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Outlook 2010 - early impressions

The most noticeable changes in Office 2010 are in Outlook and, sad to say, they aren’t all for the best.

Some early notes and first impressions based on the most recent beta release of Outlook 2010.

The most noticeable changes in Office are in Outlook 2010 and, sad to say, they aren’t all for the best.

Outlook 2010 gets the ribbon interface that arrived in Word, Excel and Powerpoint 2007. In the time before the release of Office 2007, the ribbon developers told Office Watch that the ribbon was designed for document applications where you had a lot of commands and features but the majority of the screen is needed to show the active document. At the time, that was the reason why Outlook 2007 didn’t get the ribbon and it was a good reason.

A pity no one remembered that when they decided to put the ribbon into Outlook 2010. The ribbon combined with other additions to the Outlook interface has resulted in a cluttered and confusing mess especially for laptop and netbook users.

Even some more items on the default Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) would have been a good idea. Microsoft boasts about their usability labs and tracking software – but it doesn’t look like a good system if the result is deciding that the best two items in the default QAT are ‘Send/Receive Items’ and ‘Undo’. Methinks its back to the drawing board for the usability labs.

Sidebar: the OneNote development team, as usual, have been thinking about their customers.  The OneNote 2010 QAT has four default buttons, all directly useful and relevant to users.

The folder list has been reordered. Instead of the alphabetical listing we’re familiar with, there’s a new order with Inbox at the top.

Outlook 2010 - new folder list order image from Outlook 2010 - early impressions at

For anyone who has used Outlook for many years, the new order will take some getting used to. Having the mail folders together (Inbox, Drafts and Sent Items) makes some sense but not if Junk E-mail is separated down the list.

The Public Folders list (for Exchange Server users) now has ‘All Public Folders’ listed before the more often used ‘Favorites’.

People Pane

Another addition to Outlook 2010 is the twee sounding ‘People Pane’ which could be good but has badly misplaced priorities.

This seems to be a place to see other information about the message sender and receiver if the message wasn’t sent to you personally.  Instead the focus is on what the person looks like.

Outlook 2010 - People Pane image from Outlook 2010 - early impressions at

You can see (reading down the tabs) all items, activities, messages, messages with attachments, meetings and status updates.

There’s a big space for a photo, presumably from the Contacts list. Way too big a space in our view.

The Add button lets you add that person to ‘social networks’ though the only one available now is Sharepoint. Apparently the people at Windows Live haven’t caught up with developments elsewhere at Microsoft.

If it weren’t for the enormous photo, the People Pane could be a useful addition to Outlook. Being able to quickly see past messages from the same person is very handy. However the inordinate amount of space taken up by a photo (that will be blank in many cases) makes me want to turn the damn thing off.

When there’s limited screen space, the People Pane collapses the useful list view on the right and only shows the photo! Talk about wrong priorities.

Outlook 2010 - a full size People Pane with insufficent width image from Outlook 2010 - early impressions at

You can click on the right-hand icons but nothing happens. You might expect clicking a button would make the list view appear, but alas no.

To be fair, there is a minimized People Pane which only shows the photos of the people involved in that message.

Outlook 2010 - People Pane collapsed image from Outlook 2010 - early impressions at

Again, the development choices have shown an obsession with photos over substance.

If you don’t like the People Pane, you can get rid of it from the View tab on the ribbon.

Outlook 2010 - People Pane view options image from Outlook 2010 - early impressions at

The ‘Account Settings’ options under the People Pane lets you add other social networks to the view, at present there are none except for Sharepoint.

Being able to see whether someone is available via an instant message service can also be useful but also intrusive and time consuming (thank heavens for the ‘appear offline’ option ) . It will be interesting to see how easy it is for non-Microsoft IM vendors to plug into this feature. If Windows Live hasn’t done it yet, it would seem it isn’t too easy.

If there was an option, even a registry entry, to hide the photo then the People Pane would be a winner.

In short, the People Pane tries to do too much with too little ability to remove items (especially the photo) that don’t suit the customer.


The Outlook Status Bar can now be tweaked a little, just like some Office 2007 programs. Right-click on the status bar to see the options:

Outlook 2010 - Customize Status Bar image from Outlook 2010 - early impressions at

On the bottom right of the status bar are some interesting options:

Outlook 2010 - Zoom slider and view options image from Outlook 2010 - early impressions at

The slider will zoom in or out the view on the reading/preview pane.

Click on the percentage number to see the familiar Word Zoom dialog box.

The icons on the left of the percentage are ‘Normal’ view and ‘Reading’ view. Reading view collapses the folder list, To Do list and People Pane leaving only the message list and reading pane.


It’s a long standing gripe of ours but we have to mention again the lack of decent time zone support in Outlook.  After many years of delay, Microsoft finally exposed the existing ability to enter appointments across time zones in Outlook 2007.  But that’s as far as they went.  Calendar views continue to have no time zone features except the lame and mostly useless twin time ruler on the side.  Outlook really needs the ability to display the calendar according to different time zones – for example a calendar view in Los Angeles time and another on New York time – each view showing the same appointments but adjusted to the local time.  Google Calendar did this from day one.

It begs the question – when will the Outlook management team grasp the concept of a round Earth?


Between the folder list, People Pane, To Do list and the ribbon, Outlook 2010 seems way too crowded.


Finally, even allowing for the fact that this is beta software, Outlook 2010 is very sluggish compared with Outlook 2007. Based on past Microsoft efforts, it’s unlikely that the release version of Outlook 2010 will be considerably faster than the last public beta. Office 2010 is supposed to have the same system requirements as Office 2007, but its hard to justify that on the evidence so far.

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