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Outlook Annoyances

Outlook Annoyances

by Lee Hudspeth, T.J. Lee, Woody Leonhard

First, the good news: Microsoft Outlook's integration of email, scheduling, and contact information make it a powerful tool that you can use in organizing your work and your life. And as part of the Microsoft Office suite, it integrates with the other Office applications, like Word and Excel. With Outlook as your personal information manager or PIM, your


First, the good news: Microsoft Outlook's integration of email, scheduling, and contact information make it a powerful tool that you can use in organizing your work and your life. And as part of the Microsoft Office suite, it integrates with the other Office applications, like Word and Excel. With Outlook as your personal information manager or PIM, your productivity can skyrocket.Now the bad news: released for the first time with Office 97 and since reissued in a number of new versions, most notably Outlook 98, Outlook frequently seems more like it's beta than production software. Whether you're most bothered by Outlook's refusal to deliver your email, its tendency to eat up your free hard disk space, or any of the other numerous glitches that occur from time to time (and sometimes all the time), you're almost sure to feel at some time or another that Outlook is just plain annoying. Someone ought to do something about it.That's just what authors Woody Leonhard, Lee Hudspeth, and T.J. Lee have done. In Outlook Annoyances, they look at these and other annoyances and show how you can conquer them so that you can actually use Outlook to organize and manage your personal information. For instance, the book will help you:

  • Customize the Outlook 98 toolbar so it reflects the way you work rather than the needs of Microsoft's marketing machine
  • Walk through Outlook's often deeply buried user interface settings so that you can decide what you want to change and why
  • Get data into Outlook from your old email client or PIM, move information from one Outlook module to another, and export data from Outlook to other applications, like Microsoft Word
  • Create custom forms that use VBScript and access the Outlook object model to eliminate many of the annoyances of Outlook's standard forms
  • Understand the difficulties involved in combining widely disparate data in a single container. Often, knowing where an annoyance comes from — even if you can't do anything about it — makes it far less annoying.
Outlook Annoyances is the definitive guide for those who want to customize Microsoft Outlook. It empowers users who want to take full advantage of Outlook to transform it into the useful tool that it was intended to be.

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Read an Excerpt


In this chapter:

  • The Annoyances
  • A New and Improved
    Outlook 98
  • Just Where Do You
    Want to Go Today?


It's a Bit Like
Whacking Your
TV Set

Picture this. You run email for the last time one evening, your outbound mail is sent, some stuff pours in that you defer reading until the next day--after all, you've been hard at it for 12 hours already. Enough's enough.

The next day you start by typing up three new ideas for your partner to comment on, fire each one off as a separate email, head for the coffee room for a fresh libation, and upon returning discover the three emails weren't sent. They're sitting in your Outbox, motionless. And over the course of the next two days they--and any other outbound messages--prove immutable. What's up?

Tracking down the cause--and cure--of such a seemingly innocuous little mishap is par for the course for the Outlook aficionado. It's awfully bloody out on the bleeding edge. That's what this book is all about. It's your comfort, your succor, your safety net, your Reference of First Resort. Because if you use Outlook, you're going to get hurt, and hurt bad, over and over again. (We have, and lived to tell the tale.) After all, in spite of its numerous compelling features, Outlook 97 was really a version 1.0 product still in its beta cycle. Look at the various versions--8.0, 8.01, the three different flavors of 8.02, 8.03, and so on--as different beta builds, and you'll understand where Outlook is coming from and where it's headed. With the advent of Outlook 98, you can expect greater stability than its predecessor, with some interesting new features to boot. Nonetheless, the vast majority of annoying bugs and inconsistencies remain unsquashed in Outlook 98, so read on.

Consider the following anecdote straight from our own Outlook X-files. The events you are about to read are from a real Outlook 97 problem report; not even the names were changed to protect the guilty. (Well, maybe some minor editorial polishing and major excision of well-justified profanity.) If you're using Outlook 98, the problems you experience may be just as severe, but the details will most certainly change.


It's the kind of day on the coast that makes you want to shoot off an email to someone back east so you can casually mention the glorious outside temperature.

I'm running Outlook 97 (pre SR1-EU) with the latest IMEP update and no add-ins (I'm a no-frills kinda guy). Feeling inspired, I knock out a handful of outgoing messages in nothing flat.

NOTE What's SR1-EU? What's IMEP? Good questions. These are the latest versions of Office 97 (Service Release 1-Enterprise Update) and Outlook's Internet Mail Enhancement Patch, respectively. We cover that labyrinthine story and the straight scoop on how to get the latest version of Office 97 and Outlook in Chapter 2, Vital Changes; Settings, and Customizations.

I had gotten fed up with the Microsoft Network's inconsistent mail delivery performance and the service's unannounced and disruptive use of a prefix for all my mail (yourid@classic.msn.com instead of yourid@msn.com), so a week ago my partner and I added a new ISP (GTE). Everything was running fine.

