Outlook 2011

Office Service Pack 14.2 – yes please!

Microsoft’s latest update for Office 2011 is great, some really significant improvements for Outlook especially. Yes, there are improvements for Word and PowerPoint and some bits and pieces for all apps in terms of improved document handling and Lion features, for me Outlook is the biggy.
For me it was the Outlook stuff that made me pay attention. In the organisation I work for, we’ve been having terrible trouble with Outlook wanting to do database rebuilds at every opportunity and then when it does, it will pretty reliably duplicate either contacts or calendar entries. We’ve been caning our DPM server doing multiple mailbox restores! Recently we’ve simply been using a piece of freeware to remove duplicates in a Windows based outlook profile instead.

All that aside, back to the update, the headlines are:
The database and the rebuild utility are improved
As mentioned above, this ha been a real issue for us, not only wasting user time, but also admin time. Time will tell if things are vastly improved, but I thought it was worthwhile to comment on the upgrade process itself. It’s pretty lengthy, when you complete the install of the patch and load outlook for the first time it will prompt you to select which profile you would like to upgrade. This is also good news as you might want to leave a backed up profile alone. One you start the process, it is pretty length and is of course entirely dependant on the size of your mailbox. Be prepared to give up some time to it, you can NOT cancel it once it’s started.

Select a profile

Which identity would you like to upgrade

Upgrade alert
Identity upgrade progress

IMAP account sync that includes support for synchronising with Gmail is improved.
Not tried this as yet, but as a lot of organisations fall in love with the Cloud, reliance on Gmail will inevitably increase.

Outlook for Mac performance in key scenarios is improved.
So far so good! My Outlook session has been grinding to a halt more and more lately, and since the install I’ve noted a vast improvement in reaction speed and in opening mail items.

Exchange email message sync is improved.
We’ve got a lot of people who are connecting via wifi and 3G, and although that is normally ok, when you’re on the edge of coverage, or something like Edge (E) or HSDPA (H) or GPRS (G) then you can really struggle. Being able to pull just headers and also pull the message in parts is great for poor bandwidth areas

Download in parts

Attachments in parts

Support for calendar scheduling resources is improved
The scheduling area in the calendar is vastly improved, a picture tells a thousand words, so here’s what it now looks like.

Scheduling Assistant

Week numbers are added to the calendar display.
AGain this is configurable, so you can put the week numbers into the Calendar view. It’s not a huge one for me, but I can see how that will be a vast improvement for some people.

Display week numbers

Week numbers in action

Distribution list expansion functionality is included.
A real user improvement, our organisation uses loads of distribution lists and mail enabled security groups, and our users have been used to being able to check membership or alternatively be able to expand a group to remove 1 person (say when it’s about a birthday treat or something)

Expanding Distribution groups

Some of the other bits I liked were the improved 2 line ‘Toast’ email alert, you get a wee bit more info now to make you decision on whether or not to read.

2 line toast
In short, this one gets my vote, some proper improvements and some listening has obviously been done by our friends at Microsoft.

Microsoft Office 2011 and the Me contact

If you deploy Microsoft Office 2011 from a central repository and have your macbooks/mini’s/imac enrolled in Active Directory, you may find some puzzling results when your users send you emails.

When a new user signs into the macbook with his Active Directory credentials, his account is created on the fly (assuming you’ve deployed your topology to do so). At the same time your Outlook 2011 profile will set itself up with your email address, and providing your Exchange DNS records are configured correctly, all server addressing will be configured on the fly.

So, here’s the scenario, new (to the macbook) user signs into Outlook, all appears well, his mail is there, contacts etc. He or she sends an email to colleagues who receive an emails where the From: field appears fine, as in it shows their name.
However when you reply, you notice that the To: field derives a ‘Microsoft Office User’ preface to the full email address.

You get a result that looks like this:

From: Luke Darby <Luke@lukedarby.co.uk>
Date: Fri, 13 Jan 2012 16:24:11 +0000
To: Microsoft Office User <lukedarby@lukedarby.co.uk>
Subject: RE: I have a name you know!

Initially this was a huge issue for us as it seemed to be linked to the “This product is licenced to” field. In short, it’s not directly related, but indirect.

Outlook 2011 creates a contact for you when you first create a profile, called ‘Me’ If it doesn’t have all information available, it uses your email address and the licences to field. In Essence you get a ‘Me’ contact which has ‘Microsoft Office User’ as the contact First and Last Name and your Work E-mail completed with your primary SMTP alias.

