17 ways to hate Microsoft Outlook 2013 less
Few software products draw such universal — and deserved — scorn as Outlook 2013. Here¿s how to tame the beast.
17 ways to hate Microsoft Outlook 2013 less
I’ve been using Outlook since the first beta hit, and Outlook 2013 still drives me nuts. Whether you get your copy of Outlook 2013 from Office 365, from an Exchange Server license, as part of the Office 2013 package (any version except Home & Student), or as a standalone product (yes, some people still intentionally pay money for it!), Outlook 2013 has some, uh, quirks that can be overcome.
I can’t help you with the IMAP bugs, and I refuse to tell you how to pimp the Weather bar. One must maintain certain journalistic standards. That said, there’s a handful of things you can do to make Outlook 2013 marginally less irritating. Here’s my top list.
GET RID OF THE CAPS
When Microsoft made the move to a more touch-friendly version of Outlook (pardon me while I cry), one of the ways it made Outlook easier to use on tablets involved MAKING THE MENU TAB NAMES ALL CAPS. That may be the poorest excuse for a touch navigation enhancement ever created.
Changing the menu names to Home, Send/Receive, Folder, and View is easy: Right-click on one of the menu names and choose Customize the Ribbon. On the right, under the Main Tabs list, click once on the tab you want to change, click Rename, and put a space at the beginning of the name. For example, change “Home” to “ Home” and then click OK.
Cut back the wattage
Outlook’s background color has been variously described as “very white,” “hurt your eyes white,” and “I bet my ophthalmologist bribed them white.” Guess what? You don’t have to live with white, as long as you don’t mind a very-subtle gray or a very-very subtle gray that’s almost white.
To choose between blinding and merely brash white, click (or tap) File, Office Account. Then pick the color that jars you least from the Office Theme box. The change you make will be reflected in all of your Office apps. No, you can’t change just Outlook — Word, Excel, and PowerPoint get it, too.
Don’t even bother with the background
The Office Background drop-down box in the preceding slide may lead you to believe that you can, you know, put a background on your page, perhaps overriding the white-gray-gray choices for the borders. No such luck. The “background” only appears in a tiny spot in the upper right corner. Lame.
This slide shows you how very different Outlook 2013 looks with a dark gray Theme and the Underwater Background. See any difference? Hey, that’s productivity for ya.
Bottom line: If the background’s too bright, turn down your screen.
t/h Susan Bradley
Unscramble HTML links
So you click on a link in an email message and Outlook shows you this informative message:
Your organization’s policies are preventing us from completing this action for you. For more info, please contact your help desk.
Of course, your help desk doesn’t have any idea what’s happening. (Or perhaps you are your own help desk.)
You’re seeing Outlook 2013’s response when the default action for certain kinds of links gets messed up. Easy solution: go to KB article 310049 and run the Fix It. That resets all of the programs associated with possibly misidentified links.
Move Outlook 2013 to a new computer
If you read somewhere that moving Outlook from one computer to another is as easy as copying a PST file from the old machine to a new machine, man, do I have some news for you. Even Windows Easy Transfer (which is on Windows 7, but not on Windows 8) can cause problems.
Outlook über-guru Diane Poremsky has a detailed seven-step procedure on her Slipstick website that takes you through the major stumbling points. Even if all goes according to plan, you’ll still lose some customizations in the transition.
Unstick messages stuck in the Outbox
One of the most common — and vexing — problems in Outlook 2013 comes when a message gets stuck in the Outbox and you can’t tell, for love nor money, what in the French-fried fricassee is keeping it back.
Once again, Diane Poremsky’s Slipstick website comes to the rescue. Poremsky traces through the most common problems — and there are many: The message is too big (there’s a special, obscure trick for Comcast users), a bad Outlook add-in has marked the message as “read,” mail server problems, a corrupt outlook.srs file (pictured), antivirus lockups, bad read receipts, and the list goes on.
Trim, compact or fix your PST file(s)
While Outlook 2013 can start acting like a bloated week-dead whale for any of a thousand reasons, those of you who use it with POP3 accounts can likely lay the blame on your PST file(s). IMAP and Exchange Server folks don’t have PST files; they have OST files which can be deleted with relative impunity.
Compacting a PST file is easy — if you can find the file. In Outlook 2013, click (or tap) File, Account Settings, Account Settings. Click the Data Files tab, double-click on the PST file, then click Compact Now. If compacting doesn’t work, follow Microsoft’s instructions to use the ScanPST tool.
Make Ctrl+F find, fer heaven’s sake
In every single Windows program on the face of the earth (OK, I’m exaggerating, but only a bit), Ctrl+F brings up the Find dialog. In Outlook 2013, pressing Ctrl+F while you’re looking at the inbox forwards the current message. It doesn’t put you in the Find box, to run a search on your email. If you want to Find, you have to press Ctrl+E. What the Ctrl+F?
I want to tell you that I found a way to make Ctrl+F perform a find, but I failed. I programmed, pushed, begged, and pleaded with countless Outlook gurus. Nope.
I did, however, find out why Ctrl+F forwards. Raymond Chen blogged about it on MSDN.