NOTE See "Problems with Your Email Provider (ISP or Online Service)" in Chapter 3, Outlook Repair Tactics, for the straight scoop on troubleshooting ISP problems.

Or so I thought. I checked for new mail, and as suddenly as a slammed door, I'm in the email twilight zone. Internet email in my Outlook Outbox doesn't get sent: the traditional Delivering Messages dialog appears for a few seconds then goes away; there's no error, but queued mail is not going out. I'm receiving mail fine through this service. (Let's refer to this "Outlook Internet mail service with original profile" as "OIMS-original" from here on.)

I've been using Microsoft software since I traded in my slide rule, so I'm intimately familiar with the Microsoft KnowledgeBase (MSKB). I check out article Q162343, How to Troubleshoot Mail Stuck in the Outbox, among others. First, I took all the traditional, simple, precursor steps. After having done so, I conferred at length with my partner and our associate, Frederic Gordon. Frederic's an Outlook bug sleuth extraordinaire and all-around good guy. We decided to round up all the usual suspects:

NOTE Some of these quick-fix steps are from the aforementioned MSKB article; however, most are from our own email troubleshooting cookbook, provided in full in Chapter 3. See Chapter 9, Where and How to Get Help, to learn more about the Microsoft KnowledgeBase and how to access it.

-- Verify the message hasn't been opened before being sent. If you've edited a message after pressing Send but before Outlook attempts to deliver your email, it'll appear as normal text (not italics) in the Outbox queue. Result: the stuck messages weren't in edit mode.

-- Verify all critical profile and connectoid (the dial-up networking or DUN item for the service)settings. A setting might have gotten knocked loose or changed somehow. Result: no effect.

-- Try a different POP (ISP dial-up number). If another POP works alright, then it's time to call your ISP's technical support folks to report a problem on their end. Result: no effect.

-- Send a few test messages with literal email addresses in the To field instead of using address book data. Outlook/Exchange replies to the address stored in the Personal Address Book (PAB) or Contact record for received messages, so if the stuck mail is a reply to someone already in your address book and that stored address (unlike the address to which you think that you're replying) is a mail address type other than SMTP (CompuServe or MSNINET, for example), that would explain the bottleneck. Result: no effect.

NOTE The indefatigable Frederic Gordon originally brought this Outlook/Exchange "Reply to illogic" bug to our attention. For more details about the tactics you need to thwart it, see Chapter 2.

-- Try a mail session with my MSN service. Trying another service (if you have one set up) may determine if the problem is specific to a service or the whole profile. Result: no effect (this might indicate a problem with the whole profile).

-- Cold boot. Hitting the Big Red Button is always a good idea at a time like this, and if you have an external modem, power it down too. Result: no effect.

-- Empty the Inbox and Deleted Items folders (don't forget to archive messages first). Occasionally a corrupt message in another mail folder can wreak havoc on other mail-related folders and activity. Result: no effect.

NOTE The typical size for a Personal Folders (PST) file is double-digit megabytes; that's right, we said megabytes. Comprised of 22 Inbox items, 601 Sent Items, 20 Calendar items, 270 Contacts (filled out in minimalist fashion), 54 Tasks, 78 Notes, and no Journal items, one author's Mailbox.pst weighs in at 18 MB. With so much critical data stored in a single, proprietary format repository, you need a rigorous cleanup and archival strategy. Turn to Chapter 5, Outlook's Key Ingredients, for just such detailed advice.

-- Run the Inbox Repair Tool Scanpst. exe. You can run Scanpst.exe, then empty the Inbox, or vice versa, depending on personal preference. Result: no effect.

-- Compact the Personal Folders file Mailbox.pst. It's best to do this after running Scanpst.exe. Result: no effect.

It was no dice. With all the easy solutions out of the way, and no beneficial effect, it's looking like this could be a tough case. On to the profile ....

The current profile has the following services defined: CompuServe, Internet, Outlook Address Book, PAB, Personal Folders, and MSN. I created a new profile with just an Internet service. (Let's call this "Outlook Internet mail service with new profile" or OIMS-new from here on.) Using OIMS-new, Outlook sends mail (after an odd almost-precisely 30-second delay before there's any modem send activity), but it's immediately bounced back from the System Administrator as Undeliverable with the message "No transport provider was available for delivery to this recipient." Inbound mail is still coming in unimpeded. But a guy in my line of work can't get by on just incoming mail. I was being made into a patsy and didn't like it. Time to get tough.

