Outlook 2007 Gets Mixed Reviews
While most readers like Microsoft's latest e-mail client, some say it's still not ready for prime time.
For the most part, Outlook 2007 is a solid update to a familiar workhorse.
That's the general sentiment of readers who have used the new version. Of all
interface. There's still the familiar File, Edit and View menu options, not
the ribbon interface that's a hallmark of the other Office 2007 apps.
That lack of change is a good thing for most. Whereas the other Office apps
require a significant investment of time and training, Outlook is fairly straightforward.
"Overall, there's not a huge difference from an end user standpoint, and
I think that's a good thing," says Mike Roeser, IT administrator at the
University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Outlook is fairly easy to get up and running as well, say readers, especially
with its improved auto account setup features. "When you configure Outlook
2007, it actually pulls in configuration settings based on your login information
to Active Directory," says John Sullivan, director of IT for Major League
Soccer and Soccer United Marketing in New York. "That helps our desktop
guys because it saves them a couple of minutes on each desktop. It's basically
two clicks to get Outlook set up at that point."
Auto account also works well for hotmail and other well-known services. "If
you use hotmail, it already knows the servers to enter and add for your account,
so it's pretty easy," he says.
Still, others have had problems deploying Outlook 2007 in a corporate setting.
"You can't apply [Group Policy Objects] the same way you could in the past,"
says Frank Callanan, co-owner of Webletechs, a consultancy in Carmel, N.Y. "You
can't apply GPOs individually based on users anymore." Callanan uses Outlook
2007 with Vista, but says most of his clients run it on XP.
Others can't seem to get Outlook deployed at all. Bob Milhaus, a contract IT
service desk analyst at the American Bankers Association in Washington, D.C.,
says that ever since he deployed Outlook on his XP machine, it's been one headache
after another. "It's slow, it's unstable, and it has a tendency to crash,"
he says. "I wouldn't recommend it quite yet."
Justin Carlson, director of IT at Maryland Office Interiors Inc., an office
furniture dealer in Baltimore, had a similar story specific to Outlook's new
instant search. "When you install instant search for Outlook 2007, it's
a performance drag. And if you're a network administrator and want to install
the Exchange tools, it completely breaks and won't work," he says. "Here
I am, the guy trying to kick the tires, and I can't test the search functionality.
That didn't make me very happy."
New and Indeed Improved
A few of Outlook 2007's new features make the move worth the effort, say most
readers. Among those are the ability to preview attachments, perform fast e-mail
searches, the new To-Do Bar, and its enhanced mobile and calendaring capabilities.
Previews are big in Outlook 2007, much as they are in the other new Office
apps. Readers say this greatly improves efficiency. "I constantly have
people sending me Excel spreadsheets with quotes for my budget," Sullivan
says. "It's not something I need to edit; I just need to see a couple of
numbers. Using the preview feature, I don't have to launch another application."
It also bolsters security. "With preview, you no longer open up your system
to different viruses," Callanan says. "Now, it's in a protected area
until you've had a chance to see what exactly has been sent to you."
Others say the feature that convinced them to make the upgrade to 2007 is instant
search. "The search capabilities built into Outlook are incredible,"
says Todd Bailey, systems administrator at Aplicare Inc., a pharmaceutical company
in Meriden, Conn. "It saves you an immeasurable amount of time every day,
especially when you're dealing with unusually large mailboxes. If I was recommending
that someone go from 2003 to 2007 and they're in a business enterprise environment,
that would be the number one reason to switch-for that search capability."
Bailey says the search is very fast, especially when paired with Vista's indexing
function. In fact, it starts returning search results even before he finishes
typing a query. "Literally, as you type, it gives you results," Bailey
Sullivan agrees that the new search function is a huge improvement. "Most
of the people here have 4GB or 5GB of archive folders, and going back and finding
a press release from two or three years ago is something they need to do on
a daily basis," Sullivan says. "So this is definitely a big improvement
over XP and Office 2003 with regard to indexing and searching. It literally
takes just seconds now with Vista and 2007."
Search also works fairly well on XP. One caveat for XP users, though: they
first need to download and install a program called Windows Desktop Search.
"If you have Windows XP and you don't install Windows Desktop Search,
you're definitely not going to get the same experience as you would using Vista,"
Bailey says. "Once you install it, you get close to the same speed and
That could be the problem for some readers who are less than enamored with
the new search features. For example, Milhaus eventually removed Windows Desktop
Search because it kept crashing Outlook. Carlson says the search capability
is far less impressive than a third-party search tool he used with Outlook 2003
Incidentally, Microsoft bought LookOut and that's the technology upon which
it based its current search function. "They stripped it down. It doesn't
work as well, it doesn't index your entire Outlook database, and it's slow,"
Carlson says of LookOut in its new incarnation. "You can tweak it to make
it actually look at your entire account, but that's annoying. I can't get visibility
into my data."
Carlson says he has tried Google Desktop search, but cautions that the Google
tool and Microsoft's Windows Desktop Search don't play well together and end
up crashing your system. Now, he uses a different third-party tool from Copernic
Inc. to handle searches. "In my opinion, Microsoft search for Outlook is
completely deficient and inadequate," he says.
