complete. I won’t review how to book travel, but I’ll tell you that the Reminders step introduces the Outlook integration. After you book your flight through the Bing Travel Planner, the flight information will be pre-populated for generating out of office (OOF) information and travel reminders in Outlook. Figure 7 shows two flights selected. Click Complete to create an OOF message and configure Outlook reminders for 3 hours prior to the time of your flight. A summary of this input is shown in Figure 8. The Bing Travel Planner assigned an out of office status to the time period that you are away (see Figure 9), it created reminders to alert you 3 hours before your flight and it created appointments in your calendar complete with the flight information (see Figure 10). The Add-in automatically generated calendar information; the user didn’t need to manually enter it.

I can’t imagine what Outlook would look like if you installed all the plug-ins and add-ins that Microsoft and third-party entities have created; however, there are many valuable products to extend Outlook’s functionality. I wouldn’t expect all administrators to install this plug-in for their users. However, you might have some users who could benefit greatly from the integration between Bing Travel and Outlook 2010, including those that use Outlook to inform others of their whereabouts. What seems to be missing is the ability for a mailbox delegate to have the Bing Travel booking easily appear on a specific calendar.