Memorize a few important key combinations
Though Ctrl+F will continue to haunt you to the end of Outlook (or eternity, whichever comes first), there are a few shortcut keys that are well worth memorizing. Print them on a Post-It and stick them on your monitor. Yeah, that important.
• Ctrl+R to Reply, Alt+R to Reply to All
• Ctrl+O pops out a Reply message (see screenshot)
• Ctrl+V takes the contents of the clipboard, creates a new message (note, whatever you’re working on), and inserts the contents of the clipboard
• F9 Send/Receive, but you probably already knew that one
Get the classic menu back
Microsoft replaced Outlook menus with Ribbons in Outlook 2007, but only for the main page. It took another three years before Ribbons infested, uh, adorned all of the Outlook 2010 interface. If you really miss the classic menu, there’s an outstanding third-party tool called Addintools Classic Menu that brings back everything, and then some. In its default configuration, you get both the ribbon interface and the classic menu interface (as shown).
There’s a 15-day fully functional free trial, but if you continue to use it, the Office package — Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher, Access, and InfoPath — will set you back $30. Volume discounts and Visio/Project support are available.
Bring back the Outlook 2010 features: ToDo, Activities, Journal
Outlook 2013 killed three features that many Outlook 2010 users want to get back.
The ToDo Bar doesn’t exist any more (although there’s a tile that says To-Do Bar, it isn’t the same as Outlook 2010). The only alternative is to pin a Task, People, and/or Calendar peek. To dock the Task peek, for example, hover your mouse over “Tasks” and click the “pin” icon in the upper right.
The new Contact form doesn’t have a spot for a contact’s Activities. To bring back that capability, get ready for a little VBA, and follow the instructions on Robert Sparnaaij’s HowTo-Outlook website.
The Outlook Journal doesn’t exist in Outlook 2013. Get over it.
Up, er, downgrade to Outlook 2010
If you pine for the good old days of Outlook 2010 (hey, it happens), you can always downgrade. Maybe. Licensing details will depend on how you acquired Outlook — if you have a volume license, downgrading may be free; if you’re using Office 365, you may have to buy a standalone copy of Outlook 2010 (good luck finding one).
Or you can use the Volume Licensing trick: Buy four copies of a cheap Volume License of anything (total $30 or so) and one VL copy of Outlook 2013. Ta-daa. You have downgrade rights. Be sure to follow Microsoft’s advice and don’t try to run Outlook 2010 and 2013 simultaneously.
Turn off Reading Mode
I hate this. When in Outlook and you double-click on a DOC file that’s attached to an email message, the DOC file comes up in Word in this weird kind-of-finger-friendly mode that’ll make you wonder what planet Outlook comes from. It’s called Read Mode (or Reading View), and it’s completely useless for anyone with a mouse.
To get rid of it, click File, Options, on the left make sure General is selected. Near the bottom, uncheck the “Open e-mail attachments and other uneditable files in Reading View” box. Restart Outlook.
Make Outlook search the current folder only
In Outlook 2010 and earlier, if you type something in the search box, up above the list of mail, Outlook performs the search on the contents of the current folder. Great. But in Outlook 2013, for reasons only known to certain sadists in Redmond, if you’re looking at your Inbox, the search extends to all folders in the current mailbox. Which means you may end up accidentally deleting mail from the Deleted Items folder, for example, or replying to something you shouldn’t. I’ll raise my hand here and share your pain.
To fix it, click File, Options, on the left click Search. Under Results / “Include results only from,” choose the radio button marked “Current folder.”
Turn off the toast
Outlook Notifications — I call them “ghosts” in Windows 7 because they float like semi-luminescent apparitions, and “toasts” in Windows 8 because they’re, well, they’re genuine Toast Notifications — drive me nuts. It’s like AOL’s “You’ve got mail” from two decades ago.
Steven B. Levy, writing in Slaw magazine, has a detailed approach to turning off all Notifications, except those from people you’re really concerned about. It’s fairly involved, but the gist of it is to turn off all Outlook Notifications, then enable Notifications only for mail that follows rule(s) you set.
If you only want to turn off the sound, there’s a simpler method, as explained by Mitch Bartlett in Technipages.
If you were using the Click-to-Run (CtR) version of Office 2013 last month, you may have encountered the infamous Error 30145-4, which turned Office into a dumb brick. Seems that Microsoft released a new version of Office 2013, fed it through the CtR channels, and when many folks clicked to run, the new version just turned belly up.
To fix the problem while waiting for Microsoft to get its act together, you had to revert to a previous version — any previous version — of Office CtR.
The method is complex (it involves a series of DOS commands, er, command-line commands), but Microsoft finally documented the rollback method. See KB 2770432 should the emergency ever arise.
Ditch the relic and go to the cloud
I started using Outlook in 1997, upgraded religiously, and stuck with Outlook 2013 until late last year. I’ve beaten on it, screamed about it, written books about it, entrusted my livelihood to it.
Then I decided to move to Gmail. What a change. I can suddenly stop futzing with the software and get on with what I want to do.
I won’t tell you that Gmail is superior to Outlook.com. It isn’t. Or, if it is, everything could change next week. What I can tell you is that email (and calendars and contacts) in the cloud is so much easier, faster, and simpler that I should’ve made the change years ago.