commentary Microsoft may call Outlook a personal information management and communication solution, but it encompasses much more than what's described by that simple label.
It's no longer just an application, it's become a productivity platform, an integral part of the everyday life of countless persons. And like any piece of software that we really get to know, it's the little things that can drive us batty.
What's more, any flaw or inconsistency in Outlook results in the loss of time for millions of persons. In an effort to boost the productivity of the entire world--OK, really just to make my life easier--I hereby offer a short list of suggestions for the next version.
- Look ahead, not behind
For some reason, the developers of personal information managers think their users are interested in the current month. Not true. We really want to know the month ahead, or more accurately, the next 30 days or so from today's date.
What's the difference? When I go to my calendar and use the Month view (my default), it displays the weeks of the month and highlights the current day. At the beginning of the month, this display is fine, as the whole month of activities and tasks is presented for my consideration. But as the month goes on, the relevant future shrinks, until only a single week or just a few days are shown. To see the future, I must click to next month's view.
While it's conceivable that some people use Outlook as a journal, the very name of the program suggests that most users care more for what's ahead than for what's behind them. Perhaps this interface is a holdover from our centuries of experience with printed calendars. Or the developers worry that we will forget which month we're in. But it's a silly feature for a dynamic, digital calendar.
- Don't waste space
Outlook wastes space that could be better used for meetings and other important information. Many frequent travelers use appointments to show where they will be on a specific day, such as Paris or New York. Or they use appointments to highlight important events, like your significant other's birthday, or your anniversary. This is all critical information.
However, there's a snag with this scheme on my notebook screen in 1,024-by-768 resolution. During a busy three-day trip to say, Paris, I can see only five of my six scheduled meetings for the day. That last meeting is hidden because I took up the top line to show the name of your destination. Out of sight can be out of mind.
I wish there was a way for Outlook to display these special items next to the date. Different styles would also be nice. This would both highlight the information and not penalize me by reducing space for other appointments.
- Stop segregating tasks
Must all tasks be segregated from our other appointments? While it's nice that we can view tasks in their area on the side of the calendar, it would be more logical to let tasks appear directly in the calendar, especially when there's a due date associated with a task.
This move would free up space to display e-mail messages or contacts. Such a mixed view would be the power-user's equivalent to Outlook Today. Certainly, this would become my preferred view on my digital world.
- Avoid contact confusion
Since I upgraded to Outlook XP, I've noticed that the program constantly confuses the e-mail address book with the addresses in my Contacts. Both resources store e-mail addresses and names, so wouldn't it be less confusing for both the software and users to combine the addresses in one central repository holding all contact information?
- Notify me
Outlook's e-mail notification feature could also use some work. When I'm waiting for an important e-mail, I appreciate Outlook's notification upon an arrival of a message. I immediately put aside working on that spreadsheet with its important deadline, and open my inbox to find--a monthly newsletter or a piece of spam.
Instead, it would be better if Outlook would show the e-mail's sender and subject along with the notification.
- Lose some weight
My Outlook Data File needs to go on a diet. Again. Somehow, my ODF hovers around 1GB in size, even though I constantly archive my e-mails when they are older than a year. Most of this is due to the fact that I get a lot of messages with attachments.
I'm sure that Outlook's performance would be much faster if these attachments were saved outside the ODF. I should have the choice to delete an attachment, have it automatically saved to an attachments folder, or to specify a directory where I want it to be saved.
These are six only relatively small fixes. Yet, they would really make my Outlook a lot rosier.
What bugs you most about Outlook? If you could change one thing, what would it be? Talk back below.
Daniel Goldscheider is a guest columnist. Based in Switzerland, Goldscheider is the president and founder of YES Networks, a developer of interactive radio and television solutions.