Outlook 2007 Gives E-mail Management a Boost

His real desk may be a mess, but Jason Clarke’s virtual office is neat because he assiduously answers, files or deletes the 400-plus e-mails he gets each day.

“My feeling is that if you have more than a screenful of e-mails in your in-box, you’re being rude,” said Clarke, a technical sales and marketing manager at Wenco International Mining Systems Ltd. in Richmond, British Columbia.

Clarke is an archetypal “filer,” spending hours a day managing his Microsoft Outlook e-mail program.

The latest version of Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook personal information manager adds several improvements that beta testers and analysts say are helping early users cope with ever-growing in-boxes.

Outlook 2007 has been available to business users since November and will ship to consumers later this month.

Several early users and analysts cited the improved e-mail search capability as the chief enhancement in Outlook 2007, which is available as part of Office 2007 or as a stand-alone product for $109.95.

Using the Outlook 2003 version of the product, searching through thousands of messages for old e-mails can be so slow that it becomes “almost unusable,” said Peter Pawlak, an analyst at Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft. Outlook 2007, in contrast, builds indexes of users’ emails, he noted.

“Once [the indexing] is done, the search is very, very quick,” said Dawie Olivier, an IT project manager at Sasfin Bank Ltd. in Johannesburg, South Africa. Sasfin switched to Outlook 2007 early last year as part of the bank’s participation in Microsoft’s Office 2007 Technology Adopter Program. Since then, Olivier has cut the time he spends handling e-mails each day from two hours to 45 minutes.

New Features

Outlook 2007

•  Instant search results through an index-based engine

•  Built-in RSS aggregator for reading Web site feeds and blogs•  Improved integration with SharePoint Portal Server and Exchange 2007•  To-do bar that shows a snapshot of a users appointments and active tasks

Not only do ad hoc search results come back instantly, but Olivier said the new version also lets him create e-mail views based on preset keywords. The latter feature, along with Outlook 2007’s ability to support much larger e-mail accounts, let Olivier eliminate a filing system that had grown to more than 300 folders and subfolders, he said.

Jessica Arnold, Microsoft’s product manager for Outlook 2007, said the company is positioning Outlook as a communications dashboard for information workers.

For example, she said, Outlook 2007 lets users send instant messages without having to start the Office Communicator client software. Outlook will eventually become the repository for most workers’ messages, whether in e-mail, IM or voice format, she said.

Clarke did note that for all the improvements in Outlook 2007, it isn’t yet the perfect application. He said that despite the improved efficiency, he will continue using an add-on called ClearContext IMS to collapse long e-mail exchanges into easier-to-manage threads.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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