I used Microsoft Internet Mail and News (IMN)--it comes free with Internet Explorer 3,01 and higher--to send and receive some test messages with no problems (although again, there's an odd almost-precisely 30-second delay before there's any modem send activity). At the very least, I'll be able to use IMN for day-to-day work while tracking down the culprit. Oh yeah, starting with Internet Explorer 4.0, some wise guy at Microsoft changed the name of IMN to Outlook Express even though it has nothing to do with Outlook. It occurred to me that the next time I work a crossword puzzle and am asked for an 11-letter word describing Microsoft's product-naming practices, I'd be ready with the answer: obfuscation. But I digress.

NOTE Interested in a practically bomb-proof, simple, yet elegant Internet mail program? Hey, it's free! IMN/Outlook Express isn't Outlook, it's just an email client, and so it lacks Outlook's other compelling features (although as a mail application it does have several features that Outlook doesn't). For more information about obtaining and using this free email client, see Chapter 2.

With the heat off for the moment, I decided to do a little snooping. I looked over my notes for the past week and noticed I got general protection faults (GPFs) twice when the Internet service disconnected from the GTE connectoid. Both times Explorer had an illegal op in Kernel32.dll at 0137:bff9a28c, and I warm-booted with no apparent consequences. However, these GPFs did not occur right before Outlook stopped sending Internet mail; there was approximately a one-day lag.

I was no stranger to GPFs--for the last six months when using the CompuServe service with Outlook, it routinely GPFed when the service disconnected from the host. Sometimes the GPF was Explorer in Comctl32.dll at 0137:bfc10e64, sometimes it was Explorer in Kernel32.dll at 0137:bff798e9, sometimes it was Explorer illegal page fault in Kernel32.dll at 0137:bff9a28c. I always warm-booted with no apparent consequences (no lost or corrupted mail that I'm aware of). Go figure. Microsoft blames CompuServe (who wrote the driver), CompuServe points the finger at Microsoft--stop me if you've heard this before--and I'm caught in a pickle like a runner stuck between first and second.

Now it's getting late. Not willing to go down the rocky and time-consuming road of rebuilding a new profile just yet, I decided to call in some hired muscle. I rang up Microsoft's pay-per-incident technical support at (800) 936-5700. It would cost me $35, but at least they didn't ask for car fare.

NOTE When I gave the customer service representative my Outlook product ID number, she said, "That's odd. Oh, this is a not-for-resale number so we can't support you." I was seeing red and ready to start tossing furniture, but took a deep breath and told her the truth, "I got this CD from the Microsoft Office 97 beta team, it's a `gold code' CD, I got it for participating in the beta program. Surely you support the `ship to manufacturing' product you sent to your own beta testers?" A few minutes later she came back and told me to write down a new product ID number, then patched me through to an Outlook technical support engineer, no charge. True story.

Microsoft Engineer #1 had me do the following:

a. Clear the IPX/SPX and NetBEUI protocols for the Dial-Up Adapter network component's Bindings tab: right-click Network Neighborhood, choose Properties, click the Configuration tab, select Dial-Up Adapter, click Properties, and click the Bindings tab. I had all three protocols active: IPX/SPX, NetBEUI, and TCP/ IP, so I unchecked IPX/SPX and NetBEUI, then restarted my system. Result: no effect.

b. Use Ping from the MS-DOS command prompt to ping GTE's SMTP server. Result: the server is up and active.

c. Temporarily try the "I connect manually" setting in the Connection tab of the Internet service's Properties dialog. Result: no effect. (This was clearly a rabbit trail, but short of risking outright data loss, you typically do what the engineer says just to stay on her or his good side.)

NOTE At this point I had to ring off. Engineer #1 recommended the following course of action, and said another engineer would call back within 72 hours to follow up.

d. Run setup.exe /y /r against the Office 97 CD-ROM to auto-re-register Office with the Registry (/y for Registry, /r for a re-install with no dialogs displayed). This is to clear out any IMEP-related Registry corruption.

NOTE Occasionally Office 97 gets so goofed up on your system that you're better off blowing the blasted beast right off your hard disk and re-installing from scratch. But don't just do an Office, Setup, Remove All. No siree, don't do that. First you need to back up critical files, take notes about your application configuration preferences and custom toolbars you may have to rebuild (or not, if you use our tricks), then uninstall, defrag your hard disk, reinstall, and so on. We show you how to run this gauntlet in "The Ultimate Scorched Earth Solution" section of Chapter 3.

e. Reinstall IMEP.

f. Create a completely new profile, add only the Internet service, and see if mail goes out.

NOTE Creating a new profile to match the settings of one that's headed south is easy. Just take our prescription for it in Chapter 3's "Problems with Profiles."

I didn't undertake any of the engineer's parting suggestions. It all seemed too drastic and I needed a day to recover. After all, what if it's something simple I overlooked, or an intermittent problem with GTE's SMTP servers? I posted a message summarizing my experience to Microsoft's Outlook newsgroup.


