First look at Outlook 2002

By Dennis O'Reilly, PC World |  Software

With a cleaner interface, some long-overdue improvements, and advances in group scheduling, the revised Outlook 2002 will make lots of users happy. But the program still lacks some of the group collaboration features that companies look for (and get) from the program's nearest rival, Lotus Notes.

The new Outlook interface is less obtrusive and more customizable than the previous version, which shipped with Office 2000. To make functions easier to find, you can rearrange shortcuts in the left pane simply by dragging and dropping them, and the right-click menu lets you rename or delete shortcuts. You can also color-code calendar entries--a new feature--individually or by creating automatic rules. It took us only a few seconds, for example, to create a rule that turned all entries containing the word Frisbee green, and those with the word meeting red.

Looks will get you only so far, however (at least outside of Hollywood). Outlook 2002 is a productivity tool after all, and its ability to increase your productivity is what will make or break it. If you have multiple e-mail accounts (and who doesn't these days?), Outlook now allows you to view messages from all of them, including Hotmail and other Internet e-mail services, in one place. And instead of having to forward messages from one of your accounts to another, you can simply drag and drop them from account to account.

Outlook 2002 in brief

What's hot

  • Multiple e-mail accounts funnel into a single in-box.
  • A drop-down list lets you choose which account sends a message.
  • Familiar e-mail addresses automatically complete.
  • You can switch on the fly among HTML, Rich Text Format, and plain text in the messages you send.

What's not

  • Online collaboration features are not as powerful as those in Lotus Notes.

Most e-mail users will applaud the fact that Wordmail, a text editor with most of the functionality and all the familiarity of Word, is now the default. (It was an option in Outlook 2000.) For some organizations, this single feature might be sufficient cause to upgrade from Outlook 97.

Wordmail brings Word's AutoCorrect, Paste Options, Address, Name, Date, and other Smart Tags to your e-mail compositions. A new drop-down menu lets you switch on the fly among HTML, Rich Text Format, and plain text, and a single click cleans up the extra line breaks in plain-text formatting. HTML mail files are now smaller because the document-specific tags that allowed messages to be edited in Word have been excised.

New address book enhancements

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