Office 2013 and the useless mail alerts

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Office 2013 and Windows 8 is a bad combo if you want subtle mail alerts.

Anyone trying Outlook 2013 Preview on Windows 8 is in for an unpleasant surprise – mail Desktop Alerts have changed and not for the better.

In Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010 there are mail desktop alerts that appear on the bottom right of the screen like this:

Outlook%202012%20Desktop%20Alert - Office 2013 and the useless mail alerts

They are relatively subtle and useful. You can delete or flag a message with a single click on the alert without switching away from what you’re doing. I’m sure many of us regularly click the X delete button on an alert.

In Office 2013 Preview running on Windows 8 the mail alert becomes a standard Windows 8 notification. It’s larger and appears near the top right of the screen.

Outlook%202013%20desktop%20alert%20on%20Windows%208 - Office 2013 and the useless mail alerts

What’s worse, it has none of the additional functions we’ve become accustomed to. Delete and Flag are gone – possibly because such things aren’t supported in Windows 8 notifications.

The Outlook obsession with user pictures continues even when, as in this case, there’s no photo to put with the sender.

Over the last few years there’s come a realization that, for all the benefits of email, it can also be disruptive to work and an interruption to concentration. All that has apparently passed over the Microsoft Reality Bubble ™ with a new Outlook becoming more intrusive and less useful. Not for the first time, we’re left wondering what happens in Redmond’s usability labs.

The current Desktop alert is quite customizable in its look. Go to Tools | Options | Preferences | E-mail options | Advanced E-mail options in Outlook 2007. File| Options | Mail | Desktop Alert settings in Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013 on Windows 7.

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With Office 2013 Preview on Windows 8 go to File| Options | Mail and there’s only an option to turn the Desktop Alert on/off.

Before anyone at Microsoft jumps in to complain – we’re not talking about a bug in Office 2013 Preview, this is a poor design decision that deserves a public airing.

How about a more customizable mail alert system in keeping with modern thinking on email and its disruptive effects? Even better, tell the Windows 8 interface team to take a flying leap and restore the more useful and task appropriate Outlook 2007/2010 mail alerts to Outlook 2013 on Windows 8.

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