Today I mostly avoided looking at the problem; instead, I just used IMN for all mail. On reviewing these facts and re-testing once more using the OIMS-original profile, the MSN service successfully sends SMTP mail and receives incoming test mail to my MSN ID. Remember that the MSN service wouldn't send any mail yesterday. I'm beginning to think Outlook is as fickle as Becky Clarke, my old high-school sweetheart (but that's another story). What a world, but at least I can both send and receive with IMN.


At 2:06 P.M., Microsoft Engineer #2 called. Nice guy; knew his stuff. I gave him an update. Here's what he says he would have recommended if he had been Engineer #1:

a. Ctrl+Alt+Del and close everything except Explorer and Point32 (including PowerToys, etc.--in other words, close literally everything except Explorer and Point32).

b. Rename Mapisp32.exe, Mapi32.dll, and Minet32.dll to Mapisp32.1, Mapi32.2, and Minet32.3, respectively. It was amusing to see that even Microsoft's own engineers were still living in an eight-dot-three filename world. Our standard method when renaming files is to change the name to something like Mapisp32.exe.old, which makes it easier to restore since it preserves the original filename intact.

c. Reinstall IMEP, configure the Internet service as appropriate, then cold-boot.

d. Restart the PC, then close all applications except Explorer and Point32 again and see if mail gets sent. If not, it's time to build a new profile from scratch. If mail does get sent, restart the machine and without closing applications see if mail gets sent. If mail does not get sent, there's a possible conflict with one of these applications (the implication being the unsupported PowerToys, but he didn't explicitly say so); if the mail does get sent, then it's smooth sailing.

His most poignant comment was, "It's a bit like whacking your TV set." Indeed. He also claimed that Outlook messages use a "big, honking MAPI 1.0 footprint" whereas IMN uses a vastly simpler message-packaging technology, so it is possible that an ISP's SMTP server might choke on an Outlook message but not the same message sent via IMN. It sounded fishy, but I took no action, just notes. I was beginning to think someone was being taken for a ride. I hoped it wasn't me.

After hanging up I checked the newsgroup, and Vince Averello--an outstanding Outlook MVP--had replied. (Actually, he had replied within 10 minutes of my posting yesterday. Wow.) Vince suggested moving the Internet service to the top of the delivery stack and this did the trick, temporarily. For about the next five hours I could send mail using OIMS-original. Then without warning, Outlook's Outbox mail got stuck again.

I immediately called GTE, and the technician said, "Newer email clients like Outlook and Communicator do occasionally cause our servers some grief and we're working to rectify this, but as of right now the SMTP servers are at 100 percent. There were some minor server problems last night, all resolved."

The Bleeding-edge Time Sink, Ours and Yours

Here's a synopsis of how much time we've spent on this problem since Tuesday morning: 13 hours. This takes the adjective "annoyed" to new heights. It's our fervent belief that this type of problem occurs every day and afflicts hundreds of thousands if not millions of people--both in business and personal affairs--simply trying to use electronic mail as a communications medium. The popularity and saturation in this field are growing exponentially, but the tools for diagnosing problems (either with user intervention or without) are sadly, criminally lacking. It's no longer sufficient for software manufacturers or help desks to defend themselves by saying, "This is bleeding-edge stuff, so you have to expect problems like this." Wrong. The entire technology industry has a very long way to go before email is as reliable as the dial-tone we've all come to believe in as a fundamental indicator of our progress as a civilization. Improvements in the national telecommunications infrastructure (including ISPs) can't come too quickly for all of us.

We are writing this book to reduce your burn time over catastrophes like these--cataclysms that afflict not just your email but your appointments, notes, addresses, and other personal information. With this problem log we want you to know you're not alone when it comes to Outlook. This nonsense happens to us all the time, too.


My partner got a hot tip from a guy in Redmond that these types of Internet mail problems are fundamental to Outlook prior to the 8.02 SR-1 Enterprise Update version (even with the latest IMEP). So we made some calls to our Microsoft pals and reeled in some favors; we were assured we'd have the update CD in a few days.

SR-1 Enterprise arrives, but before I can install it, email starts working again. Pure voodoo effect. It's a bit like whacking your TV set, indeed. I thought of the grief Outlook had caused me. I thought of the bucks flowing into Redmond for software that's supposed to make our lives easier. I thought of reprogramming Outlook right then and there with a large caliber handgun. Sometimes computer software brings out the extrovert in me.

The problems of a guy trying to use a piece of computer software may not amount to a hill of beans in this crazy mixed-up world, but I know one thing. It's annoying as hell, and someone should write a book about it ....

The Annoyances Troika

If, like us, you're not satisfied with the "it's just like whacking your TV set" approach to recognizing and solving problems, then the remaining chapters are for you. Annoyances, like bugs, are in the eye of the beholder: if you find something that doesn't work the way you think it should, it's a bug. If you find that you can fix or work around the bug, it's downgraded to an annoyance. From our point of view, annoyances with fairly easy workarounds are simply galling.

