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Finding Your Way with the Navigation Pane in Outlook 2003

Navigating your way through some computer programs can be a pain, but Outlook can ease your discomfort somewhat with the help of the Navigation Pane. This part of the Outlook screen was formerly called the Outlook Bar, but to prevent anybody from committing EWI (E-mailing While Intoxicated), Microsoft changed the name of this critter to the Navigation Pane. Now you'll have to do your tippling in some other program.

The column on the left side of the Outlook screen is the one called the Navigation Pane. It contains several buttons with names such as Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Notes — the basic Outlook modules.

The Navigation Pane is made up of two sections: an upper window section and a bottom section made up of buttons. Each button in the bottom section is connected to one of Outlook's main modules — mail, calendar, contacts, tasks, and so on. Just click a button, any button, and you'll see what it sets in motion. Clicking the button changes the stuff on the main screen to fit what that button describes. Click the Calendar button, for example, and a Calendar screen shows up. Click Contacts, and you get a screen for names and addresses. The process is like changing the channels on the TV set. If you switch to a channel you don't want, switch to another — no problem.

The top section of the Navigation Pane displays different kinds of information at different times. Sometimes the top half of the Navigation Pane shows the Folder List, sometimes it shows a list of available views, and sometimes it contains phrases in blue lettering. You can click a phrase to do something such as "Open a Shared Calendar." If you want to make the Folder List appear in this top window section, choose Go --> Folder List.

Just above the Mail icon in the Navigation Pane there's a gray border separating buttons on the bottom from the top part of the bar. If you drag that gray borderline downward with your mouse, the buttons in the Navigation Pane disappear one by one. That's something you might want to do to get a better view of your Folder List. You can make those buttons reappear by simply dragging the gray border upward again.

The Information Viewer: Outlook's hotspot

The Information Viewer is where most of the action happens in Outlook. If the Navigation Pane is like the channel selector on your TV set, then the Information Viewer is like the TV screen. When you're reading e-mail, you look in the Information Viewer to read your messages; if you're adding or searching for contacts, you see contact names here. The Information Viewer is also where you can do all sorts of fancy sorting tricks that each module in Outlook lets you perform.

Because you can store more information in Outlook than you want to see at any one time, the Information Viewer shows you only a slice of the information available. The Calendar, for example, can store dates as far back as the year 1601 and as far ahead as 4500. That's a lot of time, but Outlook breaks it down and shows it to you in manageable slices in the Information Viewer. The smallest Calendar slice you can look at is one day; the largest slice is a month.

The Information Viewer organizes the items it shows you into units called views. You can use the views that are included with Outlook when you install it, or you can create your own views and save them.

You can navigate among the slices of information that Outlook shows you by clicking different parts of the Information Viewer. Some people use the word browsing for the process of moving around the Information Viewer — it's a little like thumbing through the pages of your pocket datebook).

You can change the appearance of the Information Viewer an infinite number of ways to make the work you do in Outlook make sense to you. For example, you may need to see the appointments for a single day, or only the items you've assigned to a certain category. Views can help you get a quick look at exactly the slice of information you need.

Navigating the Folder List

If you want to navigate Outlook in a more detailed way than you can with the Navigation Pane, you can use the Folder List. If you think of the Navigation Pane buttons as being like a car's radio buttons for picking favorite stations, then the Folder List is like the fine-tuning button that tunes in the stations between your favorite ones. The Folder List simply shows you the folders — your Windows folders or your Outlook folders — where your files and Outlook items are stored.

A tale of two folders

Folders can seem more confusing than they need to be because, once again, Microsoft gave two different things the same name. Just as two kinds of Explorer (Windows and Internet) exist, more than two kinds of Outlook exist, and more than two kinds of Windows (3.1, 95, 98, 2000, CE, NT, Me, and XP) exist. You may run across two different kinds of folders when you use Outlook — and each behaves differently.

You may be used to folders in Windows 95 or 98, which are the things you look in to organize files. You can copy, move, and delete files to and from folders on your disk drive. Outlook doesn't deal with that kind of folder. If you need to manage the files you've created on your computer, click the Windows XP Start Button, and then choose My Documents.

Outlook has its own special folders for storing items (calendar items, contact names, tasks, and so on) that you create in the various Outlook modules. Each module has its own folder, and the Folder List gives you immediate access to any of them.

If you're looking at an Outlook module, such as the Inbox, for example, and you turn on the Folder List by choosing Go --> Folder List, you see a list of folders that represent the other standard Outlook modules, such as the Tasks List, Contacts, Calendar, and so on.

Using the Folder List

The only time you absolutely must use the Folder List is when you want to create a new folder for a separate type of item (such as a special contact list or a folder for filing e-mail) or find that folder again to use the items you've stored there.

You may quite possibly never use the Folder List at all. The Navigation Pane includes the folder choices that most people use most of the time. You may never need to get a different one. Fortunately, the Folder List appears all by itself when you're likely to need it. If you don't see the Folder List but want to, choose Go --> Folder List (or press Ctrl + 6). It's a matter of taste, so take your pick.

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