Outlook 2007: 10 top tips

From speeding up attachment previews to integrating social networking, these tips will help get the most out of Outlook 2007

by Preston Gralla, Computerworld - Hate it or love it, there's a good chance that you use Microsoft Outlook, still the most popular e-mail client on the planet. Outlook 2010 for Windows was just released, but only to businesses, who may take a while to switch to the new version. Office 2010 won't be available to individual users until later this spring. So we thought this was a good time to help you with the Outlook you're most likely using (and still getting used to) now -- Outlook 2007.

Outlook 2007 does a lot of things that previous versions can't do, such as previewing attachments, handling RSS feeds and more. There are potential challenges to Outlook 2007 as well, such as its ability to handle .pst files from earlier Outlook versions.

In a previous article, we tackled some of the top Outlook annoyances and how to fix them. In this story, we'll give tips on how to get the most out of Outlook 2007. We've also got dozens of keyboard shortcuts and a listing of where Outlook 2007 stores its most important data and customization files.

These tips are written for Outlook using POP3 mail, not for Outlook in an Exchange environment. However, you may find that some of the tips work in Exchange environments as well. If you've got tips of your own, let us know in the comments below.

Note: This article assumes that you know the basics of Outlook navigation. Just as a reminder, Outlook has multiple panes, notably the Navigation pane for getting to the main parts of Outlook such as e-mail, Calendar, Contacts and Tasks. Outlook 2007 also includes parts of the new Ribbon interface found in other Microsoft Office 2007 applications, including Word 2007, Excel 2007 and PowerPoint 2007.

For some reason, the Ribbon wasn't introduced across the board in Outlook 2007 as it was with those other apps. So, for example, on the main Outlook screen there's no Ribbon, but when you open or compose an e-mail, the Ribbon appears. (The good news is that the Ribbon appears more consistently in Office 2010 -- not that that helps Office 2007 users any.) If you need help finding your way around the Ribbon, see our Word 2007 cheat sheet.

Now, on to the tips!

Teach Outlook 2007 to play nice with social networking sites

E-mail has been slowly losing its primacy as the way that people communicate electronically, as social networking sites and services such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn proliferate. But you can get the best of both worlds right within Outlook 2007 by integrating Outlook with some features of social networking sites.

Microsoft's Outlook Social Connector and the third-party Xobni are both free, and both work from right inside Outlook to do the integration.

Xobni is the more comprehensive of the two. It grabs information about your contacts directly from Facebook, LinkedIn, and to a lesser extent Twitter, and displays them right within Outlook. So, for example, you can follow a person's tweets as well as her Facebook and LinkedIn updates.

It also allows two-way communication, so you can post a Twitter update from within Outlook. It does plenty more as well, such as grabbing information about a contact's employer from Hoovers, displaying threaded conversations with contacts, and more. Since it's free, if you use a social networking site but still communicate primarily via e-mail, you'll want to get it.

The free Xobni add-in integrates social networking services with Outlook. Click to view larger image.

Microsoft's Outlook Social Connector works similarly, although it's not as comprehensive as Xobni. At this point it works only with LinkedIn and MySpace, although Microsoft says that in the future it will work with Facebook and most likely Twitter as well. It's still in beta, but it's stable enough to download and use.

The Outlook Social Connector doesn't grab as much information from social networking sites as Xobni does, and it doesn't allow two-way communication, at least at this point. It's a little better integrated to Outlook, however, so it's good for basics such as seeing someone's most recent activity on LinkedIn. I use it in addition to Xobni.

If you're looking to use Twitter from within Outlook, try the free TwInBox plug-in. Like Xobni, it lets you send tweets and follow others' tweets from within Outlook, but it offers additional features such as archiving, grouping and managing tweets, and shortening URLs with bit.ly.

Use sports teams' and TV shows' calendars inside Outlook

Would you like to follow the calendar of a favorite sports team, TV show, or other type of calendar inside Outlook? It's easy to do, because Outlook supports the iCal calendar format in the form of an .ics file, which allows for calendar sharing.

First, find the .ics file for the calendar you want to view inside Outlook. Your best bet is to do a Web search for a page that will tell you where to get the .ics calendar -- for example, using the search terms "Red Sox ical." The result you want will say "downloadable schedule" or something similar. In the case of the Boston Red Sox, a Google search turns up the 2010 Downloadable Schedule page.

On the page, look for a link to the iCal URL that contains the calendar. In our example, it's

http://mlb.mlb.com/soa/ical/schedule.ics?team_id=111&season=2010

After you've got the iCal URL, follow these steps:

1. In Outlook 2007 select Tools --> Account Settings.

2. Click the Internet Calendars tab and click New.

3. On the screen that appears, paste in the Red Sox iCal URL, then click Add.

4. In the Folder Name box on the screen that appears, type in the name of the calendar -- in our instance, Boston Red Sox. You can also type a description into the Description box.

5. Click OK, then click Close.

You'll now see the new calendar listed in the Calendar's Navigation Pane. It will remain separate from your own personal calendar, and from any other calendars you might want to add. You can include multiple calendars this way.

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The Boston Red Sox schedule, imported into Outlook. Click to view larger image.

Create boilerplate text to insert into e-mail messages

Do you have boilerplate text -- such as a description of your business or background -- that you insert often into e-mail messages, but not every time like a signature? If so, you'll welcome one of Outlook 2007's lesser-known features -- Quick Parts, which is also included in Word 2007. You can use Quick Parts to insert images, text or a combination of the two.

To use it, do the following:

1. Create a new e-mail message.

2. Write the boilerplate text you want to reuse or insert the boilerplate graphic you want to reuse (or both).

ol07tips_quickpart1_338.jpg

Creating a Quick Part in Outlook 2007.

