February 26, 2013, 8:54 AM — I've made no secret of my dislike for Microsoft Outlook. In fact, last year I announced my plans to "divorce" Outlook in favor of a smaller, faster mail client.
Alas, because a lot of the writing I do centers around Microsoft Office, I've stuck it out with Outlook, at least on one of my PCs. And over the weekend I made the move to Outlook 2013, which debuted last month as part of the new Office 2013 suite.
What I expected: More clutter, more bloat, more features I don't need.
What I got: A surprisingly streamlined and pleasant program with some features I actually do need--or at least appreciate.
Here, then, is my list of five surprisingly great things about Outlook 2013:
1. One-click Unread-mail filter
Unless you're an avid practitioner of inbox-zero techniques, chances are your inbox is full of read and unread messages alike.
In the Outlook of old (i.e. 2010), you could view only unread email by clicking the Filter button, then choosing Unread.
In Outlook 2013, there's a big, easy-to-spot Unread button right at the top of your inbox. Click it and presto: You see only those messages marked as unread. Want to go back to the full inbox view? Just click the All option right next to it. These are the kinds of simple but effective productivity improvements Microsoft should be making. Kudos for this one.
2. Message preview
Traditionally, the Outlook inbox has shown you the sender's name and subject line for each email. To see the actual contents, you'd have to double-click it (or click it once to view it in the preview pane).
Outlook 2013 offers message preview (accessible in the View tab), which lets you preview one, two, or three lines of the message body right inside the inbox--a great way to scan messages without having to open each one individually.
And speaking of the preview pane, you can now reply to (or forward) an email right in that pane, without having to reach for the ribbon.
3. Zoom slider
Depending on how an email is formatted or the size/resolution of your screen, the text might be too small to read comfortably--or too large for the confines of, say, the preview pane.