Several clients have asked me about the benefits of upgrading from Outlook 2003 to Outlook 2007 and up until now I’ve pretty much told them the same thing – avoid it if you can. First of all, I always advise clients not to install Microsoft products until service pack 1 (SP1) has been released unless they are bleeding edge of technology types who need the latest and greatest as part of their job. Second, I have Office 2007 on my home computer and quite frankly I’m not that impressed. However, now that SP1 has been released its time to give you the pros and cons of upgrading.
First, I have to credit Dwight Silverman of Chron.com for instigating this post via a conversation on Twitter. I was so prejudiced against Outlook 2007 that I got a little sloppy and quite checking for the release of SP1 which is why I missed it late last December – Dwight brought this fact to my attention! Second, I need to credit some wonderful Houston IT support company pals including Adam Blumberg of Truistic Solutions, Mark Leary of Serenity Systems, and Wes Spears of The Weston Group that I poled to help me with this post – since I haven’t had much experience with post SP1 performance, their input was very helpful. Also, thanks to Kurt Greiner, Jeff Martens and Richard Hay who gave me some last minute affirmations via twitter.com.
So here’s the story with Office 2007 – there is this nifty new thing called a ribbon that has replaced your trusty tool bars in all applications except Outlook 2007 where it replaced the inspector (the window that opens when you double click on any Outlook item including emails, contact records, journal entries, appointments, etc.) tool bar, but not the explorer (the main Outlook window) tool bar. Ribbons are supposedly much more intuitive than toolbars so for a user who is new to Office it should be much easier to jump in and start using it. Unfortunately, for Office power users (or even normal users) the new ribbon format takes some getting used to – because we are used to the toolbars and menus, the ribbons seem more counter intuitive. I’ll caveat that statement with the fact that IT professionals seem to be the exception to that rule as they all seem to love the new format. On the other hand, I’ve heard a lot of expletives regarding ribbons come from sales people and executives that were used to Office 2003. However, new Outlook users that I’ve talked with seem to love the ribbons and some of the other new features in Outlook 2007 so perhaps us old Outlook users need to be retrained.
I believe there was also some talk that Vista and Office 2007 were supposed to address some security concerns that have popped up due to those pesky (or as I call them “Scourge of the Earth”) hackers, spammers and internet evil doers. We’re getting outside my area here, but thought I’d throw that in for good measure.
Some Cool New Features
Combined Categories and Color Coding – I have to admit this is something that drives me a little nuts about Outlook 2003. In Outlook 2007 you have the ability to assign a color code to each category and there are almost unlimited colors at your disposal. It may sound superficial, but I actually find color coding pretty helpful (see Arrow-Tip #14 Where Did the Week Go – Using the Microsoft Outlook Calendar for More Effective Time Management for an example).
Expanded Search Functionality – To be honest, I didn’t mind the old search functionality, but several users have reported that the search features in Outlook 2007 are much more comprehensive and faster – the faster part is really something because that is one of my issues with Outlook 2003 and if you are not a proficient and super well organized Outlook 2003 user, the comprehensive part might be pretty cool too.
RSS Feed Folder – OK, I have to admit it is pretty cool to be able to access your RSS feeds from Outlook with full feed reader functionality. I actually access my feeds in Outlook 2003 by setting my home page to Google reader, but Outlook 2007 makes this process much cleaner.
Email Attachment Preview – Outlook 2007 does have a pretty cool feature for letting you preview attachments directly in Outlook without having to open them in another Office application like Word or Excel and, yes, I have found this feature helpful.
Additional Panes – Outlook 2007 allows you to see more folders in one view than Outlook 2003 e.g. you can see your calendar, tasks, and email all in one view where as in Outlook 2003 you could only see your calendar and tasks in one view – this made a huge difference to one of my clients in particular who had been used to ACT!
For Microsoft’s comparison list which is more comprehensive, but quite frankly will talk about features most of you won’t care about click here.
