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Review – Microsoft Office 2007 Outlook Beta 2

June 7, 2006

This will be a multipart series of my experiences with Office 2007 Beta 2.  I'll try to hit at least one product a week.

For the free download, visit: http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/default.mspx

So, I'm a pretty hardcore user of Outlook.  It tells me when to get up, when to go to work, what to do at work, when to go home, and when to sleep.  Some days, it also organizes when to pee.  I know, you're thinking I'm one of those who live and die by their Palm/Pocket PC.  Hell no.  I have one, but who the heck knows where it is…

On the flip side, I do attend meetings… and have deadlines… and my calendar is typically a montage of colors and events scheduled by everyone and their brother (or secretary).  In addition, I have every slice of email since 2001 (when I started with the place), and several links into our current SharePoint Portal for events, etc.  I also link meetings to OneNote summaries, and other odd things.

So, from the screenshots, the 2007 version of Outlook seemed the least… pained by redesign.  They tweaked the menus, flagging, colors, and smoothed the edges to fit the Aero look; however, the freaking Menu Bar remains!  Huzzah.  I took the plunge, I downloaded Beta 2 and tossed it on my computer at the office.  What the heck can I lose–if it gets bad, I have my laptop next to me and can hit up over there while I reinstall 2003.

So…

1. Reading Interface

There isn't much of a change here.  The new To-Do Bar is sweet; a mini-calendar and event list saves me from jumping to my calendar throughout the day.

2. Searching

I really like the new searching functionalities.  I have, after it counted, like 20,000+ emails and it speeds through them searching for key terms in all folders (not just "current folder" as with 2003) and then returns the basics plus what folder and what data file (for those of us with multiple PST files) the message is located in.  Sweet.

3. Message Compositon/Reading

The annoying tab menus do exist when opening and composing emails; however, the options make sense… and "everything else" exists under "Other Actions".  Not too difficult.

4. Calendaring

The new calendaring revamp looks pretty sweet.  Very modern looking with shadows and rounded edges.  Beyond the look, the basic functionality looks almost identical.  I do appreciate the better integration into SharePoint calendars–very nice.

5. Contacts

Hmm, I honestly don't see much difference here.  A contact is a contact.  This section probably hasn't changed much since Office 97. LOL  The odd option is the Business Card generator… are we printing business cards for our contacts now?  I'd love to know the logic behind that function.

6. Tasks/To-Do List & Notes

Tasks and To-Dos are sort of mixed.  I'm not sure if they plan on choosing a term and sticking with it, but we'll see.  As with contacts, this section seems pretty much the same as 2003.

Notes, again, are our faithful sticky notes.  They have added the ability to share notes and group them (or atleast made it more pronounced–I'd never seen that before).

7. Public Folders

Microsoft's vision is that, in 2007, Public Folders die and are replaced by "friendlier" SharePoint folders.  Frankly, we're attempting that with 2003.  Our public folders have served us well, but we have hundreds of disparate documents that no one can search or find and SharePoint is the ideal location.  The functionality of Public Folders in OUtlook, atleast connected to an Exchange 2003 server, seems the same–a simple folder list.

8. Other Gotchas

Adobe Acrobat Pro 6.0 seems to crash out creating and opening new emails.  Removing 6.0 and sticking with 7.0.8 seems to fix this… we'll see how long I can survive without Adobe since 2007 has built in Save as PDF functionality (for now).

So, there you have it.  At Beta 2, the product is usable for day-to-day activities.  I haven't lost anything and it seemed to pull everything in from 2003 flawlessly.  I'd assume that old add-ins will have issues with the new UI and changes to the architecture; however, odd things such as our voicemail software seemed to integrate just fine.

I'd rate it, so far, a 4.5/5.0.  It's a stable product that I look forward to seeing the gold version.

Categories: Hardware and Software
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