Ribbon User Interface
The most noticeable change to Outlook 2010 is that Microsoft has brought the drastically different Ribbon user interface to the popular mail client for the first time. I’m not sure why, but when Microsoft redesigned the user interface, it only applied to three of the four core office programs – Word, Excel and PowerPoint, keeping the 2003 interface for Outlook 2007.
In case you’re still using Office 2003, the highly touted Ribbon interface adds a context sensitive “ribbon" replacing the standard menu bar making it easier to fix more functions on the screen – making it less likely to need to go digging through menus to find that little used feature. Functions are now grouped logically with File, Home, Send\Receive, Folder and View (Figure 1).
Other Notable New Features
Conversations View – Messages will now be grouped together by subject line so messages in the same conversation will be collapsed into a single item that can then be expanded (Figure 2 – Graphic and much more details regarding Conversation view can be found here). Not only will you see messages that you received, but messages you sent will also be shown. In addition to this, Outlook puts a dot and line showing any direct replies to specific messages. In all, Microsoft claims the Conversation view reduces the number of items seen in your inbox by about 40%.
Quick Steps – Quick steps are like a combination macro and Outlook rule in that you can create tasks that you do often and have them assigned to a single button. Outlook 2010 includes some basic “quick steps" such as “Reply and Delete" which will create an email replying to the selected message and delete the messagewhen you’re done.
Dynamic Graphics and Picture Editing – Microsoft is trying to get users to move away from using plain text by making it easier to make your emails more attractive. Outlook 2010 now includes some of the staples that have been a part of Word for a while – Dynamic Graphics (think “SmartArt") and Picture Editing from within Outlook.
MailTips – How many times have you accidentally sent an email to a huge distribution and later regretted? What about when you keep emailing someone when they are out of the office? MailTips will now alert you prior to making a potentially embarrassing error acting as a sanity check – allowing you to go through with the action, or cancelling it.
I’ve been using the Beta for a few weeks now and overall I’m happy with the new GUI for Outlook 2010. The new conversation view definitely takes some getting used to, but it’s great to be able to see all messages in a conversation in a single spot. No need to go traipsing through my sent items to see how I responded to something. With this and some of the other new features included in Exchange 2010, I’d recommend upgrading – even if you are currently using Office 2007.