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Outlook 2003 rants

There are good and bad things about Outlook. To be fair, let’s start with the good things:

  • 2003 is far better than 2000. You can clearly see that MS listened to its corporate customers and made changes to Exchange/Outlook integration to make it scale much better. There’s far less chatter between Outlook and Exchange (e.g., it downloads the entire GAL — if you want — once a day), and therefore it looks / feels / acts quite a bit faster.
  • There’s an explicit, easy-to-reach (not 3-4 clicks deep in submenus) controls for switching between online and offline states.
  • Outlook Web Access is not even in the same class as OWA 2000 (OWA 2000 = horrid, horrid horrid). OWA 2003 looks and feels much like Outlook itself. It was AJAX [long] before AJAX was cool (granted, it’s ActiveX, not Javascript, but the ideas and concepts are the same). Gotta hand it to MS on this one — OWA 2003 rocks as a web app.
  • Various little cleanups and modernisms, too numerous to mention (vs. Outlook/Exchange 2000).
  • “Search” folders to automatically display the results of a search (simple or complex). Yes, I know everyone has these these days, but Microsoft was actually on the leading wave of this one.
  • Directly related to search folders, the search capabilities are far better than OSX Mail, I have to admit (and yes, you can search multiple folders). You can do trivial searches (the default for OSX Mail), or you can select another tab and get arbitrarily complex in your search.
  • The groupware capabilities rock, especially when your entire company uses them heavily. Schedule, people, rooms, etc. You can look up the phone number of the phone in a conference room, for example. That’s surprisingly handy.
  • Someone wrote a plugin for the calendaring functionality that allows me to automatically reserve a teleconference phone bridge for an Outlook meeting (and it automatically sends around all the information to the participants about the dialin phone numbers, access code, etc.). I don’t know if it was Cisco or some 3rd party who wrote it, but that’s awesome.

But the list of things which are Bad is still fairly lengthy:

  • Integration with other mailboxes is better than 2000 (where it was not possible to mix POP/IMAP and Exchange), but still less than optimal. For example, IMAP’ing to another mailbox will still not result in a combined INBOX (or even a virtual “inbox”, similar to a search folder).
  • IMAP support is still somewhat kludgey. I have my IMAP mailbox set to automatically be included in send/receive e-mail, but it still doesn’t seem like Outlook updates it until I actually go to an IMAP folder (i.e., new messages are not displayed/downloaded until I go there).
  • Searching for names in the addressbook is klunky at best. There’s no searching for partial names; you have to start with the first name. Am I “Jeff” or “Jeffrey”? “Mike” or “Michael”? “Anju” or “Prabanjan”? It looks like they haven’t updated this searching capability since 2000.
  • When you display a 7-day week in the calendaring section, it shows up in two places: it hilights Sunday-Saturday on the mini-calendar view, but it shows Monday-Sunday in the detail view. Why are they different? It’s quite confusing when you’re trying to put events on Sundays.
  • Treatment of timezones is [still] abysmal. Example: I create an “all day event” in Eastern time. I travel to San Jose, and change my computer’s time zone to Pacific. I look at that all day event in Outlook and it now spans 2 days — 3am on the day of the event to 3am of the day after. Technically, I know that’s right — it’s being faithful to when the actual event occurs. But for “Johnney’s Birthday”, I just want it to show up on “April 17th”, not 3am-3am on April 17-18.
  • It is abysmially hard to reply in-line to someone’s e-mail. Outlook pretty much forces you to reply to a mail at the top, which is why you end up with e-mail threads where each individual message is 3 miles long (i.e., the entire thread is contained in each mail).
  • I set my Outlook to always send plain text mail. However, sometimes it still sends HTML or Rich Text mail (I don’t know/care which — it’s not plain text). I don’t know why it sometimes chooses to reply in HTML or RTF; it’s quite annoying.
  • Email address auto-completion is horrible. It does not auto-complete even from names in my own contact list all the time (I set my contact list to be the first data source it searches). It seems like there’s some kind of timeout — when you send to recipient X, it’ll stay in the auto-complete cache for some time period and then disappear. That’s annoying. Just because I haven’t sent to X in a week (for example) doesn’t mean I want to type his entire name every time I want to send a mail. This is such a small thing to fix, but yet something I have to deal with many times a day, so it’s big sore point.
  • Although Outlook mail added a “conversation view” (which is essentially a threaded index view), it still stubbornly refuses to add the “In-reply-to” header line in outgoing mails, which makes it quite difficult for most other mail clients to thread properly.
  • Outlook mail’s conversation view is pretty poor on threading. It groups mails together nicely, but it only threads my replies (i.e., indents them even further to show who replied to whom).
  • Outlook mail’s conversation view has an extra line in the index for the subject of the thread. It has a wierd dichotomy of sometimes you can select that extra line, and sometimes you can’t. It’s annoying when you’re trying to use keyboard shortcuts instead of the mouse because I haven’t figured out the precise situations when it is selectable and when it is not (i.e., this affects multi-selecting of mails when you want to perform an action on a group of mails).
  • There’s built-in junk mail handling, but it is pretty weird. It’s not clear what you’re supposed to do if a spam ends up in your inbox (as opposed to the Junk folder). If you right click on it, there’s a greyed-out option to reclassify it as NOT spam (i.e., exactly the opposite of what I want). Reclassifying erroneously marked spam as non-spam is easy — but I want to know how to tell Outlook that a piece of mail is spam. Does dragging it to the Junk folder do it? [shrug]

Are there settings where I can change some of these behaviors? Quite possibly. But I have poked around (not exhaustively, but I have spent some time on it) and not found them. Arrgh.


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Comments (1)

Jeff Help!!:

Jeff I am having some problems with Verizon that you described in an earlier Journal entry I am being a bit dense and not understanding exactly how you opened up your mail server any chance you could drop me an email?

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