You're almost sure to consider at least a handful of the annoyances discussed here of no consequence to you, and that's fair. Your work style may never take you into a particular realm of Outlook, even if this is a place where other readers tread frequently. But despite the room for disagreement, you're sure to find a long list of features that you consider annoying, even though the individual items in the list may vary.

We arrange Outlook annoyances into three different categories.

  • Annoyances that are manifestly stupid. Outlook's rife with 'em, more so than any other Office application.

  • Annoyances that stem from the complexity of using a single container to manage all your diverse personal information. Outlook adds Calendar (Appointment, Meeting, and Event), Contact, Journal, Note, and Task data types, plus forms and a development language in the form of VBScript to Exchange's PST file format. Some data types can even be transmuted--drag an email message onto the Task icon and it gets added as a Task. Getting this mix of data types to reside together harmoniously and share a common interface is a daunting challenge. Sometimes the challenge yields outright bugs, other times Outlook resonates mellifluously, and there are times when you'd best have a road map handy just to navigate down the Outlook block (thus this book).

  • Annoyances that relate directly to design decisions made by Microsoft. Outlook sports a new interface and several new data categories, that's undeniable. But many of Outlook's quirky annoyances could have been eliminated entirely if Redmond had been willing to close the door on the antiquated, unenlightened way Exchange does things. Since that door didn't always get closed, you're stuck between Exchange's outmoded ways and a new variation on that technology embedded in Outlook. The ultimate solution to an annoyance in this category is typically a detailed, dog-eared checklist of action verifications, workarounds, and even software patches--and we provide these by the score in this book. Remember, "it's a bit like whacking your TV set." (We'd laugh if it didn't hurt so much.)

Each type of annoyance warrants its own approach. However, to solve any type of annoyance, you first need a modicum of enlightenment, a tiny sliver--well, sometimes a truckload--of the gleaming, merciless truth about Outlook. That's where we come in. Rather than wallow in an Outlook-bashing denigration funk, we're going to consistently and persistently remind you about the benefits--tremendous, mind you--to being an Outlook lover. In that positive context, where we all agree that we gain something valuable by using Outlook, understanding its quirks, pitfalls, and limitations will be a far more pleasant process. So relax, take a deep breath, and repeat our Outlook mantra, "Lord give me patience... and hurry!"

A Bug Fete

Outlook 97 is a version 1.0 product (maybe a "released beta" would be a better description). It's clear that the product was rushed to meet the Office 97 manufacturing deadline. The giant flashing yellow neon arrow attesting to this is Outlook's use of VBScript as a development language and what amounts effectively to Notepad as a development environment. Appalling. Early rumors had it that Outlook 98 would replace VBScript with Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and the quintessential Visual Basic Editor (VBE), which are consistently supported in Outlook's siblings--Access (sort of), Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. Too bad Microsoft couldn't get all the products to converge on VBA simultaneously. But that hasn't happened, and Outlook 98 is still saddled with VBScript.

Outlook 97 SR-1 Enterprise Update offers enough incremental stability and bug fixes that we consider it a true version 1.0.

Outlook 98 takes another small step forward, and we consider it to be version 1.1. So don't be surprised by the number of rough edges and gotchas still present in Outlook 98. Yet we find this PIM--even in its earliest buggy incarnations--to be a marvelous combination of email and personal-data tracking capabilities with numerous compelling--even astounding--features.

Of Outlook 97's three most egregious bugs, the most galling is that Outlook 97 has no customizable toolbars. In fact, Outlook 97 doesn't use the Office-wide Command Bars object model. So if you want to customize Outlook 97's user interface to suit your style, forget it. One could argue that the Outlook Bar feature with its editable groups and Shortcuts represents a pseudo-toolbar (we wouldn't, but some might). It just ain't so. Sure, you can rename, add, delete, and rearrange groups and Shortcuts, but these are simply storage locations for Outlook data. You can't customize the way Outlook 97 presents its feature set to you with its toolbars, menu bar, or shortcut menus. Outlook (both 97 and 98) even takes a powder on standard keyboard shortcuts that you'll find in other Office applications. Press Ctrl+F in Word or Excel and you'll get the Find dialog box. Press it in Outlook and you invoke "forward message." And that's a crying shame.

If you use Outlook 97 for mail sessions that last more than a few minutes each day, this next quirk will jack your blood pressure into the ultra-red. Outlook 97 is application-modal when it is reading and delivering messages. Which means you can't interact with Outlook 97's interface at all until the current mail session is completed--so you can't read the first few messages while more are coming in, you can't create an outgoing message, or you can't interact with Outlook 97 in any way whatsoever until the mail session is done. The Exchange email client was not like this when connected, so why is Outlook 97? With this bizarre annoyance, Outlook 97 actually disinherits a nice feature in Exchange.