Also, from my IT Support Company panel I got the following comments:
Public Folders are gone – and many of you will probably say “good riddance,” but for those of us who have solutions that depend upon Outlook Public Folders and don’t particularly care for SharePoint (the functionality or the expense), this can be an issue.
Very slow Pre SP1 – Most users complained about Outlook 2007 being very slow before SP1, but my understanding is that SP1 really did make a difference regarding performance.
Ribbons – As I mentioned above in the scoop, if you are an Outlook 2003 power user you are going to be very annoyed by ribbons at least until you get used to them.
Hidden Functionality – The first thing that I noticed with Outlook 2007 was that the Contacts button and field wasn’t there in any of the Outlook items – since Huntress depends on linking contacts to other items this was a big YIKES for me. I then found it was still there just hidden (got to Tools>Options>Contacts Options button and add a check to the option under Contact linking to show it on forms.)
Your Old Plug-ins need to be updated – In their infinite wisdom, Microsoft informed all us plug-in vendors that our code would work just fine in Office 2007 if it worked in Office 2003 – they left out the important caveat “except for Outlook.” This is one of the main reasons we don’t have a HuntressPro plug in for Outlook 2007 yet, but no worries, it is in the works.
Your Entire Office Suite Must Be Updated – Microsoft Outlook capitalizes on other office applications for things like the email editor and in the case of the new preview functionality in Outlook 2007 which means it doesn’t make sense from a functionality or a cost stand point to upgrade just one application.
Also from my IT Support Company panel I got the following comments:
I’m still not advising anyone to run out and upgrade – the new features are not that compelling. However, if you are purchasing a new machine, now that SP1 is out it probalby makes sense to go ahead and get the upgrade. Also, if your company is considering other software deployments such as SharePoint or Vista – just make sure that you:
OK now, let me have it! Give me your comments and thanks again to all of you who already sent me your two cents!
Since the comments feature on my blog is not working right now I wanted to make sure some of the great comments that some of you have been kind enough to leave were available for everyone to see – please check them out below.
1. March 8, 2008 12:45 AM by Joshua Tretakoff (tretakoff.com)
One very good feature of Outlook 2007: the ability to subscribe to calendars in the iCal format. Our organization uses them to track software deployments, client integrations, and more; Google Calendar offers tons more. I also use them to track my trips with TripIt: http://www.tripit.com/calendar/feedInfo
2. March 8, 2008 2:37 AM by Chris Johnson (GenuineChris.com)
Man, I want to like Ouitlook. It’s just that Act 6.0 is so fast. It bites for email, this is an unassailable fact, but for EVERYTHING else for a solo dude, ACT rocks. AND You can run it off of a thumb drive.
Of course, they ruined ACT with the next relaase, and it never recovered,…so I’m just PRAYING someone will get CRM right.
March 8, 2008 3:56 AM by Misty Khan
Chris, why don’t you take a look at HuntressPro (http://huntresspro.com) – does everything ACT! does only from within Outlook – just sayin…
March 8, 2008 11:53 PM Steve
You say public Folders are gone. They are not, and that is an Exchange side of things anyway, not Outlook. What is true is that Public Folders are being “de-emphasized” by Microsoft. They are still alive in Exchange 2007, and probably will be in the next version of Exchange. Beyond that is anybody’s guess. Sharepoint is not a replacement for Public Folders either. It lacks a lot of the functionality that the Public Folders have, and they will be missed by many users should Microsoft keep on its current path.
March 9, 2008 8:24 PM by Misty Khan
Thanks for pointing out that Public Folders are a feature of Exchange rather than Outlook – good point which I take for granted, but POP3 users may not know about. Also thank you for pointing out that they are still an option in Outlook 2007 – my understanding was that Microsoft had plans to phase them out beginning with Exchange 2007 so I appreciate your setting me straight – the link to Microsoft’s web site that I posted above confirms your point as well. Also, I share your concerns regarding SharePoint and would also be happy to see the Public Folders stick around.