Me contact

Me contact

You find this contact by clicking on Contacts -> Organize -> Me

Outlook Me contact

Outlook Me contact

Once in there, you can manually complete the details you want, OR….
Scroll down and you should see your AD Directory contact detail. A handy ‘Update Contact’ button is provided for convenience to fill all the fields for you.

Update contact

Once done, restart Outlook for good measure and you won’t see the issue again. It’s annoying, but simple to solve, and the user can do it themselves.

If you gave the bulk distribution licences to name as something else, then you’ll need to change THAT name in your Me contact.

Outlook 2011 mac pst import and export

I’ve been using Outlook 2011 for a few months now, and I have to say I like it. No, it’s not as fully featured as Outlook 2010 for Windows, it always seems to be that the mac versions are watered down somehow. However for the most part all those extra features aren’t used, sure there are some people who do try and use them all, but in day to day busy corporate environments you pretty much need to send/read and file mail, contacts and appointments.

There is 1 niggling aspect of Outlook 2011 I don’t love. Handling of .pst files.

In short, it doesn’t handle them, it doesn’t open pst and it doesn’t export to pst. What Outlook 2011 does offer is an import option for pst files to display them in the ‘On My Computer’ section. You can display this if you go to the Outlook menu, Preferences->General and untick the ‘Hide On My Computer folder’ box. (I also untick the ‘Group similar…’ as for me it looks cleaner, but that’s down to personal preference.)

To import a pst is pretty simple, there is a built in wizard to do so, I won’t spell it out, as Microsoft has done it for us here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2413370

There are a few things to note though while you’re doing this.

  • Depending on the size of the pst, you need to give it time to do the process. This sounds obvious, and it is, but you would be amazed by how many times it goes wrong just because of impatience.
  • Put the pst you’re importing from on the local disk of the mac, I’ve had issues with doing it from a networked drive.
  • The mail does NOT go via Exchange, if you monitor your server based mailbox it shouldn’t show any difference before and after (assuming no new mails have been sent to you)
  • Although the import procedure will import your calendar entries, it seems Outlook 2011 won’t let you drag and drop entries back into your live exchange server based calendar, which is probably more likely for most users rather than mail items. All imported entries are displayed in a separate calendar. At present the only way I can think of to overcome this (should you WANT to do it) is to import only the calendar entries via Windows outlook onto the server directly from the original pst file.

Once imported, the information isn’t held in just 1 linked file like it would be for Outlook 2010, it’s effectively imported into the local database on your mac. Under ‘…\Documents\Microsoft User Data\Office 2011 Identities\Main Identity\Data records’

If you look in this folder using Finder, you will see a Database file, typically around 200Mb (completely dependant on the size of the pst import of course) described as Microsoft Outlook database. Also in that folder, you will see folders for Message Attachments, Images etc. These are all Outlook storing not only your cached mailbox from exchange, but the various parts of your pst distributed amongst them. Personally I feel this is a backward step, with the linked pst, it was a simple matter to disconnect the pst and walk away with it. Outlook 2011 for mac makes this impossible, you will need to export your mail, which has a few gotcha’s also.

When it comes to getting your mail back out of Outlook 2011, you will need to export it. Outlook 2011 only supports exports to a .olm file. At present I don’t know of any way to migrate from .olm to .pst directly. The only way I could think of doing that would be to push the ‘On My Computer’ mail back into Exchange (say into a separate folder) and then connect to Exchange with Windows Outlook and export to .pst. If you have a quota’d mailbox, you may well have sizing issues doing this.

I’m hopeful that these procedures will get better and give us more options in either the service pack or later versions, it’s not bad as such, just not very feature rich around pst archive handling.

Outlook 2011 for Mac Reply with excerpt feature

One thing with the new Outlook 2011 for mac that I really like, is the ability to reply (reply all also) with just a portion of an email. As far as I know this isn’t part of the Windows based Outlook set.

When you receive an email, sometimes it’s useful to be able to hit reply but to not include the entire original mail body, just the portion to which you are wishing to comment upon or draw attention to. It’s simple in Outlook 2011 for mac, you highlight the portion you wish to include in your reply, as normal

Reply with excerpt

Then simply hit reply (or reply all), and your email will instantly include just the highlighted text, but retain the original to/from header information.

reply with highlight

Useful feature for me, especially when I want to jump on something somebody said, or praise a worthy comment etc.

Luke Darby
Technology Infrastructure | Media | Communication | Broadcasting
United Kingdom

Luke Darby

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