OUTLOOK 98 You can continue working in Outlook 98 while downloading email in the background. However, this is still not true for Remote Mail.

As mentioned earlier, Outlook doesn't support VBA and doesn't include its integrated development environment, VBE. Instead, Outlook supports VBScript, a diluted subset of the Visual Basic language, and a development environment that suspiciously resembles Notepad (see Figure 1-1). If you've bought into the colossal benefits of an Office-wide programming language and development environment--and you should--then you'll be very frustrated when working with VBScript to control Outlook. Keep in mind that VBScript isn't crippled capriciously. Microsoft purposefully designed it to be small, lightweight, and Internet-safe (meaning no direct access to file operations or the operating system); thus, the missing features. That's fine for Internet Explorer, which also hosts VBScript, but it's completely unacceptable for Microsoft's inaugural PIM.

Another annoying aspect of Outlook 98 is the program's updated user interface. (For those of you upgrading from Outlook 97, you'll probably get used to the shuffled commands fairly quickly, but initially it's different and therefore potentially annoying.) Although overall the user interface is an improvement over the Outlook 97 labyrinth, some unusual command arrangements persist, and these are conspicuously inconsistent with Outlook's Office siblings. For example, in every Office application except Outlook, working with add-ins is a simple two-step process: Tools --> Add-Ins (in Word it's worded a tad differently: Tools --> Templates and Add-Ins). In Outlook 98, it's a five-step process: Tools --> Options --> Other --> Advanced Options --> Add-In Manager; and in Outlook 97, it's four steps: Tools --> Options --> General --> Add-In Manager. In every other Office application except Access, the Customize command is on the Tools menu. In Outlook 98 (this feature doesn't even exist in Outlook 97) it's not there; you have to go the long way around the barn: View --> Toolbars --> Customize. We're hard-pressed to see the point in these inconsistent arrangements.

Finally, although Outlook 98 is an important upgrade--one that you should make unhesitatingly if you're still using Outlook 97--the net on bugs is that far too many remain uncorrected.

The Kitchen Sink

Many Outlook neophytes trying to add a new piece of information are quickly disoriented by Outlook's interface (see Figure 1-2). "Let's see, do I go to the folder through the Outlook Bar, the Go command, the Folder List (oh, but first I have to turn it on)...now do I use a menu bar command or click a button, hmmm, which one, is it File then New then... Uncle!"

And what about Outlook's three different types of calendar activities (Appointment, Meeting, Event)? An Appointment can easily be rendered into a Meeting, which can easily be rendered into an Event, ad infinitum. But you'd never get this big picture perspective by reading the help file.

Here's a good test: how do you change the order in which your various address books appear when searching for a contact? How do you change the priority delivery order of email and related services for the current profile? Where do you go to tell Outlook which profile to use at startup? How do you rebuild a profile from scratch? If you can answer these questions cold, without hunting and pecking around the Outlook and Windows interface, then you've achieved Outlook guruhood and you should call our Human Resources department to set up a job interview. More likely, these questions--and numerous others like them--rub you and your colleagues raw day in and day out. We provide clear-cut procedures for these types of common data management and configuration annoyances throughout this book.

That's the Way It's Always Been Done

Outlook confusingly offers a variety of different ways to get to contact information that is stored somewhere other than the Contacts folder, depending on what services you have currently installed. From Outlook, you could have access to the rickety, vestigial Exchange Personal Address Book (PAB), Outlook's Contacts folder (part of the PST file), a CompuServe address book, the MSN address database, and so on, all depending on your configuration. Why the archaic PAB is still around is a mystery. Microsoft squandered an opportunity to provide a central "contacts" repository with the release of Outlook. And why no connection to Access? Access is vastly superior to Outlook as a storage database for contact information. If you don't have a flavor of Office that comes with Access, then Outlook should store contact information in its own .mdb file (a relational, table-driven data storage format). If Access is detected during Outlook setup, the installation program should ask whether you want to store contact data directly in Access, and offer to fire up a Contacts Wizard to create the appropriate links from an existing Access address information database to the Outlook Contacts module. Such a dynamic interface to the data in the user's existing Access tables would be fabulous. Maybe next time.

On the "one step forward, two steps backward" front, what were they thinking when they designed Outlook's "Delivering Messages" dialog, which is shown in Figure 1-3, with no count like "Message 1 of 3" and no status bar? Heck, CompuServe's been doing this for years, and so does Microsoft's own IMN product (see Figures 1-4 and 1-5). Oy vey.

