Microsoft Outlook 2007
If you depend upon Microsoft Outlook's e-mail and calendar, the 2007 version offers welcome changes that can save time and keep you on your toes. Microsoft renovated all of its Office applications for 2007, but many of these updates simply repackage existing features. By contrast, Outlook 2007 offers new features that could change the way you work. Admittedly, many of these tweaks are for ease of use and don't exactly reinvent this desktop e-mail client, but the changes enhance what Outlook already did well and make for a more elegant and practical experience overall.
Our installation of various Office editions on Windows XP computers took between 10 and 20 minutes, which was quicker than prior editions of Office. You'll have to be online to access services later, such as Help and How-To as well as Clip Art and document templates. Our review of Microsoft Office 2007 details the installation process and the ingredients of each edition. Under the hood, the Outlook Connector is mostly the same as in the past for setting up your e-mail. If you run Outlook 2007 on Windows XP, you'll either have to install its new Instant Search separately or keep the older search engine. Windows Vista users already have Instant Search through the included Windows Desktop Search.
Luckily for those upgrading, Microsoft has spiffed up the formerly drab, gray look of Outlook without rearranging most of its commands. Unlike the 2007 versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Outlook 2007's main interface shuns the Ribbon toolbar and keeps its File, Edit, and other menus. That makes it easy to jump right in and start using Outlook 2007 if you're accustomed to an earlier version. The Ribbon emerges once you begin to compose a message or an appointment. Within the main window, a new, collapsible To-Do bar summarizes your current appointments and tasks for the day.
When you compose an e-mail message, the tabbed Ribbon appears, allowing you to format the text as well as attach files, contacts, and images. A similar window appears when you schedule appointments, set up tasks, or edit individual contacts. Under the Options tab, you must choose HTML or Rich Text if you want to attach images. If you're working in plain text, the buttons for dressing up messages will fade. As with the layout of other Office 2007 programs, contextual tabs appear and disappear based upon your work at hand; for example, the picture-formatting menu shows up only once you've clicked on an image. Getting used to this can take some practice.
After using Outlook 2007 for several weeks, we found it hard to return to Outlook 2003--largely because we'd grown used to the ease of dragging e-mails to the calendar and color-coding them for scheduling, as well as seeing each day's tasks appear within the calendar. These little changes can be a big deal if Outlook is your messaging and scheduling nerve center.
Items that you flag for follow up appear within the To-Do bar, and there's more flexibility in flagging. Just right-click the flag icon on an Outlook e-mail, and you can specify precisely when to follow up on a message. Forget to mark an item as complete? It rolls over to the next calendar day until you're finally finished. Right-click the rounded box that represents the Categories column for a specific e-mail message, and you can color-code a message with multiple colors. This allows you to view scheduled items as a "heat map" on the calendar for a quick visual signal of what's hot on your to-do list. You can also set a Quick Click for Outlook to label messages with the color of your choice by default when you click on its Categories box.