Microsoft unveils de-cluttering option for Office 365 mailboxes

Business users of Outlook get 'Clutter,' spam filter-like broom that sweeps aside unimportant messages

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Microsoft today launched Clutter, an email filtering option for Office 365 business customers.

The tool, which Microsoft debuted earlier this year in Outlook Web App (OWA), the browser-based mail client for Exchange, will roll out to Office 365 commercial customers starting today.

Similar to an anti-spam filter, Clutter shunts messages into a segregated folder where they can be ignored or reviewed later. Microsoft defines "clutter" as "lower priority messages" that, while not strictly spam, are either unimportant or useless.

"Clutter removes distractions so you can focus on what matters most," claimed Brian Shiers, a senior product marketing manager, and Kumar Venkateswar, a senior program manager, in a blog post Tuesday. Shiers and Venkateswar work on the Exchange team.

In practice, Clutter works similarly to a spam filter: Users can drag messages they deem suitable to a same-named folder to "train" the tool to spot like email in the future. "It gets smarter over time, learning from your prior actions with similar messages, and assessing things like the type of content and even how you are addressed in the message," said Shiers and Venkateswar.

Once enabled in OWA, Clutter appears in other clients linked to that Exchange account, including Outlook on both Windows and OS X desktops and notebooks, and the iPhone and Android OWA apps.

Microsoft powered Clutter with Office Graph, the machine learning engine that also drives Delve, an Office 365 application that attempts to automatically connect users to the most relevant colleagues, files and data.

Employees whose workplaces have adopted Office 365 subscription plans -- including Business Premium ($12.50 per user per month) and Enterprise E3 ($20 per user per month) -- will be able to call on Clutter; consumers who subscribe to Office 365 Home or Personal will not.

Companies that have opted into Microsoft's First Release program -- corporate early adopters, in other words -- will see Clutter today in English-speaking locales; others will be able to access the tool starting later this month, or in the case of non-English languages, once Microsoft wraps up localization.

Computerworld enabled Clutter on an Office 365 Enterprise account through OWA's Options menu -- Microsoft's recommended method -- and a new folder labeled "Clutter" appeared moments later in the desktop Outlook client tied to the account.

There was no immediate evidence that Clutter was doing its job -- even though several eligible messages had been dragged to the folder -- but Shiers and Venkateswar warned that it would take several days to begin sweeping aside messages. They added that "the more [messages] you move [to the Clutter folder], the faster it will learn."

Email filtering has become a hot topic of late, with new initiatives on the part of Google (Inbox, and before that, Gmail itself) and Dropbox (Mailbox) that promise to help users crawl out of the productivity sinkhole.

Clutter in Office 265

Clutter can be switched on at Outlook Web App (OWA) if the account is registered with an Office 365 business subscription.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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