A New and Improved Outlook 98

Outlook is a work in progress. But Microsoft is dedicated to fixing bugs and tweaking features, as evidenced by a steady flow of updates, patches, and--most recently--a new version. The most recent incarnation is Outlook 98, which includes a number of very slick enhancements over the earlier 97 flavors, along with the standard number of over-hyped features.

If you have not yet decided to upgrade to Outlook 98, consider the following:

  • As mentioned earlier, you can continue working in Outlook 98 while downloading email in the background. See Chapter 3.

  • Outlook now provides a MAPI-less mode called Internet Only for users who only deal with email via the Internet. This mode makes creating an email distribution list a snap, and easily supports multiple accounts. Internet Only mode also supports IMAP. Both modes support Internet directory (LDAP) servers. See Chapters 2 and 3.

  • A much-welcomed new Send command sends mail without receiving any new messages See Chapter 2.

  • You can quickly set up rules to automatically format items that meet certain conditions (for example, you can display any incoming message from Bill Gates in red). And you can drill deeper for even more control by customizing the current view's Automatic Formatting preferences. See Chapter 2.

  • There is now a no-email option when installing Outlook 98. You can use another software package for email and use Outlook for all your other information management needs. See Chapters 2 and 3.

  • Outlook 98 now supports an HTML email editor, so you can add background and animated graphics to your email messages. Hmmm, we're not really sure if the world needs more blinking icons. See Chapter 2.

  • At last, multiple signatures. You can create more than one boilerplate text block as a closing signature to your email messages. See Chapter 2.

  • Customizable command bars. Now you can modify toolbars and menus to adapt Outlook to the way you want to work, not the other way around. See Chapter 2.

  • Outlook Today, a new frame-like tool that displays the number of unread messages in your Inbox, your appointments over the next few days, and your task list. Although it's nice, it's also slow to load (even on snappy systems), and we find the Calendar provides more useful information overall. Strictly a subjective call. See Chapter 2.

  • You can flag contacts for follow-up just like email messages. Set a reminder that will pop up at a specified date and time. This is a much-needed feature for staying current with your contacts. See Chapter 2.

  • A Preview Pane is now built right into Outlook (it was an add-in in Outlook 97). Alas, the one place we'd like to have the Preview Pane available is the Outbox folder, but it's not available there. See Chapter 2.

  • Incoming email messages now default to read-only to prevent unwanted changes. Makes sense, but we would also like a way to change this default setting. You have to open the message, then choose Edit --> Edit Message to make changes. See Chapter 2.

  • Outlook 98 provides junk email filters to automatically prune spam from your Inbox. This is a great feature as long as you understand how it works. See Chapter 2.

  • Outlook 98 attempts to make its frequently used features more accessible via the new web-like Organize and Find tools. To a large degree it works. However, mixing these new and very different webstyle components with a majority of pre-Internet-style interface components (traditional dialog boxes, toolbars, shortcut menus, etc.) may confuse more than enlighten.

These are the new features in Outlook 98 that impressed us the most. We cover other new features along the way throughout this book. This inspiring list in and of itself should make you seriously consider upgrading to Outlook 98. Keep in mind that there are still annoyances aplenty in Outlook 98--enough to raise your blood pressure to the red line. We'll take 'em all on and show you the workarounds.

In the meantime, remember that many Outlook annoyances are due in part to the nature of PIMs--they track large amounts of radically different information that has to be presented in very different ways, all within a single container program. Corralling this quivering data miasma into a consistent, cohesive whole is a daunting task. Our hats are off to the Outlook developers for a remarkable achievement.

Just Where Do You Want to Go Today?

Microsoft has missed the simple fact that people want to go home at the end of the work day, and that in order to do so they--at least 80% or more of them, according to market researchers--use Office to get their work done. To that end, Outlook has become their PIM of choice. If you feel Outlook's more part of the problem than part of the solution, take a few deep breaths and realize that Outlook's annoyances aren't imaginary. In fact, Outlook contains hundreds of annoying idiosyncrasies such as the ones mentioned earlier, but you can eliminate or work around the vast majority of them. That's what the rest of this book is all about. We'll help you strike up that beautiful friendship with Outlook.

Of course, the Augean Stables weren't cleaned in a day--well, okay, they were cleaned in a day, but Hercules had the advantage of being the son of Zeus, and as far as we know he didn't have to contend with General Protection Faults, corrupt profiles, and mail stubbornly stuck in his Outbox. For mere mortals like us, you need to keep your perspective and realize you aren't going to conquer Outlook's manifest shortcomings in a day or even a week, for that matter. But if you hang in there, your efforts to understand and coerce Outlook so it works with you instead of against you will be repaid many times. We honestly believe you'll pay for this book (and the time you took to read it) by simply following the steps in the next chapter, which covers the simple but important changes every Outlook user should make or at the least be aware of. Beyond that, your efforts with this book are money in the bank.

