Ten Things You Can't Do with Outlook

It takes only a few minutes to find out something that a program can do, and you can spend all day trying to figure out something that a program can’t do.

Bear in mind that Outlook can’t do these ten things when you first get it. Because you can reprogram Outlook with Visual Basic, however, a clever person could make Outlook do many of these things by creating shortcut macros (which is beyond the scope of this book).

Custom-sort folders

The most highly organized people get even more organized when they use Outlook. They often like to file every e-mail message into just the right folder. They also like to sort their folders in a very particular, highly efficient order, which isn’t always alphabetical. Unfortunately, the Outlook Folder list automatically sorts itself alphabetically, no exceptions. That drives nitpickers nutty, but there’s no changing it.

Go back to the old menus

Many people like the Ribbon better than Outlook’s old menu system. It’s bigger and more colorful, no doubt. But if you learned to use computers during the heyday of menus and toolbars, you might long to click the old, familiar menus. Sorry, the Ribbon has it wrapped up for now.

Insert a phone number into your Calendar

When you enter an appointment, it would be nice if Outlook could look up the phone number of the person you’re meeting and insert the number into the appointment record. Many smartphones can do this through an address lookup feature, but you can’t get Outlook to follow suit. Maybe some other time.

Open a message from the Reading pane

If you’re like many people, the list of e-mail messages that you store in Outlook serves as a historical record of everything you do.

Maybe you scroll back and forth through your messages from time to time to get a handle on what you’ve sent to whom, and when. If your list is relatively long, and you select one message to display in the Reading pane, and then scroll through the list to look at a different message, you can’t just right-click the Reading pane to open the message you’re viewing.

It doesn’t seem like it would be terribly difficult for Microsoft to include a right-click command to open the message in the Reading pane, but it isn’t there.

Perform two-sided printing

Some people like to print their schedule and keep it in a binder to look just like one of those old-fashioned planner books. The only problem with that is that Outlook doesn’t know how to reorganize printed pages according to whether the page is on the left side or the right side of the book when you look at it.

This is a very small quibble, but if it’s important to you, sorry — you’ll have to live with one-sided printing.

Search and replace area codes

It seems like the people at the phone company change area codes more often than they change their socks these days. If you need to change all your 312s to 708s, Outlook can’t do that automatically; you’ll have to change them one by one. Microsoft did offer a utility for changing Russian area codes, but as for area codes in the United States — nyet!

Embed pictures in Notes

You can copy and paste a picture, file, or other item into the text box at the bottom of any Outlook record when you open nearly any Outlook form. You can paste a photo of a person in the text box of the person’s contact record, for example, but those little, yellow stick-on notes don’t let you do that; they accept only text.

Calculate expenses with journal phone call entries

You can keep track of how much time you spend talking to any person, but you can’t calculate the total call time or total call cost for billing purposes.

Create contact records for all recipients of an e-mail

When you get an e-mail message addressed to a whole group of people, you can create a Distribution list from that message by copying all of the recipients to a group. You can also turn a message from a single person into an individual contact record by dragging the message to the People icon.

But if you want to create contact records for a group of people, you have to create a contact record for every single person individually — no drag and drop, no copy and paste.

Back up Outlook data

Many people store their most critical business information in Outlook — information that is so valuable that losing it could practically close a business or end a career. It’s no joke.

But after more than ten years in the marketplace, Outlook has never been given a decent tool for safeguarding its own data from loss.

Yes, everyone knows that you should back up all the data on your computer regularly, and you can make copies of your critical Outlook data (some of those tiny memory keys can do the job, and you can save Outlook data to a handheld computer if need be), but it’s a little bit disturbing that no such feature has ever been added to Outlook itself.

Some of the online backup services such as Mozy do a good job of backing up your Outlook data.

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