3. Select the text and/or graphic, click the Insert tab on the Ribbon, and select Quick Parts --> Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery.

4. In the screen that appears, type in a descriptive name for the text or graphic in the Name field. Type in a description of the Quick Part in the Description field. Don't change any other fields. Click OK.

ol07tips_quickpart2b_338.jpg

Typing a description of the new Quick Part.

5. When you want to insert the Quick Part into an e-mail message, click Insert from the Ribbon, click Quick Parts, scroll to the Quick Part you want to insert, and click it.

Note that Quick Parts are not shared between Word and Outlook, so you have to create separate ones for each application. (Outlook Quick Parts are stored in NormalE-mail.dotm, while those for Word are stored in Normal.dotm.)

Speed up attachment previews

One of Outlook 2007's niftier new features is its ability to let you preview Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents and other files when you're reading mail without having to open the attachment itself. To do that, you highlight the file, then click the "Preview file" button.

You can make files from specific senders preview automatically without going through those steps. For each person whose attachments you want to preview this way, right-click on an e-mail from the person, select Junk E-Mail from the menu that appears, and choose Add Sender to Safe Senders List. The next time the person sends you a file you want to preview, highlight it and uncheck the box next to "Always warn before previewing this type of file." From now on, you'll preview this type of attachment from this sender as soon as you highlight it.

Give your older .pst file new life in Outlook 2007

Outlook 2007, like earlier versions of Outlook, stores all of your e-mail as well as other important information in a .pst file named Outlook.pst. Normally the file is found in C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook. Back when Outlook 2003 was released, Microsoft changed the .pst file format, with one important benefit -- .pst files would no longer be subject to a limit of 2GB. In Outlook 2003 and 2007, the limit is now 20GB.

Pre-2003 versions of Outlook cannot open files in the new .pst format, but Outlook 2003 and 2007 can open the older .pst file format. So even if you have Outlook 2007, you may be using an older .pst file if you used a previous version of Outlook.

There is one serious drawback to using an older .pst file with Outlook 2007 -- it is subject to the same maximum file size of 2GB. There's no direct way to automatically convert an older .pst file to the new Outlook .pst format. Still, with a little bit of fiddling, it can be done.

First, determine whether the .pst file is in the older or newer format. To do that, follow these steps:

1. In Outlook, select File --> Data File Management.

2. Click the Data Files tab and select the .pst file you're interested in.

3. Click Settings to open the Personal Folders dialog box.

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A .pst file in the older Outlook format.

4. Look in the Format field. If it reads "Personal Folders File (97-2002)," it means you have a .pst file in the older format. If it reads "Personal Folders File," you have a newer .pst file.

If in doing this you see you are using an older .pst file, you can use a work-around to convert it to the newer format. (You can close the Personal Folders box; we're done with it now.)

You'll first create a blank .pst file in the new format, then import the information from the old file into the new one:

1. In Outlook's main menu, select File --> New --> Outlook Data File.

2. On the screen that appears, select Office Outlook Personal File Folder (.pst) and click OK.

3. From the screen that appears, give the new file a file name and choose the location where you want it stored. By default, Outlook will choose where your other .pst files are stored, which by default in Windows 7 or Vista is C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook and in Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 is \Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook.

4. From the screen that appears, type a name into the Name box -- this is the name for the file that Outlook will display. Click OK. You've just created the new file in the .pst format. Now you're going to import the data from the old .pst file.

5. Select File --> Import and Export.

6. Select "Import from another program or file," then click Next.

7. From the screen that appears, select Personal Folder File (.pst).

8. A screen will appear asking for the location and name of the file you want to import. Browse to the location of the old .pst file and click Open.

9. You'll be back on the screen asking for the location and name of the file you want to import. Choose "Replace duplicates with items imported" and click Next.

10. From the screen that appears, click on the display name of the file you want to import and click Finish. Outlook will now import all of the data from the old .pst file to the new one, which has a 20GB size limit.

Manage RSS feeds inside Outlook 2007

Those who follow blogs and other RSS feeds should make use of one of Outlook 2007's best features, its built-in RSS reader. When you use the reader, each feed has its own separate folder; Outlook automatically polls each feed and posts updates to the appropriate folder. You can then browse through the folders, the same way you browse through mail. All RSS feeds will be under the RSS Feeds folder.

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Viewing an RSS feed in Outlook. Click to view larger image.

If you want to use Outlook 2007 for reading blogs, it's best if you configure it to be your default RSS reader. To do that in Windows 7 or Vista, from Outlook 2007's main menu, select Tools --> Options, click the Other tab, and then click the Default programs button. From the screen that appears, check the boxes next to the OUTLOOKFEEDS items (there may be more than one), click Save, and then click OK.

If you're using Windows XP, you'll have to set the default another way (which also works with Windows 7 and Vista): In your Web browser, go to the blog that you want to subscribe to and click the RSS icon. You'll be asked whether to use Outlook to subscribe to the feed. Check the box next to "Always use Microsoft Office Outlook to subscribe to feeds."

From now on, when you click the icon for an RSS feed on the Web, you'll see an Outlook message asking if you want to subscribe to the feed. Click Yes to subscribe or No to not subscribe, or you can customize aspects of how you read each feed by clicking the Advanced button.

On the screen that appears, you can change the display name of the feed or change the .pst file to which the feed will be delivered. You can also determine whether the feed should automatically download enclosures (multimedia content, such as for podcasts) and whether to download the entire post as an HTML file.

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Customizing an RSS feed in Outlook 2007.

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