We'll cover topics such as troubleshooting problems that you are likely to run into, from the minor annoyance category to the catastrophic gotchas that bring Outlook to a screeching halt. Moving data into and out of Outlook is covered, along with the care and feeding of the Personal Folders file, and we'll actually explain what the Journal facility is all about and what it can do for you. The mysteries of auto-archives will be revealed, and in Chapter 8, Introduction to VBScript, the Outlook Object Model, and Custom Forms, we introduce you to the world of macros, the Outlook object model, VBScript, VBA, and forms--the basic set of tools that you can use to cure many otherwise difficult-to-get-at annoyances.

It's not entirely clear if Outlook 99 (or 2000, or whatever Microsoft crowns the next version) will include VBA, but it's only a matter of time before all Office applications support VBA. With that in mind we'll take the approach of developing forms and procedures that work in VBScript but that can be quickly and easily ported to Outlook/VBA. Just because Outlook's own development environment leaves much to be desired, by learning the object model you'll be ready for the full implementation of VBA, and in the meantime be able to use Visual Basic 5 or VBA in other Office applications to control Outlook with OLE Automation--we'll show you how, of course.

All of the programs you'll find listed here are available for download at the O'Reilly & Associates Web site, www.ora.com, and mirrored at the authors' sites, www.primeconsulting.com and www.wopr.com. There's no charge, and you may distribute the programs freely, anywhere you like, any way you like. In return, we only ask that you encourage folks to get this book, so they can follow along and make Outlook work right for them too.

If you have a question, tip, or observation, the best way to reach us is by sending email to ask.woody@wopr.com or info@primeconsulting.com. If we can figure out an answer to your question, or if your tip really hits the spot, we'll publish it in our free email newsletter called WOW--"Woody's Office Watch." No promises, of course, as the volume of mail sometimes gets overwhelming. And no, Microsoft doesn't pay us a penny for our technical support services. But thanks for asking.

NOTE You can subscribe to Woody's Office Watch, our free electronic weekly newsletter, by simply sending email to ohwow@wopr.com. We think you'll find WOW an excellent source of up-to-the-nanosecond news on Microsoft Outlook. And the price sure is right.

And now, if you're ready to whack your TV set, er, get started taming Outlook...

Meet the Author

Lee Hudspeth is a co-founder of PRIME Consulting Group, Inc. (Hermosa Beach, CA), a Microsoft Solution Provider. His background is in operations research, financial analysis, and marketing analysis (formerly with Unocal Corp.). He has coauthored several books on Office, including The Underground Guide to Microsoft Office, OLE, and VBA and The Underground Guide to Excel 5.0 for Windows. He is co-editor-in-chief of the monthly newsletter Woody's Underground Office. He's a Microsoft MVP (Most Valued Professional), coauthor of the Microsoft course on application development using WordBasic, and a certified Microsoft trainer in Visual Basic and WordBasic. Along with other PRIME Consulting staff, Lee has developed innumerable lines of VB, VBA, and WordBasic code for the firm's numerous Office add-ins (PRIME for Excel and PRIME for Word), going way back to Word 2.0. Lee also writes and delivers Office usage and development custom courses to hordes of interested parties the world over.

T.J. Lee, a co-founder of PRIME Consulting Group, has a background as a certified public accountant and has done computer and management consulting for years. He has coauthored several books on Office, including The Underground Guide to Microsoft Excel 5 and The Underground Guide to Microsoft Office, OLE and VBA. T.J. is co-editor-in-chief of the monthly newsletter Woody's Underground Office and a certified Microsoft trainer. He has written countless courseware packages and manuals, coauthored the Microsoft Education Services course on Developing Applications in Word, and taught and lectured for thousands of developers and end users.

Woody Leonhard's books include Windows 3.1 Programming for Mere Mortals, The Underground Guide to Word for Windows, The Hacker's Guide to Word for Windows, The Mother of All PC Books, The Mother of All Windows 95 Books, and several others. He was series editor for Addison-Wesley's Underground Guides (11 books) and A-W's Hacker's Guides (4 books). Along with T.J. Lee and Lee Hudspeth he's editor-in-chief of PC Computing's Undocumented Office, a monthly hardcopy newsletter. He's a contributing editor at PC Computing (circulation 1,000,000+), and productivity editor for Office Computing (circulation 400,000), a new monthly magazine from the editors of PC Computing. He also publishes a free weekly electronic news bulletin on Microsoft Office called WOW (Woody's Office Watch), available by sending email to wow@wopr.com. Woody's software company makes WOPR (Woody's Office POWER Pack), the number-one enhancement to Microsoft Office. A self-described "grizzled computer hack, frustrated novelist and Office victim," by day he's a Tibetan human rights activist and co-founder of the Tibetan Children's Fund. Woody lives on top of a mountain in Coal Creek Canyon, Colorado.

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