2007 Wish List
2007 sports a bevy of upgrades, there are four features readers
would have really liked to see in the newest version of Microsoft's
1. Integrated training: Most say the current tutorials
and training options aren't up to the task of getting users
comfortable with Outlook 2007. "One feature I'd like
to see either online or within the system itself is some kind
of self-tutorial training," says Greg Art, director of
product development at Aplicare Inc. in Meriden, Conn. "How
do I do X? How do I assign a task to somebody and how do I
track it -- those kinds of things. What are my options for
views? It would be really nice to have a really simple tutorial
that people could go to and easily understand."
2. Domain blocking: Most readers are happy with the
improved junk-mail filters within Outlook 2007, but say one
feature is missing. "When you're in your inbox, and you
right-click on an e-mail, the options for junk mail are there
but they don't allow you to block the domain," says John
Sullivan, director of IT for Major League Soccer and Soccer
United Marketing. "From there, you can only block the
sender ... I'd prefer to be able to block a domain right from
3. Easier public folders: "In both versions,
it's not easy for the average user to jump over to see public
folders," says Todd Bailey, systems administrator at
Aplicare. "And that's not necessarily just 2007, because
they did it in 2003. You have to actually change your view
to the folderless view and then scroll down and expand and
this and that, rather than just adding it to one of the main
buttons they already have. It's not very intuitive."
4. One more calendar view: Although most agree the
calendars in Outlook 2007 are greatly improved, readers say
there is one feature missing. "If you're in a month view,
it only shows a limited number of events each day, maybe four
or five total," Bailey says. "The only way to see
more events is to click on the small arrow pointing down,
and then it changes the view and goes to the single day view.
That makes it more difficult because then you have to jump
back to the month view that you typically use. It would be
better if that day popped up as a separate window temporarily
and went away when you took your mouse away from it."
Facelift for Calendars
Beyond search, Outlook's next most popular improvement is the new calendaring
functionality, especially the ability to overlay two calendars to see conflicts
and optimal meeting times.
"We have a public calendar where we post different events, when people
are going on vacation, product launches, anything like that," Bailey says.
"I like the fact that you can have two calendars side by side, but there's
also a feature where you can actually put the two calendars on top of each other."
Teresa Rader, administrative assistant to the director of IT development and
engineering at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., agrees. "I have my
personal calendar, I have three meeting room calendars, and I have access to
other people's calendars so that I can see where they are if someone comes looking
for them," she says. "The overlay feature is nice in that I can overlay
any calendar on top of any other. You can overlay all the calendars and come
up with a block of time when everybody is free much faster."
You can now drag-and-drop e-mails directly into calendars, which readers say
is a big time-saver. "That's a neat feature because you can take an e-mail
[and] rather than going into the calendar, clicking new meeting and so on, you
can just take the e-mail and drag it right into the calendar," Sullivan
says. "Then it pops up with the contents of the e-mail and you can see
exactly what it is."
It's also easier to share calendars in 2007. "Sharing a calendar is easier
and more intuitive now," Roeser says. "You can now send the calendar
via e-mail, and that's not something you could do as easily in 2003."
To-Do Bar Works Well
Another of Outlook 2007's new features is the To-Do Bar, which runs down the
right side of the screen in the inbox view. It shows a small monthly calendar,
upcoming appointments and a task list. It's designed to let users be more productive
by letting them see and handle several tasks from one main view.
"It gives you a snapshot look of everything you have going on with regards
to calendar tasks and contacts, recent
e-mails and all that," Sullivan says. He notes that with previous versions
of Outlook, he had to buy a third-party tool to achieve the same functionality.
"So 2007 has let me eliminate a software package," he says. "I
only had five or six people using it, but we don't need it anymore because of
the To-Do Bar."
Bailey agrees that the To-Do bar is a big help. "That's nice to be able
to see that information without having to go to the calendar," he says.
"It's a time-saver."
Callanan says the biggest change he's noticed since moving himself and some
of his clients to 2007 is that mobile users are far happier. "They're the
ones who tend to complain the most because they need access to things all the
time," he says. "And everything's easier in 2007."
Microsoft significantly upgraded the synchronization tools in Outlook 2007
to make the process more seamless. "The upgrade has been solid, and everybody
I've dealt with has had no issues keeping things synchronized between devices,
laptops and portables or a desktop and a portable," Callanan says. "I
don't see the issues we had in the past trying to set up synchs either through
all the different wizards or the third-party applications to do it. It just
Mobile users also see a speed increase. "It definitely cuts down on the
time it takes for an e-mail to clear and be able to be viewed on a mobile device,"
he says. "It used to be that e-mail came in and your virus scanner would
have to hit it, and then your spam blocker would hit it, and by the time it
loaded, three or four minutes had gone by. That's not the case anymore. Now,
as soon as Outlook loads, it's done everything. Everything pops up and it does
everything on the fly, so you don't need to wait for a second or even third
application to kick in and do something before you view e-mail."
Overall, most readers seem happy with the new Outlook. "Normally, you see
people complaining about upgrades, but I haven't noticed that with Outlook 2007,"
Callanan says. "Everyone seems fairly comfortable and I haven't heard any
Others who have struggled to get the new Outlook up and running have a different
opinion. "I use Outlook 2007 every day, but I'm seriously thinking of using
something else now," Milhaus says. "Either that or the next computer
I buy will be a Mac, because I will not personally go to Vista. Or I will just
switch my computer over to Linux, and go with Evolution [for e-mail]. I just
don't think Outlook and Office 2007 are ready for prime time."